By Thomas Gerbasi
Back home in Mullingar, Ireland, practically everything John Joe Nevin does is front page news. In Philadelphia, he’s just another prizefighter trying to deal with the heat and humidity.
And he likes it; not the heat and humidity part, but the anonymity.
“When I walk out in the street, no one notices me over here,” he said. “When I go out at home, I can’t even look crooked because everyone knows where I’m at.”
A lot of people who have been in the public eye for any length of time eventually crave it. The 26-year-old Nevin, a two-time Olympian and 2012 Silver medalist in the London Games, has no such cravings for fame. The disciplined lad, who faces Victor Raul Capaceta on Tuesday at MCU Park in Brooklyn, New York, isn’t even craving Philly cheesesteaks as fight night approaches.
“No, no,” he laughs. “I’m looking after my weight.”
What Nevin does want these days is what every fighter wants – a world championship. He’s still young in the game, with a 3-0 (two knockouts) record, so fights like those against Capaceta are necessary at this point in his development, as are his regular trips to Philly.
“The boxing is good here and the sparring is what I need,” he said. “It’s all about adapting to time as well and getting used to the weather.”
America isn’t a permanent destination for the junior lightweight prospect though.
“I’m a home bird,” he said. “It (making the trips to the U.S.) is very difficult. I have a family at home, a wife and kid, so it’s tough, but it has to be done, and it will help my career as well.”
Yet even more than his professional development, heading to training camps abroad may do even more for his personal development. Nevin has been no stranger to tabloid headlines since his Silver medal-winning effort, most notably an April 2014 incident in which his cousin broke both of his legs. That was something that could have easily turned tragic, but Nevin, just 1-0 as a pro at the time, had every confidence that he would eventually return.
“I always knew I’d be back,” he said. “From Day One when I was lying in that hospital, I knew I’d be back. This wasn’t gonna keep me down because I’m a fighter and I’m not gonna give up my dreams because my legs were broken. Look at all the people who had broken bones and they came back and made the most of their careers.”
Nevin has won two straight since his recovery, both by first-round knockout. He’s also reconciled with his cousin, and while he made headlines once more a few months back for a December incident outside a pub notorious for wild brawls, he’s choosing to put the past in the past and move on.
“I put down my head and forget about the whole thing now,” he said. “I just don’t like going into that.”
There’s no need to now, because in Philly, all Nevin is focused on is fighting. There’s no heading down to the pub for a pint and being challenged because he’s an Olympic medal winner, no family distractions, and nothing else to deter him from his path. But even though he’s here in the States, he knows that every time he laces up the gloves, he’s representing the Emerald Isle. So just how big is John Joe Nevin in Ireland?
“To go to the Olympics is a real achievement in Ireland, but to win a medal, it’s unreal,” he said. “It’s probably the best accomplishment outside of a gold medal in the Olympics that Ireland ever got in any sport, so it’s pretty big.”
That’s got to be a lot for a young man to carry on his shoulders, but Nevin’s used to it and is fine with it.
“There’s a lot of pressure, but how I got to where I am now in my career is just believing in myself and going in and enjoying it,” he said. “If it’s not good enough it’s not good enough. That’s what I say to myself. But as long as I give it one hundred percent, I don’t think there’s anyone in the world that can beat me.”
Bold words from a young fighter, but boxing insiders believe he has the potential to back them up. One such believer is the promoter of Tuesday’s event, longtime pro Dmitriy Salita, who thinks Nevin doesn’t just have the goods in the ring, but outside the ropes as well.
“I came up with John Duddy,” Salita said of the popular Irish star who was based in New York City throughout his pro career. “We were in training camp together many times, and I was at his fights, and people always complimented me on how big of a ticket seller I was, but John Duddy did the business. (Laughs) But there’s a great culture of Irish boxing fans in New York City, they support their stars, and I think John Joe Nevin is a star in the making. He’s coming here in the very early stages of his professional career and he’s developing here, so the fans are going to be able to see him grow and see him learn. That’s a great way to build a star.”
Nevin wouldn’t argue with that statement, and he’s also confident that when his team is ready for him to make that big move, he’ll be ready as well.
“I believe in my team and when they think the time is right to move towards it, then we’ll go for it,” he said. “I think eventually my world title opportunity is going to come, and I have to be ready and I have to be prepared to take it.”
For now though, it’s Nevin’s first outdoor show in the heart of Brooklyn, and he’s intent on making an impression.
“I hope they (the fans) enjoy my style of boxing and believe in me that I can be a world champion, and I hope that they follow me and tell lots of their friends that this Irish guy can fight and we have to see him next time he’s out.”