Timing is everything. Just ask Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan, who admits that getting a shot at Erislandy Lara maybe ten years ago wouldn’t have worked out too well for him.
“I think it would have been an absolute nightmare ten years ago, to be honest, for me in there with him, or for anybody with him, really,” said O’Sullivan.
Back then, Lara was the Cuban boxing wizard, a nightmare matchup who could make any fighter look bad, even himself, as he drew boos from fans who wanted blood, not a display of the sweet science. But in 2022, the WBA middleweight champion is 39 years old and in recent years, he hasn’t shied away from a fistfight if need be. That’s made him a lot more popular, but it’s also made him more vulnerable.
Enter the 37-year-old O’Sullivan, whose style just might serve him well when he faces Lara this Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn in the co-main event of the Gervonta Davis-Rolly Romero pay-per-view card.
“Years ago, this is not impossible, but it's a very daunting task to have to take on Lara,” said Sean Sullivan, co-founder of Murphy’s Boxing, the Irishman’s promoter. “Obviously, Spike just comes forward and he fights. There's not much mystery to his game. He's a tough guy and he's gonna get in there. And it sure does look like that's kind of what Lara's adapted to in the last few years. So, absolutely, if there was a time that he's gonna beat Lara, it's now.”
“He's on the decline, I think,” adds O’Sullivan. “But he's still a great fighter and a top challenge for anybody. He arguably may have won all those fights he lost, and he's a great fighter, but it's better to get him now than ten years ago, for sure.”
One look at O’Sullivan’s Twitter account (@spike_osullivan) and it’s clear that he may be the funniest man in boxing, but as he gets his first world title shot in his 36th pro fight, he’s all business, and has been since he got the call from his coach Packie Collins earlier this year.
“I was at a birthday party with my children and my partner, and Packie called me and just said, 'Would you fight for the middleweight world championship?'” O’Sullivan recalled. “I didn't even ask him who it was. I just said, 'Yeah, of course I would.' He said, ‘It's against Erislandy Lara.’ ‘Great fighter, but absolutely, let's do it.’ And that was it. I went to Dublin on the Monday and began training.”
It was a surprise to many that O’Sullivan got the shot at Lara, having only fought once – outpointing 16-35-6 Nodar Robakidze in May of last year – since his gutsy stoppage defeat against Jaime Munguia in January 2020. But Sullivan had been working overtime to keep his fighter’s name in the mix, and when Lara needed someone to fight, the New Englander knew a guy.
“I talk quite a bit with (Lara’s manager) Luis DeCubas (Jr.) and we were working it out gradually for maybe the last four months or so where we've been throwing it back and forth and discussing it,” Sullivan said. “So it wasn't a surprise; it was something I knew was in the works.”
And as many might trash the matchup, for sentimental reasons it’s one that sits well with the fans of O’Sullivan, who paid his dues and always showed up to fight, only to lose the big fights when he stepped up. Then again, when those fights are against Billy Joe Saunders, Chris Eubank Jr., David Lemieux and Munguia, who were a combined 110-5 when he faced them, O’Sullivan can get a pass. And he doesn’t shy away from admitting that he lost when it mattered most in the past, but remember, the past is over.
“I'm not gonna say I deserved it before,” he said. “Maybe I did. A lot of people think I probably did. But I never did, unfortunately. But it's fine, I'm cool with that - I've got an opportunity now and regardless of the result, really, I think it's something my great grandchildren will speak about. It's a magnificent occasion for me and I'm going in to win. If I did, it would mean the world to me. I've never turned down a fight, I've fought everybody, and I've never shied away from a tough fight. I stumbled at the final hurdle at times, but hopefully not this time.”
O’Sullivan’s not going to lie. Like everyone else who follows boxing, he’s seen fighters fall into title shots over and over again – some deserving, some not. And he came close a few years ago himself when he was expected to face Gennadiy Golovkin in 2018 when “Canelo” Alvarez removed himself from a bout with “GGG” after failing a drug test. But it didn’t happen.
“I didn't get the opportunity to fight Golovkin when Canelo failed the drug test, but Golden Boy gave me an offer financially I couldn't turn down and basically talked me out of that fight,” he said. “They told me I'd get it anyway, and they thought I'd beat Lemieux, which I thought I would've beaten him if he didn't get me with that punch. So I thought I might never get that opportunity again. But now I have it and I'm delighted.”
So are his fans – or should I say supporters, as the affable Irishman is uncomfortable with calling those who have been by his side all these years fans.
“I feel like I'm a small football team,” he said. “I've had so many people supporting me over the years - genuine supporters that really, really care about me and I think it will bring a tear to the eye of many, many people if I was to manage to win it,” O’Sullivan said. “So I'm gonna get in there and try and do it for all those guys. I've been working as hard as I can in the gym, working my butt off, and I'm trying to do it for all them more so than myself. I think it will bring them such joy and them having such joy will bring me such joy myself, of course.”
With all the talk of the pound-for-pound list and multi-million-dollar paydays, it’s nice to hear that getting a world championship still means something to those fighting to get one.
Like Spike O’Sullivan.
“I'm from a council estate in Cork, a small place, and it's a place where if you couldn't afford to buy a house, you got housed there,” he said. “That's where I grew up and I never thought that people would support me from all around the world and want to talk to me and stuff like that. It's an amazing feeling to have that effect. I am an ordinary guy, and when people react like that, I never get used to it. I got more followers than many world champions, which is crazy because I've never been world champion.”
That may change by Sunday morning.
“To be honest, and I think it's the mindset of his whole team and from Murphy's Boxing, we think he's got a very good shot at winning and we actually think he's gonna pull the upset,” said Sullivan. “So that's his mentality - he's going there thinking he's going there to win the championship of the world.”