Irish-Canadian Josh O'Reilly intends to box clever in world title eliminator against James Tennyson

Josh O'Reilly takes on James Tennyson at Wembley Arena on Friday night. Picture By Mark Robinson
Andy Watters

JOSH O'Reilly's Irish roots go back to the 1800s when his great-great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland to seek his fortune in Canada.

All information on where he grew up has been lost in the proverbial mists of time but, four generations later, North America lightweight champion Josh can make his long-gone branch of the O'Reilly family big news on the Emerald Isle once again if he beats Belfast's James Tennyson in Friday night's WBA world title eliminator.

O'Reilly is 16-0 and ranked eighth with the WBA. He'll need a career-best performance to win at Wembley Arena, and he knows that, but there is an air of confidence about the unbeaten box/fighter from Ontario.

“I've watched James for a while,” he said.

“I've seen some of his older fights and I like the way he fights, he's a fun guy to watch.

“He's a strong kid, right? I might be a bigger guy than him but he's got the power. I'm not a massive lightweight so I don't know how much it'll affect the fight and we've both to make 135.”

He says he has to be “sharp and turned on” throughout the fight and intends to use his movement and boxing skills to keep Tennyson off balance and prevent him from landing the thumping shots that have yielded 23 knockout wins in 30 contests.

“Guys have done really well with him in parts but they've used too much energy and he catches up with them in the long haul,” he said.

“I thought Gavin Gwynne did a really good job. He would close the distance so Tennyson couldn't punch and he mixed it up with a bit of lateral movement and a bit of just taking away the space (between him and Tennyson). There are points in the fight when you have to get his respect (by standing and fighting) so he doesn't just keep coming in. The plan is not to get caught up in anything crazy early and then take my shots so he'll slow down as the fight goes on.”

A “scrappy kid” who got in his fair share of street fights, O'Reilly excelled at sports as a youngster. His boxing idol was the great Roy Jones and he chose the noble art over early passions ice-hockey and basketball.

“I was always getting in fights and I was always pretty good at sports but I found as I got older that I was one of the little dweebs,” he said.

“Basketball and hockey were my sports but it was hard to compete with the guys who were a lot bigger. I wanted to do a sport that was weight-based and sized-based so I went to the boxing gym and I just stuck with it and I always had ambitions as a kid to turn pro.”

His great-grandfather died as a young man and so the Ontario-based family's link to their Celtic heritage was lost. The O'Reilly's have unsuccessfully tried to retrace their roots but Josh did spend time in Cavan as an amateur training for a Canada versus Ireland international bill.

“I had the chance to travel down to Cavan when I was younger and I had the chance to train there for a bit, so I feel like I have a lot of connections there,” said ‘Dubs'.

“I trained with Brian McKeown at Cavan ABC. I fought John Joe Nevin as an amateur and I shouldn't really have been in the ring with him – I'd only had like 20 amateur fighters – but my coach asked me if I wanted to go on a boxing trip. I said I did and he said: ‘There's just one issue – you gotta fight this kid who's just coming off the Olympics?' I said: ‘Ah, f**k it man, let's go'. I think the coach took a liking to me for that because no one else would really fight Joyce at the time.”

Out-of-his-depth O'Reilly lost to Joyce but he retains that same hunger and ambition and Tennyson, in touching distance of a world title shot, can't afford to look past him.

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