BY CHRIS MCNULTY
WHEN Jason Quigley entered Oscar De La Hoya’s Los Angeles lair, he could have been forgiven for being star-struck.
It was in April, when Jason and his father and coach Conor, were greeted by the ‘Golden Boy’, De La Hoya, who was keen to snap up the Ballybofey man to add to his prized stable of boxers.
De La Hoya won ten world titles at six different weights, from super-featherweight all the way up to the middleweight division Quigley debuts in on Saturday night in Las Vegas’s MGM Grand.
De La Hoya had a brief reign as middleweight king. He took the WBO crown in a controversial win over Felix Sturm just over ten years ago, in June 2004. Three months later, De La Hoya was KO’d by Bernard Hopkins in Vegas.
De La Hoya motioned to the cabinet at the missing space: ‘You’ll help me to fill that’.
“It was unbelievable to hear that from Oscar De La Hoya,” Quigley says. On Saturday night, the 23-year-old native of The Beeches in Ballybofey goes up against Howard Reece in a four-round middleweigh contest, his first as a professional boxer.
“It was just unreal to go into Oscar’s office and see all the belts that he has in a glass cabinet.
“I’ve always looked up to him. He could box, he could fight, he could mix it up, he could do whatever had to be done to win fights. When that man came along with a contract and offered me to go professional, I couldn’t have been happier. Oscar, I think, is the only promoter out there who has been in the ring. He knows what a fighter goes through, he knows what a fighter needs. It was a no-brainer for me to say yes to Oscar.”
Quigley has often related tales of hitting the pads with his father, Conor, around the family kitchen. When it came to making the move from professional to amateur, Jason was going nowhere without the man who Jason has credited with much of his success. Even when Conor couldn’t travel to the European Championships last summer in Minsk, he was in constant contact via Skype. At the World Championships last October, he attained three-star coaching status, the highest level possible.
“He’s been by my side and has been training me since I was a young fella since we started going running on the beach,” Jason has said.
“He’s been there trying to make sure that I get the best out of my talent. Only for him I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
With the combination of Jason’s talents, De La Hoya’s know-how and the father-coach nurturing from Conor Quigley, the road ahead won’t be laid easy. Not that Jason would have it any other way.
“I want to be tested,” he says.
“The more hazardous the opponent, the more you learn. You’re not going to learn by taking boys out in the first round.
“I can go to the trenches and can show that I won’t be bullied around the ring. The likes of Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali – they boxed, not fought. The used the skills and danced in the ring. But when they had to, they could get up and show that they could give the shots, too. I can go toe-to-toe for the long haul.”
Quigley’s star shot to the top of the AIBA rankings in 2013. He’d won his first Irish senior title thanks to a defeat of Roy Sheahan in the middleweight final. When he toppled Bogdan Juratoni at the European Championships having taken out the likes of Artem Chebotarev and Evhen Khytrov, who was the world number one, on the way, the boxing world began to take serious note.
His achievements at amateur level are unmatched. He is the only Irish male boxer to have won three European gold medals – Youth, Under-23 and Senior – and in October he became the first to reach a World Championship final. He can still only talk about the defeat to Zhanibek Alimkhanuly through gritted teeth.
He says: “To realise I was three rounds away from becoming a world champion is something that hurts me very much deep down,” he said.
“The best thing I can do now is use that memory to drive me, give me incentive to become a world professional champion.
“I know if I ever get that close again to becoming a world champion, there’s no man that’s going to stop me from doing it.”
The temptation to hang around and go for the Olympic Games in 2016 was there, but the young Jason Quigley has always dreamed of shining under the MGM Grand’s lights as a pro boxer. The professional arena is what has excited the Quigleys. Now, their dream is about to become reality.
Quigley and Reece will go head-to-head in a middleweight four rounder on the undercard of the junior middleweight contest between Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara.
Reece is a 26-year-old Irish American, who hails from Belleview in Florida and who has eight pro fights to his name, winning two and losing six. He lost his last fight against debutant Idel Torriente in the Casino Miami on June 7th by way of a second round knockout.
Torriente landed a huge straight left, sending Reece to the canvas and, while he momentarily recovered, Torriente landed the decisive blow, a powerful left hook that resulted in referee Samuel Burgos stopping the contest.
In April, Reece lost to the unbeaten David Grayton in Washington having beaten Burthin Rousseau in Florida in March, claiming a majority decision. His first win had come in his second fight last October, a second round knockout of Viktor Kulakovski in Tampa.
Quigley has made a seamless transition and can’t wait for that moment when he, with his dad and coach by his side, will make the walk of champions to the ring on Saturday night.
“I like to be a boxer,” Quigley says of the style we can expect.
“I like to get into that ring and show me skills, show me talent, be fast, be sharp and just get to the point, do what I have to do inside that ring.
“Coming into the professional game, everybody thinks that you have to close up your defence and keep coming forward fighting, which I think isn’t correct if you look at the top fighters in the world. Just look at number one Mayweather. He’s an absolute genius with his boxing skills and his defensive technique is absolutely brilliant.”
With a five-year contract at Golden Boy Promotions, the experience of the Sheer Sports Management team behind him and a coach with whom he shares blood the Finn Valley ABC man is in good hands.
“I just have to keep winning fights,” he says.
“I have time to learn the professional game and don’t need to be taking fights that are too risky. It’s a different game to amateur, but I’m ready for it.”