THE choice was a simple one: stick or twist.
Sitting in a plush room in front of some of the main movers from boxing powerbrokers Golden Boy, Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan could easily have accepted what was a decent offer of a four-fight deal. It would have given him stability and a good platform to show his quality.
Instead, on the eve of a clash with Nick Quigley which was broadcast live on ESPN from Boston last September, he decided to take on chance on himself and roll the dice. His promotor Ken Casey – better known as the frontman for the band Dropkick Murphy’s – had shown him the contract but he went his gut instinct and the belief of his long-time trainer Pascal Collins.
“I looked at the contract and thought 'nah, I'm worth more than that'. Myself and Pascal know what I'm capable of and what I've done to get to that level. I decided to put on a show, to batter him and they'd come back to me with a better contract.
“I rolled two sixes on the dice because they came back with a contract where my first fight on the new deal was worth more than my penultimate one on the original deal. I was starting better than I ever would have got to.”
That first fight was a typically exhilarating joust with Antoine Douglas staged in Canada before Christmas with his TKO putting the Mahon man on a collision course with the highly-rated Danny Jacobs in April. Provided a deal can be struck in the coming weeks.
“I think the best left-handed boxer out there is Billy Joe Saunders and the best right-handed boxer is Danny Jacobs. I’ve huge respect for him and it’s going to be a serious battle if it comes off. Jacobs knocked Kid Chocolate (a former target of Spike’s) out in one round. And Kid Chocolate is good, a world champion with Cuban roots.
“I remember when I said I wanted to fight Kid Chocolate people looked him up and thought I was mad, 'you can't fight him'. Sure Antoine Douglas looked more fierce again.
“Golden Boy would love to have me fight in Ireland, something like Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but the problem is the time zone, it just doesn’t work for pay-per-view in America.
“You never know though. It’d be pretty cool! We all watch matches during the middle of the night in the World Cup.”
These are heady times indeed for the 33-year-old in what is 10 years – January 26th – since his first professional bout. When we meet in the Silver Key for a lengthy chat over breakfast and a steady supply of black coffee, he’s inundated with well-wishers.
O’Sullivan has only been defeated twice in that period, to Saunders and Chris Eubank junior, but the ferocity of his punching means he’s always a thrill to watch. He’s currently on a high but there have been plenty of lows as well, including length spells of inactivity following those losses.
“I'm into big-time money now and that was what was hanging on the fight against Douglas. My kids will be set up now after all this. That's what I always wanted. It was a good kick in the bollocks too for my begrudgers and doubters, and Cork has plenty of them as well, even if for the most part it's positive.
“Over the years I've been told to switch trainers but you've to take the blame yourself, no one can get in the ring with you.”
The Dropkick Murphy’s connection has been a profitable one though. He ended up with Mickey Ward – who Mark Wahlberg portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie The Fighter – in his corner for a fight. His contests in Boston can be wild, even if a proposed fight at one of Huge Hefner’s Playboy Mansion parties never came to pass.
“That was probably as well off. I doubt the missus would have been too happy.”
His partner Selena must be thrilled with the huge opportunities on the horizon this year though. They have two children – Thomas (1) and Ashley (6) – while he also has two daughters Jacinta and Katie from a previous relationship.
“Ashley loves doing an impression of Michael Buffer, the ring announcer. I came into the kitchen one morning and she starts doing it – ‘he is the middleweight fighting pride of Cork…’ It’s gas.
“She was so excited seeing me on RTÉ news when they did a segment on the last fight. That was incredible. I remember when we were small in Mahon and my mother was so excited because we were on telly one night just walking in the background on some news clip.”
With five brothers and one sister, he’s not short of backing here. And his parents Denis and Jacinta are the reason he got a grá for boxing in the first place, pulling on gloves from the age of five.
“The true me is that I’m a lover not a fighter, unless you draw the wrong side out of me. In my heart family is the most important thing in the world.
“The first couple of nights up in training in Dublin are great but you really start missing the kids and Selena then and can’t wait to get home. The next fight though I’m going to sacrifice five weeks with the family to train somewhere decent. That’ll get me in the right mindset before I step in the ring.
“In 2017 I’d four fights, four knockouts but I got tested in all of them, they were all good. The first one since Eubank was against Chauncey Field, he felt he could beat me and it backfired, but the bodyshots in it were unreal.
“They sounded like gunshots. I punch ferociously hard – I recorded the hardest punch ever on PBC, which is Al Haymon’s promotion – but I can take a hit. I’ve never been knocked out. I don’t have a glass chin.”
If it sounds like Spike is all bravado, give him a chance to explain. Whatever about the fire and fury of the act of boxing itself, self-belief and an iron will are just as important to step in the ring time and again.
“A lot of boxers are decent guys really because you can get humbled at any time. In three quick-fire sparring rounds against anyone you can get caught out. It keeps you honest.”
Spike steadily build his reputation in the US and he needed to, as he struggled to open doors this side of the Atlantic.
“No one can ever accuse me of not having guts or balls. I believe I’d stop Eubank now in a rematch similar to my last fight. 100%.”
While his primary boxing work is in Dublin under Collins’ tutelage, Spike puts his career revival down to the backing and advice of Dave O’Connell, strength and conditioning expert at the Mardyke Arena.
“I threw more punches in six rounds than Billy Joe Saunders did in 12. That comes from fitness. I’m training like an animal. I was given the opportunity to get these great things and I’m doing that for my four kids. I don’t want to make them soft but I always wanted to be able to buy them a house each, set them up.”
Spike is still tight with childhood friends and those who have backed him since his early days. When he headed to Dublin at the start of the month to appear on Saturday Sport on RTÉ Radio, JJ Murphy accompanied him on the train.
“Sunny, summer night, down into west Cork, it was brilliant. The craic on the bus after. I loved it.”