Boxing

'My dad will always be with me'. Joe Fitzpatrick determined to honour memory of his dad Gerry by becoming a champion in the ring

Joe Fitzpatrick returns to action at the Devenish Complex on May 25
Andy Watters

JOE Fitzpatrick knows boxing will never be the same without his dad, but he is fiercely determined to honour his memory by becoming the champion Gerry Fitzpatrick always knew he could be.

After 18 months on the sidelines, the unbeaten 23-year-old lightweight (8-0) returns to action against Stephen Webb at Belfast’s Devenish Complex on May 25.

Like the rest of his family, everyone at west Belfast’s famous Immaculata ABC and many in his community and throughout the boxing world, Joe is still mourning his father, affectionately known far and wide as ‘Fitzy’, who passed away suddenly on March 23 aged 66.

His dad, a highly-respected coach, was in his corner throughout an amateur career that included a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and for all eight of his professional fights.

“It was a massive shock to the family and the local community,” Joe explained.

“My daddy went for a routine operation and caught an infection in the hospital and died. He was a strong man, mentally strong but his number was called and that was it.

“His funeral showed how much he was respected, there were thousands at it and the door didn’t stop at the wake. It was constant, there was a queue to get in and I never saw so many men cry.

“He was respected by so many people in the Lower Falls, he gave up his time voluntarily for me and for others in the boxing club to produce so many champions along with Nugget (Gerry Nugent). It’s heart-breaking and I’ll never be able to get over it, hopefully I’ll learn how to live with it a bit more and I know my da is with me every step of the way.

“He’ll be in that corner and his spirit will be in the ring with me every single time. He is just constantly with me.”

Along with ‘Nugget’ Nugent, Gerry Fitzpatrick was the backbone of the Immaculata club, better known as ‘The Mac’. He began teaching young Joe the skills of the fight game when he was just four years old.

“After work my daddy would get changed – sometimes he didn’t even get a chance to get changed – and he’d bring us up to the club,” he recalls.

“Life revolved around the boxing club - I remember times getting my hair cut in the boxing club by Tommy Quinn!

“It’s a different environment. The craic we had in the club with my daddy and my brother Gerry was different from being in the house. We had a lot more bonding time.

“It’s never gonna be the same but I know he’s with me, he’s keeping me mentally strong. I’m not going to lie, we’re all hurt and there are times I need to let out a cry but that’s alright.

“My daddy always said: ‘We’re men’s men but tears are allowed – let it out, don’t hold it in’.

“I need to do the graft and it’s going to take me a while to get my fan base back up but people from my district know this is a new Joe – my pro career is kicking off now.”

Fitzpatrick’s ability has never been in question but – as he admits - his commitment to training has been. His last fight was a stoppage win over Mwenya Chisanga back in October 2017 and there were days in the wilderness since when he seemed lost to boxing.

“This is a comeback,” he says.

“I’ve been out of the ring for 18 months. There’ve been a couple of mix-ups, some of them have been my fault and I’m not going to deny that I was off the rails.

“I was on the verge of retirement, I was strongly considering hanging up my gloves.

“But I’ve gone back to the Mac since then and I haven’t enjoyed boxing this much since the Commonwealth Games. I’m not going to lie, every other camp I’ve been messing about but this is a serious camp.

“Six weeks straight I’ve been eating clean, I’ve been training twice-a-day, working with Nugget, doing great padwork with Martin Lindsay… Getting great sparring, class sparring, I’m sparring Anto Cacace next week and I’ve never been as mentally fit.

“My daddy knew the ability I have. I know my own ability and everything I do in boxing I’m doing for him. He’s the motivation, a lot of the stuff I learned – in and out of the ring – was what my Da showed me – he brought me up to be a man’s man and he brought me up to be a boxer.

“I know what he wanted from him and I’m not going to let him down, I’m going to do it, I’m going to go to the top.

“I’ve heard the rumours spread about me, there’s people out there saying: ‘He’ll not hack it, he’ll crumble, his daddy dying there will break him…’ No way. There are other boxers who have come out of the Mac who could have been, I’m gonna be – there’s no coulda/shoulda, I’m a gonnabe.”

In the future he sees Charlie Flynn, the man who beat him in the 2014 Commonwealth Games final, as a target but being world champion is his ultimate ambition. He says new handlers, Boxing Ireland, have his career path mapped out and he intends to go right to the top. When temptation comes his way – and it will – he believes he has the mental strength to stay focussed.

“After the Commonwealth Games I was drinking. I had friends, I thought they were friends, who encouraged me to go out on the drink,” he explains.

“I was partying. Yes, everybody is entitled to have an odd blow-out but not the way I did it, I did it a bit too much but now I don’t miss it.

“I have a holiday booked for the day after the fight and I’m going to win, I’m going to beat Steven Webb and next day there’s a squad of boys going away. I’ll have a few but I’m not going to have a blow-out, I’m going to have a chill-out holiday and I’ll be straight back into the gym on the Monday morning. I’ve agreed this with Nugget, Frankie, Martin Lindsay… all the coaches, on the Monday morning I’ll be back in.

“I don’t want to be messing about because you’re boxing career goes in a flash so it’s as well I woke up now instead of when I was 30, I’m still young, I turned pro very young and now I’ve got man-strength and I’m going to the top.”

IRISH champ Feargal McCrory headlines a star-studded bill at the Europa Hotel on Saturday night in what promises to be another exciting event.

Hammer-handed former European, Commonwealth, WBA International Champion James Tennyson returns for his second fight since losing a world title challenge to American IBF Super Featherweight Champion Tevin farmer.

Tennyson continues his comeback at lightweight again following a successful campaign at super featherweight and takes on dangerous Nicaraguan Brayan Mairena.

“At 25, ‘The Assassin’ still has a big future ahead as he looks to chase a shot at the British Lightweight title currently held by the Matchroom starlet Joe Cordina,” said promoter Mark Dunlop.

The undercard includes Irish champion McCrory, who headlines his first show, and is joined by former World Kick Boxing Champion Cathy McAleer, Belfast cruiserweight Tommy McCarthy and Dublin’s talented Celtic champion Victor Rabei.

“It’s really hard to believe James is still only 25, he has achieved already what 99.9 per cent of professional boxers never do,” Dunlop added.

“He’s only getting warmed up, facts are facts and he has done it the hard way earning great experience”

Tickets are priced at: VIP Ringside, including four-course meal £80, ringside £50, reserved £45 and unreserved £40. For tickets, ring 07712 473905 or email mark@mhdpromotions.com

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