Sport

Seconds Out: Armagh GAA star James Freeman a real life 'Rocky' story

James Freeman has had around 10 minutes of competitive boxing. Picture, Jimmy Finnegan Photography.
James Freeman has had around 10 minutes of competitive boxing. Picture, Jimmy Finnegan Photography. James Freeman has had around 10 minutes of competitive boxing. Picture, Jimmy Finnegan Photography.

THE ‘Rocky Story’ tagline is over-used in boxing but there’s no other way to describe the tale of James Freeman.

The Armagh fighting man has been plucked from nowhere to make his debut on the undercard of Michael Conlan’s challenge for Luis Lopez’s IBF featherweight title at the SSE Arena on May 27.

Freeman is a professional who was never an amateur. He didn’t have an amateur career – not so much as a round – and was never a member of a boxing club.

Yes, he has always followed boxing and as one of eight brothers, he had to learn to fight his own corner, but Gaelic Football was his passion from his earliest sporting days.

His dream was to win the All-Ireland with Armagh and, after going through the ranks of his club Pearse Og and progressing through underage sides in the Orchard County, he was called into the Armagh senior squad in 2019.

But after six months of training with the team he realised that his dream lay elsewhere. He wanted to be a boxer.

“I rang up ‘Geezer’ (Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney) one day and I told him: ‘I’m not enjoying this, I don’t actually enjoy it,” he explained.

“I thought my dream was to play for Armagh at Croke Park but when I got there it wasn’t what I had visualised.

“I was flying for the first three months and then I got injured. I was out for eight weeks and I analysed the team and the set-up and what was going on and I thought: ‘I can bust my balls and get a starting position in this team, but is that what I want?’

“It wasn’t, it wasn’t what I wanted to spend my life doing. I’d prefer to go and risk my reputation and sacrifice my football career and do something that was a bit more challenging and more rewarding down the line.

“I’ve met boxers who were sick of the sport but stayed with it because that’s all they knew and I was the same with the football.”

And so he left Armagh and went off to chase his fighting dreams instead.

“I always, always (Italics) loved boxing,” he said.

“Even when I was in the Armagh squad I was doing my own boxing training and then I went to my club manager at Pearse Og Shane McConville and I told him: ‘Shane I want to go and box”. Shane used to help train a professional called Ryan Greene and he offered to train me.

“So I would meet him before the Pearse Og training and we would do pads for maybe three-quarters of an hour. The other boys would be arriving for training and I would already be covered in sweat! It lit a fire in me.”

The next stage for determined Freeman (now 28) was to get himself a fight and he got a spot on a semi-pro card. How did it go? Not too bad – he knocked his opponent out in 19 seconds.

“I winged it,” he admits.

“He (his opponent) came running at me and I slipped his punch and banged him with a right hand and knocked him out completely. He was unconscious.

“I knew then that God had gifted me with a bit of power and the feeling I had… I never felt like it in my life, the adrenalin was unreal and I knew that boxing was what I was meant to do and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. I train twice-a-day every single day.”

He’s had three semi-pro fights since that debut. There were two more first round knockouts and one of his opponents made it to the second before hammer-handed Freeman stopped him.

He’s been working with Belfast coach Dan Anderson to get ready for the SSE Arena on May 27 after his manager Ian Gaughran secured him a slot on the Conlan-Lopez undercard.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity Conlan Boxing has given me,” says Freeman who is sponsored by Tommy French Competitions.

“I can’t wait to grab the opportunity with both hands.”

That is the key. Making his debut on a world title card is a dream come true but now he is there he has to stay there so he intends to make the most of his shot at glory and “kick the door down”.

“I’m not giving myself any pats on the back,” said Freeman, who runs student nightclub Warehouse Mondays in Belfast.

“I have to go out and do the job and perform. It’s all well and good getting this opportunity but if I don’t impress on the night the dream will end very fast so. So it’s up to me to kick the door down and make a name for myself.

“Some people might think I’m lucky to be on this bill but when preparation meets opportunity that’s when luck occurs and I have prepared very hard to take this opportunity I’ve been given.”

All-in-all, he’s got less than 10 minutes of competitive action under his belt which is practically unheard of for someone on a small hall bill, nevermind the SSE Arena on a world title card.

“I always believed I could get to this stage,” said Freeman.

“I out-work every other person I know. I have the mindset and the work ethic and believe I can do anything. I’m learning every day, I’m getting one per cent better every day and in a couple of years’ time I’ll have caught up with everybody who started before me.”

Remember the name.

For sponsorship or ticket enquiries contact James at jamesfreeman95@hotmail.co.uk, Insta: jamesyfree

Kurt Walker won in Galway last weekend. Picture: Mark Mead
Kurt Walker won in Galway last weekend. Picture: Mark Mead Kurt Walker won in Galway last weekend. Picture: Mark Mead

KIERAN Molloy delighted his home crowd in Salthill, county Galway with a dominant points victory over teak-tough Columbian hardman Fernando Mosquera last weekend.

Mosquera was down in the fifth but got back to his feet and took Molloy the full eight-round distance. Another good test for the Oughterard native.

On the undercard, Jamie Morrison and Kevin Cronin fought out a split draw in an Irish light-heavyweight title nail-biter and there were wins for John Cooney, Kurt Walker, Danny Keating, David Ryan and Tiernan Bradley who stopped Adrian Orban in the second.

Welterweight: Kieran Molloy (5-0) bt Fernando Mosquera (6-4) 80-71

Boxing Union of Ireland BUI Ireland National Light Heavy (vacant): Jamie Morrissey (6-0) v Kevin Cronin (5-2) split draw

Lightweight: John Cooney (8-0) bt Sandeep Singh (8-8) pts 80-72

Super-featherweight: Kurt Walker (6-0) bt Jonatas Rodrigo (4-3) pts 80-72

Welterweight: Danny Keating (7-0) bt Greyvin Mendoza (7-3-1) 59-55

Welterweight: David Ryan (3-0) bt Berman Sanchez (30-43-4) 60-54

Welterweight: Tiernan Bradley (7-0) bt Adrian Orban (6-2) KO2