This past Tuesday, June 9, primetime American boxing resumed on ESPN. It was the first live event in about three months and, while things are still not at all back to normal, it was a welcome step in that direction.
As far as Top Rank–the promotional body behind Tuesday’s card–is concerned, all fights in the near future will occur in “the bubble.” A cordoned-off section of the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas, in which all fighters and necessary personnel will reside during fight week.
No fans, judges at a safe distance, cleaning crews scouring the ring between fights, and the adjacent training facility before and after each fighter trains. Watching this incarnation of boxing feels like going into a gym and watching open sparring.
Watching on television makes the affair feel a bit alien and unfamiliar. The thudding of leather on flesh is punctuated with words yelled from each corner, not drowned out by the crowd. It certainly detracts from the gravity and drama of the event, but hey, at least it’s back.
The true professionals were ready for this eventuality. The duties of a fighter don’t end after their daily hours in the gym. It’s a 24/7 job and lifestyle for any serious practitioner.
Irishman, Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan (30-4, 21 KOs) is ready for his career to resume. Recently, he was kind enough to lend Round By Round Boxing some of his time to discuss his plans in the wake of the pandemic.
O’Sullivan is a throwback fighter. As if to let everyone know about this, he sports a look reminiscent of strongmen from the turn of the 20th century.
Shaved head, with an immaculately waxed mustache. Appropriately enough, he says it was directly inspired by John L Sullivan, the last bare-knuckle and first gloved Heavyweight champion.
Boxing is big in Ireland–far bigger than it is in the United States. It’s only natural that Spike’s roots in the sport were bred into him.
“I started in the sport at five years old, and I’m 35 now” said O’Sullivan. “That’s three decades… I really can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fighting. My brothers all fought too. Out of the five of us, there were four national amateur champions.”
Spike still lives in his native Cork, Ireland, with his family. Talking to him, it’s evident that his family is a huge motivator, and is really at the core of who he is.
While many fighters find that being away from home is necessary during training camp, Spike prefers having time with his family to recharge.
“I’ve been with my trainer, Packie Collins, for 13 years,” said O’Sullivan. “He’s based in Dublin–during training camp, I spend my weeks there, and come back home to Cork every weekend to be with my family–with my kids.”
His trainer hails from another prominent boxing family. Packie’s brother, Steve Collins was a two-division world champion in the 1990s.
Given their respective boxing families’ depths, the partnership between O’Sullivan and Collins is fitting. They’ve been together for the entirety of O’Sullivan’s professional career, which has no doubt contributed to a good deal of the pair’s success.
However, Spike grew up fighting.
“It was a tough neighborhood. I had to fight as a kid,” said O’Sullivan. “To be honest, I never enjoyed it outside the ring. I never started anything either, but you do what you have to do.”
Growing up having to fight in the street, whether you want to or not, helps create a certain mental toughness. Make no mistake, getting punched is never pleasant, but even the thinnest of fight gloves will dull the sharpness of a punch just a bit.
But getting hit bare knuckle hurts every time, no matter where the shot lands. Not to mention the other variables that come into play when there aren’t any rules to follow.
Of course, a fighter’s innate traits and instincts will dictate a willingness to exchange, but experiences like this help to build confidence in one’s ability to win those exchanges.
This has been on display in all of his fights.
Because of the opportunities it unlocked, his knockout win over rising prospect, Antoine Douglas (then 22-1-1, 16 KOs) in late 2017 may be the biggest of his career thus far.
Douglas was 25 years old, and tabbed as a potential star at the time. O’Sullivan was effectively there as an opponent, but you wouldn’t have known that from watching the fight.
“I knew that if I won, it would mean getting signed by Golden Boy Promotions,” said O’Sullivan. “I was always a huge fan of Oscar De La Hoya anyway, but being signed by his company would mean bigger fights almost immediately.”
Douglas was thought to be faster and fresher, with a bigger upside because of his younger age. O’Sullivan steamrolled him. He brought the fight to the younger man consistently, making it a brawl for seven rounds, before getting the stoppage.
Spike effectively beat him into retirement; Douglas hasn’t fought since.
In his last outing in January, O’Sullivan was matched with former WBO 154 pound champion, Jaime Munguia in the latter’s 160-pound debut.
Anyone could’ve called this, but it was entertaining the entire way. The two went at each other all night. O’Sullivan may not have come out on top, but it was far from a foregone conclusion. Every single exchange was punctuated with at least one hurtful shot, with both men getting buzzed.
A split second before the bell to end Round 3, with his back to the ropes, Spike landed an overhand right to the point of Munguia’s chin, sending him staggering back to his own corner. Had the shot landed a few seconds earlier, Spike easily could have come away with the stoppage win himself.
Those two fights were at 160 pounds, however.
“I’ll fight anybody, at any time,” said O’Sullivan. “I can do that at both 160 and 154, but I feel better at the lower weight.”
He started his career there, and returned to that weight recently, against Khiary Gray last St. Patrick’s Day. He came away with the stoppage in that effort, and it solidified his opinion that 154 is where his future lies.
“I’m much physically stronger and faster, and I hit harder there,” said O’Sullivan. “I’ve retired a lot of guys at that weight.”
His early record at 154 is much like a young Miguel Cotto’s at 140–he was a buzzsaw. He’s confident that he will easily regain that form there.
Aside from comfort, the biggest reason may be the opponents available. One champion at Super Welterweight is of particular interest to him.
“I want Patrick Teixeira,” said O’Sullivan with total certainty. Teixeira, the current 154 pound WBO champion, recently called Spike out, saying he would end the Irishman’s career.
O’Sullivan promptly fired back with this Instagram video.
He had even more to say to me about it during our talk.
“Again, I’ll fight any champion. But not before Teixeira,” said O’Sullivan. “Truth be told, he’s a b***h. He called me out, then started talking about fighting other guys. I didn’t appreciate that.”
When fighters begin such verbal sparring, you’d be hard-pressed to find more direct statements than that.
Certain fighters have a way of making you believe them. Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan is one of those fighters.
This credibility is gained through supreme confidence, as well as a track record of fighting the best available opponents. His only losses have come to current or former world champions, so he’s no stranger to long odds and tough opposition.
O’Sullivan would be a live contender at any weight, but he’s especially dangerous at 154, for any champion. Jeison Rosario (WBA/ IBF,) Jermell Charlo (WBC,) and Patrick Teixeira should all be wary.
Sometimes, athletes at this level create rivalries or manufacture perceived slights to give themselves extra motivation. That is not at all the case with Spike O’Sullivan’s and Patrick Teixeira’s beef. Somewhere along the line, Teixeira decided that he didn’t like O’Sullivan, and O’Sullivan delivered a justified response.
The rivalry is very real.
As far as selling the fight goes, the legwork has already been done. Add to that the fact that both men share the same promoter, and there is absolutely no reason why this couldn’t–or shouldn’t–be made. O’Sullivan vs. Teixeira needs to happen for the WBO 154 pound title as soon as possible.