October 8 should have been the biggest night of Connor Coyle’s career, a fight with a fellow unbeaten middleweight in London’s O2 Arena as the co-main event to one of the most heavily hyped bouts of 2022.
Instead, Coyle was left without a fight and without a move up the middleweight rankings when a failed Conor Benn drug test canceled his bout with Chris Eubank Jr. and the entire card, which included the Derry native’s matchup with Felix Cash.
“The first day that we found out was on the Thursday,” said Coyle, who made the trip from his training camp in Florida for what should have been his 18th pro bout. “We were literally on our way to the press conference, and they called a meeting at the hotel lobby. Then we heard rumors, but we were waiting around for hours before we actually found out that it was concrete and the whole card was canceled.”
About the only positive from the situation was that Coyle was able to get home to his family in Northern Ireland a couple days sooner, but even while back home it all seemed like a dream / nightmare.
“Finding that out was just surreal,” he said. “I couldn't believe it. It didn't hit me for maybe a few days that it actually wasn't happening. And after a few days at home, I was like, Jesus, this whole thing actually just went up in the air. It's not happening now. It was definitely frustrating, the biggest fight of my life, a massive opportunity for me fighting in the O2, live on DAZN, so I could showcase my talent to the world against a world-rated fighter. But it's boxing and them things happen. You just have to take it on the chin and move forward, and other opportunities will arise again and we'll be ready for them.”
It's the only way the 17-0 (7 KOs) Irishman can deal with the disappointment: get back to the gym, get another fight, and keep winning. The first two parts of the formula are in, the next is this Sunday when he faces Sladan Janjanin in defense of his NABA title at the WBA convention in Orlando. Beating the 34-13 Janjanin may not improve Coyle’s current number nine ranking but fighting in front of the power players in the sanctioning body can’t hurt if he comes away with an impressive victory. And a paycheck before Christmas for the father of two is always a good thing.
“It hurt a little going from such a huge event and then stepping in for another fight to close off the year, but it's at the WBA convention and there's a lot of good pro fighters going to it, world champions from now and previous world champions,” he said. “And it will be televised, I'm not sure if they're gonna put me on, but I'll defend my WBA NABA title then, so it's still a big enough fight. If I get this win, you don't know what can come from it because there are so many people there in the audience who will be watching, and I'll also move up the world rankings after I take this guy out on Sunday evening.”
You can almost hear it in Coyle’s voice how he’s trying to walk the tightrope between patience and wanting the big fights yesterday. After a little over six years as a pro, he’s gone through the process of being a prospect, and while the real tests have been sporadic, the 32-year-old wants more, and he believes that once he’s in with a fellow contender at 160 pounds, we will see him shine. He especially wants to send a statement to the men atop the division, especially the two WBA titleholders, Erislandy Lara and Gennadiy Golovkin.
“Each fight is just getting us closer and closer, and within the 12 months I would like all those guys to know exactly who I am, and maybe one day, they'll step up and give the fans a good fight and give me the opportunity, as well,” he said. “I don't want to be going for points winning; I want to be stopping these guys in their tracks from here on out. I seem to be getting bigger and punching a lot more ferocious now. I seem to be getting a lot of power, so I'll be putting that to use this Sunday night.”
Then it’s back to Derry for the holidays, and once the phone rings with another fight, he’ll make the trip to St. Petersburg to work with Jim McLaughlin and the rest of the team. It’s a sacrifice, but a necessary one for “The Kid” with championship dreams.
“When I was young, I was always adamant that I was coming to New York to turn professional,” said Coyle. “I still ended up in America, just in Florida. And the way it worked out was even better for me. I'm with a great team, a team that takes care of me and they look after me and they have the best interests for me, so I'm very lucky that I have the team that I have. But I couldn't have stayed at home. I tried to train at home and the motivation isn't there. When I'm away, I'm completely focused. I'm here to do a job so my mind's in the zone, but when I'm back home, there are too many distractions, so it works out better me being away for at least short periods of time.”
There are daily FaceTime sessions with his six-year-old daughter and two-year-old son when he’s in Florida, and on Monday morning he’ll be on a plane to Derry, hopefully with another win in his pocket and a step closer to bringing a world title belt on that plane someday soon. And if he does, Irish eyes will be smiling across the pond.
“It would be amazing, especially for my small town, Derry,” said Coyle. “We've never had a world champion in our city, so it would be absolutely huge to be bringing a title back to Derry.”