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World title finale: Few hurdles remain for Paddy Donovan

HOLLYWOOD good looks don’t count for much in a fight game. But Andy Lee-trained, Matchroom-promoted, hotshot Paddy Donovan insists there are still few obstacles between him and his ‘world title’. Louis Evans spoke to the flamboyant southpaw ahead of his big fight with Lewis Ritson tomorrow evening.

What is your earliest memory of fighting?

I come from a very humble family. My father was a boxing coach, a former boxer who opened his own gym in 2003 in Limerick City. I grew up fighting in the streets. My family, cousins ​​and brothers were all warriors. It was a place where you had to be strong and fight your battles.

My brother [Edward] he is also an expert; My uncle has won a lot of local titles. My first cousin, Jim, is ready to work with Andy [Lee]. We were always in trouble, always scrubbing. Usually, my brother and I wore boxing gloves outside the house instead of kicking football or playing jungling. After the school, go out into the front gardens, where there was a square box. We fought for about an hour or so before we even got to the gym. It was boxing, boxing, boxing.

My father always saw something in me. He always knew that I would be very successful in boxing. Everyone I ever met at the tournaments said I was going to be a future world champion, an Irish star. But I didn’t see it that way. It was the only thing I knew. I wasn’t good at other sports or school—I could fight, and people eventually noticed.

You have a very explosive, fun style. How did it develop?

I was naturally talented. All my life, boxing was something I never really liked. But for the novices, I couldn’t lose. It was win after win, a thirty-five fight undefeated streak. Then, when I reached the top European and international levels at 17-18, people started to notice and wanted to see more of me. I started looking at myself and thinking, ‘Wait, I can do something here.’ I realized that I could make a living from this and provide a life for my family.

From then on, I believed that I could become a world boxing champion and change my family’s life. It was the intention at the time. But now, I’m so close. I am trained by one of the best trainers in boxing [Andy Lee] and signed with the world’s leading promoter [Eddie Hearn]. It feels like I’m destined to be a world champion.

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND – JANUARY 27: Paddy Donovan taunts Williams Andres Herrera during the welterweight fight between Paddy Donovan and Williams Andres Herrera at Newforge Sports Complex on January 27, 2024 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

How would you describe the art of KO?

I have one of the highest percentages in Irish novice boxing history. Everyone was like, ‘This is a pro-level guy.’ I will have ten fights with nine strikes. There will be seven or eight more hits in every fight that goes the distance.

Natural ability plays a big role. Andy has guys in the gym who come in—some very strong punchers—but they don’t have the ‘know-how’ to KO. You can’t train KO; it exists naturally. A good coach can help you sneak those shots at the right time and place as you move up the ranks. Andy designs a lot of these pictures for me, and we do a lot of it in the gym. We work on hitting and not hitting, keeping it nice and clean, and stopping the killer punch. That’s what it’s been like for the last few years. When I turned pro, Andy said, ‘Paddy, I hope we can have ten fights with you at a 50% win rate.’ My percentage is around 80% in 13 fights [laughs]. It’s not that bad!

What makes Andy Lee the right coach for you? How special is your relationship?

I consider Andy to be an amazing person, not just a coach. I love being around him. Since I started my apprenticeship, he has never charged me a dime, he has never taken money from my corners or expenses. He took care of everything for me. Andy has seen a lot of me since he started his professional career. He is more of a father than a boxing coach. We have a great relationship; we never had any quarrels or quarrels. I have been doing everything he says, no matter what the cost.

What is the best advice Andy has given you in life?

Stay humble. Keep training in the gym. I have a small family [wife, Ellie, and three children], [Andy says] take care of them and stay away from bad people. I was a naive and brave kid when I started professional boxing. I was just going out to have fun. As the years went on, I started to settle down. What was important was to take care of my wife and children and try to build a future for myself. That’s exactly what Andy helped me do.

Andy has an amazing education, working under Emanuel Steward and Adam Booth. Where do you see that influence in the gym?

[I liken myself more to] Emanuel Steward fighter. Andy took bits from Adam, bits from Emanuel, and, obviously, from me. Sometimes, I take the time to look at the work of Emanuel and Adam—and I see a lot of Andy in both—but the history and tradition of Emanuel and Kronk is still big with Andy. We relate more to them and their style.

DUBLIN, IRELAND – NOVEMBER 25: Andy Lee, Paddy Donovan’s Head Trainer, looks on before the Welterweight fight between Paddy Donovan and Danny Ball at The 3Arena Dublin on November 25, 2023 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)

How do you assess the state of boxing in Ireland?

[Standards of] Irish boxing was always very high, even when Andy and I were novices. The Irish national team has always been a step ahead of Team GB. Now, we are getting a lot more recognition. We don’t have to go to America; we don’t have to catch international flights. Eddie [Hearn] coming to Ireland, doing two big Katie shows [Taylor], and giving opportunities to me, Gary Cully, Thomas Carty, Caoimhín Agyarko, Lewis Crocker, and all the other up and coming fighters has been great. The talent has always been there; recognition is all we needed, and we’re getting it now.

I would like to fight Crocker; it’s an amazing fight for Irish fans. This is what boxing is all about; I have known him since he was a child. He is 28 years old, three years older than me. Everywhere I go, people ask, ‘When are you going to fight Crocker? Would you agree to fight?’ It’s possible, it’s possible. I don’t want to elaborate too much, but it’s a fight we want.

If I’m not going to be ‘world champion’ with my novice lineage, Andy Lee and my team, which is very well built by Top Rank and now signed with Eddie Hearn—God help the other Irish heroes! Who else will do it [become champion] if I can’t do it with all that? I will be the champion of the world; I believe that. I know what I have to do, and it won’t be easy. I had a big fight with Lewis Ritson, and I know another fight is done. I don’t want to leak anything yet, but that will put me in a position for the world title. Two more wins, and we’ll be good to go.

Would you like to stand out?

I’ve always loved being the center of attention in the ring. I grab headlines at every show I’ve been to. I did very well on the first Taylor-Catterall card and got another prize from Katie Taylor-Chantelle Cameron II. I did amazing in all the big shows.

I love the attention and all it brings. I love fight week, the interviews, people talking about me, and all the barriers that are there. Being recognized everywhere at home and in Dublin is an amazing feeling. It’s good that someone from a foreign land – someone who is not very educated – has been very successful. Good for me, all the children of the pilgrims, and the people of Ireland. They know they can have a star on their hands.

How do you connect with your American audience?

I keep in touch with mine [US-based] co-manager, Keith Sullivan; I’m on the radio and in the newspapers in New York. I always stand out there. I believe I have a lot of fans there. The last time I was in the States, I was at Madison Square Garden and I got a [New York Knicks] jersey, and Andy was asked to headline the next fight or two. That was a few months ago when I went out to fight Jason Quigley.

If I can get my ass in the States, if I can cross that line, I know we can do amazing things over there. While I was at Top Rank with Covid, things just happened at the last minute. I was supposed to fight there in 2021. We were flying out and everything, but it just fell. Dancing in New York and the subject of MSG, that’s a box I’d like you to tick.

Edgar Berlanga defeated Jason Quigley in New York

How do you deal with stress?

You hear it in every major battle, of course. Expectations for all the fights are very high at the moment, especially in Ireland. Everyone believes that I will win; everyone believes that I will play. But I don’t see it that way. I know I did a lot of work and had to be away from my family. Put me in the ring and fight; it is in God’s hands. If I win, I win; if I lose, I lose. We will go again. It’s not the end of the world.

I like to fight; I like to enjoy it. However, if I let it go to my head and put pressure on myself, my performance will not be good. It [the fight] everything goes in an instant. It’s just a memory then. Before you know it, I’m back with my wife and kids. Then, I can remember. It happens so fast that you move continuously.

But if you look, I didn’t do anything. If I become world champion, this professional boxing tour will be a complete failure. My talents and my team deserve a world title.

Statistically, immigrant men are seven times more likely to be victims of suicide than non-immigrant men in Ireland. In your opinion, why do the statistics show this?

It is an answer that no one can put a finger on. We ask that question a lot. It has happened in our family three times in the last ten years. We know it exists; we know it is alive. There are an estimated eight deaths per traveler’s name. Suicide strikes them eight times in every generation! We are trying to find a solution. Everyone we meet [whose family has been a victim of suicide] we ask, ‘Why do you think they did it? What is pushing them to it?’ I don’t know. All I can say is that there is help; there are people to talk to. They can always contact me, and they can always communicate with my team. Pieta House is always there. The number is 1800 247 247. They are the best group in Ireland.

I can’t quite put my finger on it. Two of my family members died [suicides] two and a half years ago. I would be lying if I said I knew the answer. What can make a person leave this world? I don’t know. Every family in Ireland wants to know. Hopefully, they can find it in their hearts to change their feelings and connect with people who can help them.

How do you want to be remembered as a fighter?

The man who changed Irish boxing, the man people looked up to. A great person in and out of the ring, and a ‘champion of the world’. After that, [when Donovan hangs up the gloves] to bring back the people of the village [Limerick] and Ireland, to give back to young boxers in Ireland – to have kids who want to be the next me. If I can be ‘world champion’ and achieve my goals, I will be very popular in Ireland.

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