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knockout Eric Donovan: I'm getting praised for talking - I want people to turn around and say, 'You're some boxer'


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Irish pro boxer Eric Donovan has something to focus on this year with a European belt in his sights. Photo: INPHO

Irish pro boxer Eric Donovan has something to focus on this year with a European belt in his sights. Photo: INPHO

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Irish pro boxer Eric Donovan has something to focus on this year with a European belt in his sights. Photo: INPHO

At first glance, 2020 was the worst of years for boxer Eric Donovan, both inside and outside the ring.

He suffered his first defeat as a professional, his wedding to his long-term partner Laura Cusack in Spain had to be postponed due to Covid-19, his eldest son Jack was unable to sit his Junior Cert exams and his youngest son Troy's first Holy Communion was postponed.

Nothing went to plan, yet in the end every strand came together, culminating on New Year's Eve when he was officially informed he was the mandatory challenger for the European Union super featherweight belt.

It is not the most prestigious belt in pro boxing and super featherweight is not his optimum weight. But since turning professional at the age of 30 he has dreamt about fighting for a European title. So, he will take his chances against Maltese native Haithem Laamouz when the current Europe-wide restrictions are eased, and the fight can go ahead.

It is a measure of his reputation, both inside and outside the ring, that he is the first Irish professional male boxer in recent times to ink a commercial contract with a blue-chip firm. He is now a health and well-being ambassador for BearingPoint, a Dublin-based consulting company.

His relationship with the company began during the first lockdown last spring when he did some online fitness classes for them. "They were a great success and from that the relationship developed and we built up a rapport," he said.

Late in 2019 Donovan linked up with Belfast promoter Mark Dunlop and this relationship was pivotal in securing the Kildare-born fighter a slot on one of Eddie Hearn's Fightcamp shows last summer, which were staged in the Englishman's opulent Essex estate.

Even before he stepped into the ring, Donovan's affable manner and uplifting life story had endeared him to everybody he encountered during fight week. The former European amateur medallist turned his life around successfully, battling addiction and coming back from the brink of contemplating taking his own life.

Though he was stopped by unbeaten British fighter Zelfa Barrett in the seventh round, the whole experience was a coming of age for him in terms of his career. A born competitor, he still found it a bit surreal.

"It was a bit weird because, despite all the praise and all the plaudits, I still was knocked out," he said.

"And it's devastating for any boxer to go through. People were saying, 'Oh, you're some talker, man' and I'm like, 'Jesus Christ, I'm getting praised for talking here, I want people to turn around and say, 'You're some boxer, man'!

Once he analysed the fight, Donovan knew he had to make changes. "I just can't always depend on my speed, my footwork and my hand speed. I had to build up my physical strength to be able to buy time in rounds," he said.

"Against Barrett, I was boxing like an amateur for nearly all of my rounds and halfway through the seven rounds you could see fatigue was setting in and I took my eye off the ball. I could have afforded to take a round off, tied Zelfa up, sit on his chest, tied up his arms and sat on the ropes. These are all tactics that I didn't know much about."

So, Donovan took the painful decision to part company with his buddy Kenneth Egan who had been his head coach and link up with Paschal Collins. And he also recruited a strength and conditioning coach, Seamus Power.

"I was able to be straight up with Kenneth and say, 'Look, Ken you are a good friend, and we have a great relationship. But I would be a fool if I don't bring in some experience into this camp because I am going to get another big shot'.

"And if I don't go back prepared or make adjustments, I would be a fool and Ken understood that. These are the tough decisions that people are reluctant to make, but I have made them and I'm happy going forward."

He returned to winning ways in December when he won a six-round lightweight contest in a low-key show in Belgium. It was a surreal experience as Donovan travelled alone and had to recruit another fighter to do his corner.

Bizarre

"He spoke really good English but didn't have much boxing knowledge. We brought in a 'second' who had brilliant boxing knowledge but spoke French. So, the English-speaking guy translated his instructions. It was a bizarre scenario, but I just had to get the job done," he said.

All told then it wasn't the worst of years for Donovan, who now lives in Tullyallen, Co Louth.

He was luckier than most professional boxers and fought three times in 2020, Jack eventually did his Junior Cert online and Troy made his Holy Communion in December.

His wedding has been rescheduled for April, though it might have to be pushed out until later due to Covid-19 and the possibility that his European title fight could be scheduled for late spring.

"My motto is always to strive to be better in every department of your life. Regardless of what you do, do it with gusto and passion and give it your all.

"If I can help anyone improve their lives in any way: physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, that would be a great bonus for me," he said.

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