Pierce O’Leary was only six years old when he had a peek inside the Dublin Docklands Boxing Club.
The gym was just up the road from where he lived and O’Leary believes there was something of right place, right time to his jaunt. He walked in and never looked back. But then he lied.
The kid told those in charge he was eight years old. O’Leary wanted to go regularly. Two years down the line from his new age would have allowed him to go on a Monday, Wednesday and a Friday. The appetite for hard work, which he swears by these days, had begun. The little fib was eventually revealed but by that time the youngster had shown enough commitment to prove he was serious about being there.
“I was actually eligible for the leagues and the championships,” said O’Leary recalling the humorous side of this tale to Boxing Social.
“So, they said weigh in tomorrow and fight next week and I was like yeah, grand but I had to tell them about my age. From then I just kept training. There were a few close mates training with me and some drifted away and then I got to an age where I knew I could make a living from it and never looked back. Kept on it at 120% from a young age. I gained so much discipline and it helped me throughout everything.”
Football and motocross had played their part in O’Leary’s early years but as is so often the case when the boxing bug bit him it took over. Fifteen years and countless amateur accolades later we are now witnessing a 21-year-old, trained by Alan Smith, who is part of another Irish boxing boom which appears to occur every year such is the depth of talent that both nations have.
Six fights into his pro career have helped shape a reputation that has already grown to a level where many believe 140-pounder O’Leary will go on to reach great heights in boxing.
A professional since October 2019, O’Leary admits that the early stages were something akin to all guns blazing. Working with Smith, as well as relocating to London, has helped put more method and skill alongside the thirst to throw down and rely on work rate to win the day.
“I think the last fight showed I’ve got those skills in the bag,” O’Leary said commenting on his last win against Irvin Magno a few weeks ago. I brought out what no one has saw [yet].”
Magno was a test on paper. O’Leary, nicknamed ‘Big Bang’, faced a Filipino battler who would give any up and comer an honest night’s work. The winner on this occasion enjoyed the jump in class and wants more of it.
“I think it’ll be step ups from now on. I think the bigger the step up the better I perform. I’m hoping to get three more fights before the end of the year and set me up for a big 2021… 2022 I should say. My mind’s still in 2020 because not a lot has changed. Hopefully, it sets me up for something big in 2022, a big fight down the line, a title fight somewhere. For now, even if I get two fights in before the end of the year, I’ll be happy because there’s people screaming for one fight and they can’t even get it. So, if I’m in a position to get two or three fights then I’m forever grateful for that.”
O’Leary performed well enough to catch the eye of trainer Adam Booth during his long camp for the Magno fight. The Dubliner had been sparring Josh Kelly who himself was preparing for the L plates to come off before he fought David Avanesyan for the European welterweight title. Booth, who has one of the best eyes for talent in boxing and trained David Haye and Andy Lee to world title glory, as well playing a huge part in the career of George Groves, described O’Leary as ‘special’.
“It makes you keep working harder and know that you can reach into your soul and take something out,” said O’Leary (6-0, 2 KOs), answering Boxing Social when he was asked how Booth’s compliment made him feel.
“When he said it to me it didn’t really hit me till later. People were texting me about it, so I thought Jesus this must be something to him. If someone says you’re great I just leave it, so I stay focused, work hard and give 120%. Someone saying that is just more drive because he [Booth] has a really good eye in boxing. I’m just going to keep on working harder.”
O’Leary describes Canelo Alvarez and Floyd Mayweather as special. Two fighters he looks up to as well as the legendary Roberto Duran. He touched on the debate of Mayweather being a boring fighter and, while he understands why the argument is given, for O’Leary he is an example of a boxer to watch and learn from.
“When I used to watch him, I would go into a room and watch the fight on my phone, and I would study what he was doing to a tee. It was the art of what he was doing. Some people say he’s boring but what he was doing he had taken to perfection. He was unreal. Unbelievable.”
As was the case with Mayweather, hard work and dedication is a key component of O’Leary’s unquenchable thirst for the sport. When training camp and fight night is over, he is a bit of a lost soul without the discipline he thrives on. The routine is gone, and boredom sets in. Thankfully, he lives in a part of London where there is enough opportunity to get out to a local park and do some work of his own.
Downtime also takes him to his love for horses, brought on through his family.
“Growing up I was always around them with my uncle,” he explained. “The last three years I’ve been around them an awful lot. Even with the lockdown with no gyms open, no training, I’d train myself but then I’d go with my uncle and spend a lot of time with the horses and go out on them. I’ve now got an extra interest so, when I’m not boxing, I’m with horses. It just gives me that peace of mind. That connection you have with a horse takes you away from the boxing world. I just find peace with it.”
So, that is how you switch off from the sport?
“Exactly. It’s exactly that,” he replied.
O’Leary went on to recall a memorable occasion which clearly meant a lot to him.
“It’s hard to explain if you’ve never done it but when you walk in the stable and, the horse looks you in the eye, you get that bond straight away,” he said. “I was at a beach with the horses and my uncle. It was a great time for me because I never spent that with my father. I was never with my father on a horse. As soon as the horses went years ago, he never got back into them.
“With my uncle having them, he keeps hounding him to come up, so he was up. Spending that time with my uncle and my father on the horses together was a great feeling. It was a really great bond. The horses were loving it. It was more like a spa day for the horses. Went to the front water, let them get a walk round it, roll in it and enjoy it, you bring them back and walk them back. I’d never witnessed that before and I really enjoyed it. It’s another memory for me.”
His love for horses is something that he hopes will pass on to his daughter one day. And as for his nephew who he loves: “My nephew is crazy about horses. He thinks he’s a cowboy!”
O’Leary is already thinking about a life with horses when his career in boxing is over. In the ring there is much to accomplish. A world title is the obvious aim and, with that, would come financial reward which, along with his four-legged friends, could help benefit others in the future.
“It’s not about me in the situation, it’s about the people around me who will benefit off it as well. I’ve been looking online, and disabled people have a connection with horses,” said O’Leary.
“I’d love to go to a school where disabled kids connect with the horses and [I could] get them organised times every week, say on a Wednesday 12 o’clock and I’d love to bring them in, just to help others and give back and make everyone else happy. At the end of the day, it’s all about making the world a better place. Doing that would mean everything to me. That’s one of my main priorities so hopefully I can get my first world title and get that done.”
An honourable idea from a young man who has an old head on shoulders that are prepared to carry the weight of expectation.
Main image and all photos: MTK Global.