On Monday evening in the National Stadium, Mayo's Ray Moylette will fight the most important three rounds of his life.
It is a strange state of affairs that the 2011 European champion and the man once billed as the next big thing in Irish boxing might have his career decided in a fight in front of a few hundred people in Rialto.
His foe will be familiar. Moylette will face off against Dean Walsh (nephew of former Ireland head coach Billy Walsh) in a box-off to determine who who will represent Ireland at the last qualification tournament for Rio in Azerbaijan. If Moylette wins, he won't have much time to recover – he'll have to fly out to Baku on Wednesday morning, where the final five Olympics places are up for grabs.
Moylette and Walsh have history – they have fought in the last two National Elite finals – with Walsh twice getting the better of Moylette in controversial circumstances. Moylette had a cut at the decision in the immediate aftermath – and still genuinely believes he won both fights – but he was never going to just nod and smile. He's never been a man to gladhandle the officials. It's just not his style.
Speaking exclusively to Balls.ie, Moylette said:
I don't want to be stuck in the frame of kissing ass or going around saying the right thing to the right people for the sake of it. You see other boxers and coaches going around and making sure they are shaking hands to this person or that person and I'm not like that. If there is something wrong I'll say it.
Now 26, Moylette has always been a square peg in a round hole. Four years ago – he was recieving the top level of funding from the Irish Sports Council as a reigning European Champion. He was training full-time in the High Performance Unit and looked like he was living the dream. He was 22 years old, pulling in good money, doing what he had trained to do since he was six years old... But he hated it.
[The High-Performance Unit] didn't really suit me to be honest. You are living in a hotel, living out of a suitcase and it trains you to be lazy. What you do is; you go to bed during the day. You get up to train and then you go back to bed again. You can't do anything productive because you are saving energy for training. I was up in Dublin and didn't know anyone so I was just boxing and then hanging around in a hotel.
Due to a combination of injuries and contentious decisions against him, Moylette's funding soon ran out. He had to think of what to do with his life. He now runs Stingray Fitness – a successful personal training business in Westport – while training in St. Anne's gym where he began boxing as a six-year-old.
When I left that environment, I came back into the real world where you can't go to sleep during the day. You have to work, you have to make a few pounds and make your own dinner and tidy up your own clothes. High Performance is a fantasy world that doesn't really exist. It doesn't help when everything is laid on for you.
As soon as I left that, I got sort of a shock. I was being lied to for five years being told it was the real world when it wasn't. When it all came to an end after losing a fight – I was back to being a working man. It was a fall from grace. It's a great life when things are going well I suppose but there is a lot of pressure on you and if things don't work out.
Moylette worked in a bar in Castlebar – Rocky's – but he didn't really see it as the dramatic climbdown other athletes might. Even at the height of his powers – he used to do the odd shift in Rocky's – just for the hell of it.
I used to do shifts in Rocky's even when I was being heavily funded just to keep myself normal. I always knew that boxing could just end. When the funding ended, I went back there but I didn't want to work 9-5 in Dunnes or working on a line in a factory. I have to do something that excites me. I had to figure out what I wanted to do and working in Rocky's helped me do that. I realised I loved training and helping people and I went back to college to do that and now I have a business of my own.
I'm 100% percent a better person now I'm out of that world. When it was all boxing; if I won I was king of the world and if I lost I was dirt. Now I have a balance. I work and get my weekly wage and I'm fully in control of it. I've only got that balance since I've come out in the real world.
Even with a full-time job, Moylette reckons his training hasn't suffered a bit. The High Perfomance Unit was an alien environment to him – he's a home bird and knows what suits him at this stage of his career. He explains how being based in Dublin felt like:
It's like being in sixth class in primary school. When I was in sixth class, there were six of us in my class in Islandeady. I was the king of the school. Then I went into secondary school with six hundred people and I was a nobody. That's what it was like going into High Performance. You go up to Dublin and you're a nobody. At home in Mayo, I know everybody and I can talk to anyone whereas when I go up to Dublin I feel like I'm being looked down on sometimes.
The training I was doing in the High Performance was no different than I was doing at home. The only thing it had was the opportunity for sparring. Martin Brennan is training me at home here in St. Anne's Boxing Club in Westport and it's a great facility and he knows exactly what he is doing with me.
His training with Brennan in Westport has been augmented by trips to Dublin for sparring and the odd training camp with the High Performance Unit. Whilst Moylette has no urge to return to the unit full-time, he recognises the importance of what's on offer.
There is sparring and pads [in Dublin] – but not too much pads because that's one-to-one work and there is no one-to-one because there are too many boxers and not enough coaches. For the lucky ones that do get pads – it'll be Katie Taylor, Michael Conlon and maybe Joe Ward... the big names.
For the likes of me coming up and odd time that can't afford to be up there all the time – I don't get a look-in. But I'm my own man. I get plenty of pads at home – I'm up there purely for sparring and to show that I'm interested. If I wasn't showing my face up there for the last four months – then they could have looked past me when it came to this box-off.
And that's what it comes down to – this box off against his great rival Walsh. Moylette is in no doubt that a victory is imminent in the light-welterweight (64kg) bout.
I've shown before I can beat him. There's no way he's in my league if I fight as well as I can fight. Everyone knows that. Even the High Performance coaches know that. The only person that can beat me on Monday night is me. I know I've been very up and down – I've won European gold but lost in Mayo championships. My whole career is up and down. But I know at my best there is no-one who would beat me on this island.
I'm in the best place of my life. I'm at the height of my sport and living in the real world. I'm better now than I was when I was heavily funded in the High Performance. Funding goes on what you did last year. Even if I went out and win Olympic gold in Rio; I wouldn't make a penny until 2017.
If I win on Monday, I'll be on a plane to the qualifiers on Wednesday and it's going to cost me money when I'm gone because I still have to run a gym and pay somebody to do my work but I'm glad for it to pay for it. For me to get a grant next year, I'd have to be up in Dublin full-time for the year and that's something I don't want to do. This is not a money thing for me. This is about way more than money.
Since this article was published, the IABA decided to cancel the proposed box-off. Instead, the boxer set to represent Ireland will be picked by the High Performance coaching unit on the basis of who fares best over the course of a ten-day training camp in Baku which starts on Thursday 2nd of June. The Olympic qualifier in Baku is set to start on June 14th so a decision will have to be made by Zaur Antia and his team before then. Bafflingly, as well as Moylette and Dean Walsh, Belfast light-welterweight Sean McComb has been added to the mix.
The IABA say that the box-offs were never set in stone and had to be ratified by Central Council on Saturday. Despite this giving the boxers slightly over 48 hours that their fight (as well as the middleweight bout between Michael O'Reilly and Connor Wallace) was cancelled, the IABA have decided to not go ahead with the fight and instead go with the coaches decision.