By Thomas Gerbasi
There’s so much to think about for Danny O’Connor as he prepares for his first world title shot against WBC 140-pound champion Jose Carlos Ramirez this Saturday. He’s choosing to ignore all those thoughts, opting to simply focus on the man in the mirror.
“I’ve just gotta do me,” said O’Connor. “That’s what makes me most effective and that’s what got me to where I am today. I’m not sitting back, thinking about Ramirez. I’m sitting back thinking about me and what I’ve gotta do, and that’s being my best self and performing the best that I can on the night of the fight.”
It’s what you expect to hear from any world title challenger, but the 33-year-old isn’t your average contender.
After a 2013 loss to Vivian Harris that was among the worst decisions in recent history, O’Connor walked away from the sport with a 23-2 record and questions of what could have been. He would return by the tail end of 2014, but after three consecutive wins, he suffered a frightening knockout in his rematch with Gabriel Bracero in October 2015.
Again, he left the sport behind. And this time, it appeared to be for good.
“After that Bracero fight, I was done forever,” O’Connor told me in 2016. “The quality of my life is more important than any sport will ever be. I’m a husband and father first, and that means more to me than anything, so I was done with the sport of boxing.”
It was in 2016 that he made his return, with his main goal being to build his non-profit youth organization Off The Canvas. But then one win turned into two, two into three, and after rising off the deck to defeat Steve Claggett in March of this year, O’Connor got a call he thought he might not ever get.
Ramirez. Title. Fresno. ESPN. He couldn’t refuse.
“I never lost hope,” he said. “If I lost hope or belief in myself, I wouldn’t have kept going. Yeah, I wanted to be a positive role model to the youth and be that person that I’m teaching all of them that I’m mentoring to be. But at the end of the day, I signed up in boxing to be a world champion and it’s something I believe that I could do and I have the skill to do and with the support that I have now from my family, my friends and my team and my manager, I’m lucky enough to be in the position to fight for that WBC world championship belt now.”
And for all the critics doubting him, all the oddsmakers making him a prohibitive underdog against the unbeaten Ramirez, none of that matters because now he has the chance to control his own destiny.
“There were many times throughout my career with the adversity where I thought that this day might not come,” he said. “I totally understand the opportunity in front of me and I don’t take it for granted.”
O’Connor also understands that he’s expected to be the guy Ramirez beats in his homecoming fight, the big win the 2012 U.S. Olympian picks up before tackling the big names at 140 pounds. Yet while he’s in that role, he’s not going to accept it or play into it. He’s not going to trash talk or make a lot of noise. He’s showing up to fight. That’s it.
“I’m not the type of dude to talk much and I don’t have anything bad to say about Ramirez,” he said. “I have much respect for Murphy’s Boxing, Star Boxing and Top Rank for giving me this opportunity, and it’s the same for Ramirez and his team. He’s the champion and a lot of the time he decides who he fights and who he doesn’t fight. So I’m grateful to be in this position and what I can control is how hard I work and I’m an absolute savage in training, so I’ve put everything that I have possible in me into getting ready for this fight. This is a fight I’ve waited my whole life for. Win, lose or draw on Saturday night, I’m gonna give it my all, and other that that, what else can I do?”
Apparently being the guy with the black hat being booed by the pro-Ramirez crowd isn’t going to be an issue for the Framingham native who now makes his home in Colorado.
“That’s part of the game,” O’Connor said. “Listen, I ran into burning buildings for a living. The pressure isn’t gonna get to me and I understand what it is. He’s the champion and this is his home and that’s fine. But I’m laser-focused, I’ve got ice in my veins, and when I go to fight night, it doesn’t matter who’s saying what or how loud it is. I’m focused on one person and that’s Ramirez across the ring from me. I’m fully aware of the emotions and the situation and the pressure and everything that comes with this fight and I’m ready for it. I’ve worked real hard for a long time to get ready for it, so I’m fully confident.”
But is he ready for what happens should he pull off the upset and get to hold that green belt in the middle of the ring?
“I think about it every night before I go to bed,” he said. “It’s not something that’s going to be foreign to me. It’s an image and a picture that I’ve played through my head more times than you’ve breathed over the last couple of years. It’s something I ran through and thought about and played out in so many different scenarios over the years that I know exactly what it’s gonna feel like.”
Sounds like Danny O’Connor is prepared to shock the world and close the show.
“I am,” he said. “I am walking away with the WBC belt.”