By Hans Olson
This Sunday, Framingham, MA native Danny O’Connor (17-1-0, 5 KOs) will participate in the first ever professional prize fight at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots and Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution.
On the night, the light welterweight will face New York’s James Ventry (7-15-1, 4 KOs) in the third of three fights immediately following the Revolution’s match with the Montreal Impact.
Late last week, Boxing Insider caught up with Danny-O to discuss the fight, his career, and much more.
Boxing Insider: Hey Danny, how’s everything going? You have a pretty big fight coming up!
Danny O’Connor: “Everything is going great man! I wanted to capitalize quick after the last fight. I went right back into training camp after the House of Blues event, so I’ve been really excited for this.”
Now you’re fighting after the New England Revolution game on the 12th. It looks like your career is going in a pretty good direction—you’re really starting to have a lot of media coverage in the Boston area—how does it feel?
“Well I mean to be honest, it feels amazing. I mean when I’m down at training camp by myself, there are a lot of emotions that run through me…and to think just a year ago nobody knew me. You know, buying a one way ticket to Texas with no money in my pocket, leaving my family with the hopes and dreams of following my dream. Only a short year later, I’m standing at the doorstep of being a part of boxing history fighting at Gillette Stadium for the first time ever. I just feel so blessed to have such great people around me—coach Ronnie Shields, Ken Casey [of the Dropkick Murphys], and the New England Revolution.
“I mean, since day one they have welcomed me and have gone far and beyond the call of duty. They’ve been absolutely amazing. I feel great about all the coverage. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into what I do, and there are a lot of hours that I put into it that people don’t see. For me, boxing is a 24-hour-a-day job. I don’t have any time off, so to have people take notice of that and the hard work I’ve been putting in is great. I think I’m definitely a prime example of hard work and dedication; believing in yourself when other people might not will get you to go a long way. I’m just thankful for everything that’s been happening to me and my family to be in this situation.”
Now you’ve been with Ronnie…it’s probably close to a year now right?
“Exactly. I went down in July…last July.”
How has the fighter/trainer relationship progressed? You guys seem to be clicking pretty well…
“I mean, there’s not even enough words for me to say about how special coach Ronnie is to me. As a fighter you’ve gotta fight, but I think you give the people in your corner a special respect and the right to tell you what to do, and as a fighter you listen to them. That means you have to have full trust in what that person is telling you, and when it comes to that I 100% trust coach Ronnie. When he tells me to do something, I do it, and I know it’s because he knows what he’s talking about. I have trust in him that all the stuff that we’re doing is for the best.
“Obviously, his resume goes to show that he’s a legend, but you know outside of the ring he’s a great man too. I look up to him and I’m actually very lucky to have him as my coach. I think as a fighter I’ve progressed. I didn’t even see that elite level until I met coach Ronnie. I think he’s opened my eyes to a lot of things and you know, made me believe in myself. The biggest thing is just learning, learning everything and keep working hard and keep bettering yourself every time you’re in the gym.”
Thinking back to about a year ago, what is it that kept you going? You had a lot on your plate. The health issue in the first pro fight you lost; you had a kid; you moved down someplace where you hadn’t been…what do you think got you through all of that and got you over to the other side? There are a lot of fighters that would have been overwhelmed by all those things at that point in their career…
“It was my wife Diane. My son Liam at the time I had left to go see coach Ronnie, he was only two months old. A big factor was Diane. Like, you’ve got to understand that I sacrifice to do what I do as fighter, but Diane has to sacrifice just as much in life to make everything that I do work, so we are absolutely a team and she is my rock. She is definitely my rock and she has been with me through the worst of times, and I would just like to be able to show her some good times too. I just never stopped believing. Diane didn’t stop believing in me when I was sick and coming off surgery and we didn’t really know what the future had in store. This was at the time before I had met Ken. I hadn’t even known Ronnie…I was just in the midst of getting to know Ronnie. We didn’t know what the future was going to hold but we just never stopped believing.
“I never stopped believing in myself, I never stopped believing in the dream. I just kept working hard, kept working hard with just the hopes that something good would come out of it and at the end of the day it did. I met Ken Casey and he’s a Godsend. More than just with the relationship we have in boxing, but as a friend. I look up to him as a person, and as a mentor. He really took me under his wing and at the end of the day it feels really really good to have support and people care about you. It feels really good. With all the press that I’ve been getting and my Twitter account…I have all these fans that are starting to follow me and I get messages and people reach out to me…it motivates me. It really does. To be able to do something that I’m so passionate about and to touch the lives of other people, it really is a special thing.”
Can you tell us a little bit more about Ken Casey for those who may not be familiar with him?
“Yeah Ken Casey is part of the Dropkick Murphys, they’re a Celtic rock band in Boston, they’re really well known. He is an avid boxing fan, he loves it…”
They had Mickey Ward on an album cover a while back right?
“Yeah, yeah they had Mickey Ward and they have a song about him. Ken is just a really, really great guy. He has a charity, it’s called The Claddagh Fund, and I did a little work for him and I ended up meeting him. I did an appearance at one of his bars, McGreevy’s in Boston, and I struck up a relationship with him. One thing lead to another and he’s just such a good person. I think that the mix goes together so well because his fans have really branched out to become Danny-O fans.
“I think the business of boxing and music really is so similar. I had the opportunity to go on tour for a little while with the Dropkick Murphys and I got to see all the behind the scenes stuff. It’s just the hard work that they put in. Just the blue collar hard work. Me and Ken have a lot of similar traits that just make us the perfect match really. I can’t even say how helpful that he’s been to me and my family. He’s really just a Godsend.”
Are you all together with your family now? Are they down with you in Texas or do you split time up here in New England with them?
“I split time. Sometimes I’m at training camp by myself. I’m actually home in Boston now. I came here yesterday, so I’ll be remaining here until the fight. But you know, we do the best we can. We still don’t have a lot of money but we still have a lot of expenses—I only get paid when I fight. So all this stuff is good but it’s difficult to have both of us travel all the time, airline tickets, you know? So we do the best we can and we make it work. When we’re apart we miss each other like hell, and when we’re together we cherish it for what it is. Yesterday was the first time I got to see them in maybe a month or so. I just cherish the time I have with them.”
What inspires you as a fighter? I know that obviously your family is an inspiration and you’re inspired by the people around you that are helping you out here—but as a boxer what inspires you? What inspires you every day as a fighter?
“Well, a lot of people have asked me that question and I think it’s a pretty open ended question. I mean, the hopes and dreams of being a world champion and having that belt. I mean that’s been the dream from day one since I put on a pair of gloves. Watching Pernell Whitaker fight on TV, like, that’s what I wanted to be. Winning belts. Alongside that, yeah, you’ve got the family and now all this stuff that I’m doing with Ken and with the Dropkicks, bringing the sport of boxing back to Boston and back to New England.
“Now having the the fans here who have branched off to become Danny O fans be excited about my fight night, like, having the opportunity to fight at Gillette Stadium for the first time, possibly at Fenway, possibly at the Boston Garden…this stuff motivates me. The fans. The fans from Boston, from New England. The way that they have reached out to me. I get emails, I get text messages, I get Facebook…and I reply to everybody. I talk on Twitter…I call it my fan-family because they’re just people who come to see me fight and support me and I wouldn’t be anywhere without the fans.”
You were mentioning how boxing is a 24 hour commitment, and how tough the business is. It got me thinking back to when you fought at the Mohegan which would have been November 2010 on the same card as Matt Remillard and Paul Spadafora. Now Spadafora, obviously, he’s had a lot of issues in his career—he’s always been a great fighter—but with what he’s gone through in his career, he’s now kind of in boxing limbo. He may never fulfill the potential that many thought he had. Matt Remillard, he’s close to your age, but has unfortunately gone through some legal issues that left him incarcerated.
“I wrote him a letter in jail actually…”
Looking at that, looking at that card, and looking at where you all were…I remember being there thinking to myself that you and Matt were the up and coming guys, and while I hoped that Paul could make a comeback at that point in his career, I thought you and Matt were the guys to watch. Thinking about something like that, does it ever remind you of how hard it is to achieve even the small success you’re getting now leading to this fight? How fleeting success is, and how quick it goes, and how tough it is to stay at this level…
“Absolutely. The biggest thing is that nothing is guaranteed. Nothing in the world. That’s why I work so hard at what I do. That’s why I say it’s a 24 hour job. Just this morning I had three radio interviews, a television interview, and then straight from there I’m at the gym. And now I’m going to another gym to hold the mitts for Ken, and then after that I’m going to go home and I’m gonna go running. It’s not just the boxing now, it’s the business part of it too; building my brand, letting people know about Danny-O and I think that when you have the chance to change your life for the better you…have to take that chance. You have to take that opportunity and you have to do the best that you can and just hope for the best.
“Nothing is guaranteed. There’s nothing saying that I’m going to be a world champion. There’s nothing saying that my boxing career is going to pan out even close to how I want it to. But you know what? I have always, always since day one proven people wrong. People have overlooked me, underrated me and that’s fine. But you know what? The biggest thing is I will never stop believing in me. My work ethic, my determination…I will find a way to make my dreams come true.”