By Frank Craig
He’s taken the long way around but Jason Quigley finally gets his shot at a world title on Friday night when he steps between the ropes to take on feared WBO middleweight champion Demetrius Andrade.
The one-time top-ranked amateur fighter at his weight, the former European champion and world silver medallist was the quintessential boxing protégé.
The flashbulbs and attention that greeted his signing on with Golden Boy Promotions, in America, back in 2014, seemed to act an endorsement of exactly what Oscar De La Hoya had in store for the Ballybofey native.
However, as an east coast outfit, and with most of Golden Boy’s shows held on that side of the States, Quigley slowly seemed to drift into some sort of perpetual nightmare, competing in uninspiring outpost scraps, usually held on a Thursday night.
In what was a predominantly Hispanic boxing environment, Quigley was also given the ill-thought-out nickname ‘El Animal’. Eventually, in 2017, he decided he’d had enough of life in Los Angeles and relocated to the grittier surroundings of Sheffield in the north of England.
He remained part of the Golden Boy stable but under new coach Dominic Ingle, the hope was that bigger fights under brighter lights would now come his way.
Quigley had overcame Glen Tapia at Fantasy Springs that previous March to win his first professional title, the NABF middleweight belt. But a broken right hand, sustained in the second round of his bout with Tapia, meant that he’d subsequently sit idle for a year following surgery on the injury.
The paw eventually healed and the good news was that Quigley had also now moved into the top 10 in the WBA World rankings. His dream of a world title shot was suddenly and openly being talked about in the right circles.
On the periphery of those same conversations though was tough and durable Bahamian bruiser, Tureano Johnston. But if Quigley could overcome the 35-year-old ring veteran, the hope was that the final gate to his world title tilt against the division’s really big dogs would be flung open.
However, following nine gruelling rounds where Johnston dominated in destructive fashion, Quigley was finally saved from himself when he was pulled by his corner on his stool. The loss not only set him back, but the manner of it had the potential to completely derail his career.
At his lowest ebb, Quigley took it upon himself to reach out to Andy Lee. They were just text exchanges to begin with, pep talks no doubt from Lee on how he bounced back from a similar setback.
Those communications soon turned to cups of coffee and, finally, Lee decided to take a leap of faith. Quigley cut ties with Ingle and put his complete faith in the Limerick man.
Lee himself was a former WBO champion who also took the road more travelled to realising his strap dream. There are some parallels to the pro careers of both men – and it’s easy to get caught up in and even write about that sort of romantic alignment. But ‘Andy Lee the boxing coach’ packs much more punch than ‘Andy Lee the boxer’ ever did. And that’s saying something. Lee’s stock, as a fighting mentor, is in the highest stratosphere imaginable.
As a pro, Lee originally trained at Manny Steward’s famous Kronk Gym in Detroit. There, in conversation, it became obvious to others, especially to Steward’s nephew and eventual heir to the Kronk throne, SugerHill Steward, that the Irish man had a cerebral understanding of the sweet science. He was, to coin a lazy sporting phrase, ‘a student of the game’.
A reset button was pressed on everything and a sort of reverse engineering process was carried out. Lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic provided a window where both men could really get the heads down and get to work.
Slow and careful steps were taken. A confidence was gained and a confidence was rebuilt. All of that careful planning and rebooting culminated in another unofficial ‘make or break’ encounter, last May, against Shane Mosley Jnr. On a brilliant night, Quigley would capture the WBO-NABO middleweight belt with a majority decision win over Mosley in a terrific contest. Crucially though, it was a victory that put him back in the shop window for a crack at a world title.
Cutely, and no doubt on the prompting of Lee, Quigley used that moment to call out Andrade. The American champion is part of Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom promotion. And it was no secret that Hearn had previously taken a shine to the smooth talking Donegal man when ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful attempts were made to call out his golden goose, Canelo Alvarez.
So it’s no stretch to say Quigley has earned his shot at greatness both inside and outside of the ring. Getting Lee on board and charming the sport’s biggest deal maker, they were both moves of his own making. His golden opportunity wasn’t forged by Golden Boy, it was earned off his own back.
But when the curtain rises on Friday evening, and the early hours of Saturday morning Irish time, at the SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire, Quigley will enter the ring as a massive 7/1 underdog.
Andrade, with a professional record of 30-0 is, Hearn says, “the champion no one wants to fight”. And by putting his hand up, Quigley is taking on a challenge the likes of which he’s never faced before – not even close.
Daring to dream, and with the magic and even mystique of Lee guiding him, a town, county and even country will be right behind him.
“I believe Andrade is the best world middleweight champion out there, the most avoided fighter out there,” he explains.
“But I’m going to go in there and give him hell. When someone’s pounding on you, you need to have a ruthless, horrible mother*****r deep down inside of you. Someone to pop up and say, ‘I’m going to give you everything back that you’re f*****g giving me!’
“I lost him for a while. But he’s there again and I know he’s there. It’s a matter of me keeping him in his cage while I’m home and only opening that cage when I’m in the ring. Because you get in there and your life’s on the line.”
Moves to LA and Sheffield failed to spark Quigley’s world title ambitions, but the fact that this chance has been earned working out of much more humble surroundings in both Dublin and Donegal is notable. A change in scenery seems to have ignited a change in fortunes also.
“I’ll always stay the way I am,’’ he said. “You’re not going to get a different Jason Quigley, even as a world champion. “I’m a Donegal man. We don’t like to be out there and pretending to be something we’re not.
“That’s something that’s special about Donegal. We’re very grounded and appreciate the background we come from.
“I like to honour that and stay the person that I am. All of Donegal have their flights booked for this fight.
“The Irish are going to be there in force. There are buses coming up from New York, Boston…I’m looking forward to getting into that atmosphere.
“It’s going to be very exciting. There’s nothing like the Irish fans and I cannot really imagine what it’s going to be like come fight night. We all know how loud and proud they are and that’s giving me more excitement, and these are the types of things as well that can get fighters through a difficult period of a fight.
“When you are in the ring and you are hurt, you go down, something is not going to plan – when you hear the crowd roaring you on that can give you the extra lift and percentage to get you over the line. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but I know that the support is going to be there and I’m grateful for the fans that have been messaging me and that are coming to the fight.
“In the build-up to the fight it’s about controlling emotions, the nervous energy, you have the natural excitement inside of course, but I have a job to do on November 19, to get in there and take care of business. That’s been the mindset for me, I have prepared as hard for this fight as any other that I’ve had.
“Of course, there’s more on the line than before, but it has to be business as usual. I have thoughts and visions of winning the belt and I am glad, because that shows that I have the self-belief that I can win this fight.”
A candid and brutally honest interview in Monday’s Independent, with Vincent Hogan, revealed that Quigley has had to roll with some very big punches outside of the ring also. A fractured relationship with his dad Conor means there is currently no communication there.
I didn’t think it was possible, but he’s an underdog that’s even easier to root for this week after that hard read. Quigley deserves this chance and he deserves to wear world title gold. But he’s going to have to earn it. And if he can upset the odds in spectacular fashion and flip the script against Andrade, then he’ll join a very illustrious but narrow list of Irish world champions.
And upsets aren’t just reserved for fictional characters like Rocky Balboa. Boxing is littered with so many fights that just haven’t gone the way they were expected to. For some, it’s a long since tarnished sport. But the fact is, it remains so unpredictable and it can still give us some of the best stories. Let’s hope this is one of those.
So light candles, cross fingers and say some prayers that when the sun rises on Saturday morning Donegal will have its first ever world boxing champion.