Boxing

From AIL To Irish Titles: The Accidental Boxing Career Of Steve Collins Jr

From AIL To Irish Titles: The Accidental Boxing Career Of Steve Collins Jr

Perched atop the left pectoral muscle of Stevie Collins Jr is less a token tattoo, more a proclamation.

"Hell has not seen or heard, heaven has not yet created a man to prevent me."

Like many fighters, he lives by such a mantra. But that's where the comparisons can be laid to rest.

Son of the Irish boxing legend with whom he shares a name, Collins is naturally sick to death of similitudes in any case. Even allowing for his proud pugilistic lineage, it does his own story a disservice to incessantly relate it to that of his father's.

For one thing, his is a boxing career forged by complete accident. Having only ever scrapped in order to fend off the countless local scallywags who fancied a scalp of the champ's son, Collins was a talented rugby prospect when he laced up the gloves for the first time just four years ago.

Indeed, the powerful hooker had already been on the books at Leinster, London Irish and London Wasps when he starred in Landsdowne's 2012/2013 AIL-winning campaign, and boxing, while intrinsic to his family, wasn't so much as an afterthought as he pursued a professional contract. But shortly after Mike Ruddock's Landsdowne outfit won their first ever All-Ireland League, everything changed.

"I wanted to be a rugby player!" Collins says, seemingly still bemused as to how events would ultimately transpire.

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I was adamant that I was going to be a professional rugby player, and nobody could have told me differently.

I was getting on a little bit, I was 23, but I still thought, 'fuck it, I'm going to be a rugby player - I don't care what anybody says, I'll keep tipping away at it'.

And one day I walk into a boxing gym, just to keep fit in the off-season. And I said, 'Right, I'd better hang up my boots. I'm going to be a boxer!'

It was a complete accident. I literally just thought I'd try something different instead of just lifting weights over the summer, and gain some sort of experience in different sports.

As soon as I walked into the gym, I'd say it took me a week to realise my rugby days were behind me, and I was going to box.

Steve Collins Jr

After a 23-year battle to rid himself of the namesake tag, Collins opted to counter-ruck the lifelong narrative.

Corduff's Celtic Warrior Gym was - and remains - the belly of the beast. But any insecurities Collins might have had stepping into his uncle Paschal's layer as the Celtic Warrior's son, and a rank novice boxer, were quickly put at ease.

For all the heightened curiosity and scrutiny from respected gym groupies, there was also the inherent familiarity with his surroundings. It was only when Collins strayed toward other territories did his parentage become a factor.

I gave Paschal a call and asked if he'd mind if I popped down for a bit. So I didn't have the pressure of being 'Steve's son'. Paschal's gym is a home for me. It's in Blanchardstown, I have friends there close to the gym, so I always had that security.

At the same time, you still had people walking in and asking, 'Who's the muscle-bound ginger guy hitting the pads?'

I couldn't fight at the time, but people did start paying more attention to me because of who my father was. I didn't mind that, because these are just people you see in the gym on a weekly basis, and you get to know them. So it didn't matter.

But I do remember a couple of weeks after starting in Paschal's gym, I really wanted to test myself. I remember I used to call around to amateur gyms, and I'd give them my mother's maiden name because I knew it'd be unlikely that anyone would accept me under my own name.

But it was just for myself. I just wanted to see if I was really cut out for it.

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And to begin with, he wasn't. A colossus of a man, the rigours of Collins' career as a hooker in rugby had seen him cultivate a mass not conducive to pugilism. He first strolled into the gym weighing a muscular 17 stone (heavyweight begins at 14st 4lbs), his biceps too dense to even form a defensive guard while hitting pads.

He was, after all, a rugby player in a boxing gym, wrapped in unnecessary muscle. A shark out of water.

His 11 professional fights to date have punctuated a perpetual battle to reshape his entire body; the first six were at the cruiserweight limit of 14st 4lbs, the seventh - just over a year later - saw him enter the ring almost two stone lighter, as a light-heavyweight.

Four years gained, five stone lost. But it wasn't merely the weight to which the 27-year-old was forced to adapt.

The whole weight thing changed my whole life completely.

But also the control aspect - you know, having control over yourself when you do cross the whitewash or you do enter the ring.

In boxing, you need a completely different mindset altogether. I used to be as wild as I could playing rugby, where now I try to be as calm as I can before a fight. They're a lot different in that way.

I've taken what I learned from rugby, which is just working hard, and I've brought that over to boxing.

Steve Collins Jr

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It's been mooted that Collins could pear himself down to super-middleweight (12st), which - combined with his rather staggering development as a fighter - provides second wind to many of the comparisons from years past. One such suggestion, however, is no longer as irksome.

When Collins first climbed through the ropes of a professional ring as a cruiserweight back in July of 2013, his generational equivalent from Brighton was himself a 10-0 relative novice. But a prospective fight between Collins and Chris Eubank Jr was in reality but a pipe-dream due to the significant weight disparity between the pair.

In truth it remains so; Eubank has recently begun operating at world level while Collins prepares for his first Irish title fight on June 24th. But the Briton now campaigns just a division below 'The Wolfhound', and where Collins once spoke about the fight with a wink and a nudge, he now hypothesises more earnestly, all the while aware that there remains a long road ahead before both would follow in their father's footsteps and throw down.

I felt the Eubank thing was inevitable because we're both the same age and our fathers fought twice. It was always going to be mentioned.

But I think the whole thing sparked off when I had an interview and was asked if I'd like to fight Chris. I said at the time, 'Well, of course I'd like to fight Chris, I'd have to come down to light-heavyweight'... That's all it was. But if someone asked me if I'd like to fight Mike Tyson, I'd say 'yeah'. If someone asked me if I'd like to fight someone smaller like Julio Cesar Chavez, I'd say 'yeah', but it doesn't mean it's going to happen.

What changes now though is that there's only one weight difference between Chris and I, and I could go to his weight if it suited me too, so... The perspective has changed a small bit.

We had a bit of back-and-forth on social media, between meself and Chris, but it kind of ended there for now.

If the fight does happen, it'll be down the road. Realistically, he's at world level while I'm still at the prospect stage. I've only had 11 fights, and I'm still learning and progressing. He's fighting for world titles! Which isn't to say I won't get to that level, but it'll just be a couple of years before I do. You can't rush these things. But if I do reach that level, then the thought of it becomes more realistic. It's definitely a possibility.

As to whether Páirc Uí Chaoimh would be ready by 2019 is another matter, but fighting Eubank anywhere would be at odds with Collins' general approach to forging his own path towards his craft's summit.

In a sense it's almost surprising that he doesn't write off the significance of the potential fight altogether, in that he readily admits he sometimes makes decisions purely to distance himself from his father's legacy.

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But it would be wrong, too, to suggest that he craves complete separation from the former two-weight world champion's remarkable career.

If it were up to me, I wouldn't have the same first OR second name.

That's nothing bad against my dad, but I'd like to do it my own way. I only want credit for my own achievements, and not to feel like I'm running off the back of his success.

He pauses. Collins isn't one to tiptoe around any topic, but is conspicuously aware that this one - for all the times he's discussed it - remains a minefield.

That aspect can be a bit difficult.

Lads like Chavez Jr, I mean, his dad was arguably the greatest fighter of all time, you know? And to not do as well as his father... I'm sure it must be a real pain in the hole for him.

I find it a bit frustrating also. It's the constant comparisons.

But at least I can turn around and say, 'Well at least my dad was a two-weight world champion, and the best boxer Ireland has ever produced'.

So you can look at the negatives or take the positives from it. And also, I have a great guy there who can give me his two cents about my career.

There are pros and cons...pros and cons.

He and his father remain extremely close, and the younger Collins himself became a dad to Zoe in 2015.

After two years of parenthood, the 27-year-old's accompanying maturity offers a beneficial perspective both on his relationship with the man who named him, and the perennial struggle to steer clear of his shadow.

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I'm at a stage now where everything I say or do, every decision I make, they're all mine. He can offer his opinion, but it's up to me whether I take it on board or not.

He's super proud. He's definitely happy with what I've achieved so far. But let's not blow it out of the water: I've only had 11 fights. I haven't really achieved anything yet! But I believe I can, and I believe I'm definitely going to.

After three years of boxing, if I can start getting small titles, off the back of that I can start gaining more credibility.

He touches upon the crux of his journey, there: the battle for credibility. And in his last outing versus teak-tough Argentine Pablo Sosa at Dublin's National Stadium, he won over many of the sceptics with a dazzling display of boxing fundamentals.

It was surprising only in that Collins has been boxing for a mere three years, having lost most of 2015 to injury. Relative to his experience or lack thereof, it was an accomplished display.

Crucially, it earned him a shot at the Irish light-heavyweight title, but where his clash versus Paddy McDonagh at the same venue might once have been billed as 'powerhouse versus boxer', Collins' most recent performance has flipped the script somewhat.

I don't get credit for my boxing ability, because my style up to the point of my last fight has been 'seek and destroy'. I know I have power, and I know I'm dogged, but I also have more in my arsenal than going in and hitting guys hard.

I wanted to display that in my last fight against Pablo Sosa. Pablo is a tough, come-forward fighter similar to myself. So I had to show good boxing skills, and I was glad I was able to display that.

I regularly spar with good boxers who are lighter than me, who should be schooling me in terms of boxing ability. Obviously I don't go in and try and hurt these guys, I'll hold back in terms of power, but I get the upper hand in the boxing stakes.

That's what I'm focusing on lately because you can't just be a one-trick pony. You need more in your arsenal.

Against Paddy, someone you'd consider a good boxer, he will not be in the same class as me when I climb through the ropes on June 24th. And if I come to a stage where I feel like I can get him out of there, I have that in my artillery.

Steve Collins Jr

And so in a fortnight, he'll be locked and loaded for his opportunity to accelerate an unlikely rise.

"If you thought the boxing was good last time, wait until you see it this time," he says with a smile.

History dictates that Heaven and Hell hath no fury like a Collins scorned, only this isn't history. Instead, it's his story, and Stevie Collins Jr has a few chapters to write yet.

SEE ALSO: Cyrus Christie Pays Tribute After Passing Of Boxing Legend Uncle Errol

 

Gavan Casey
Article written by
Former handwriting champion. Was violently bitten by a pelican at Fota Wildlife Park in 2001.

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