Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan knows what it’s like to be stranded at the altar. Back in January, it was announced that O’Sullivan would fight Daniel Jacobs at Barclays Center on April 28, but then Jacobs’ promoter Eddie Hearn did an about-face and dumped Spike in favor of Poland’s Maciej Sulecki. More recently, it seemed that Sullivan was a virtual shoo-in to challenge middleweight kingpin Gennady Golovkin on May 5, Cinco de Mayo. This was O’Sullivan’s dream fight, but it too would evaporate.
By now even casual boxing fans are familiar with the GGG merry-go-round, but let’s do a fast synopsis.
The original plan was to have Golovkin fight Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena in a rematch of their controversial draw last September. This would have been the biggest fight to date on American soil in 2017. But Canelo was scratched as a result of two damning urine specimens, more exactly the reaction to them by a boxing commission that felt the need to draw a line in the sand.
With Alvarez shunted aside, the best alternatives for Golovkin — from the standpoint of making a competitive fight — were WBO middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders, an Englishman, and Rhode Island’s undefeated Demetrius Andrade. But both are southpaws and Golovkin couldn’t properly prepare for a southpaw on short notice; all of his sparring partners were right-handed. Saunders would have been unavailable on May 5 anyway as he required a little more time to recover from a hand injury.
That moved Spike O’Sullivan to the head of the line, or so it seemed. Indeed, several boxing web sites reported that Golovkin vs. O’Sullivan was a done deal and a poster for the fight appeared on O’Sullivan’s social media pages.
Then things really got convoluted with Team GGG leaving Spike twisting in the wind as they tried to foist an obscure 21-year-old super welterweight from Tijuana, Jaime Munguia, on the Nevada regulators. O’Sullivan was indignant. “(Munguia) doesn’t even have the power to grow a moustache and my mother in law has more followers than him,” he wrote on his twitter page.
But Munguia didn’t pass muster with the Nevada Athletic Commission and GGG’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, wasn’t so brazen as to try and sneak Munguia past the California commission when he shifted Golovkin vs. TBA from Nevada to the StubHub Center in Carson, a short hop from downtown Los Angeles. That would have triggered a severe backlash. And so the on-again, off-again Golovkin-O’Sullivan fight was back on again, or so it seemed. But hold the phone. A new candidate emerged in the form of Vanes Martirosyan and Spike would be shunted aside once again.
On paper, there’s little to choose between Martirosyan (36-3-1, 21 KOs), who turns 32 on May 1, and the 33-year-old O’Sullivan (27-2, 19 KOs). A two-time world title challenger, Martirosyan is more multi-dimensional than O’Sullivan, has faced stiffer competition, and has never been stopped. If these two were fighting each other, the odds would likely be nearly even with a slight edge to O’Sullivan because he would be the bigger man.
An Armenian immigrant who resides in the LA suburb of Glendale, Martirosyan has a bit of a following in Southern California, but he hasn’t fought in almost two full years and from a global perspective he’s far less buzz-worthy than Spike O’Sullivan, an engaging chap with a good back story.
Born and raised in Cork, Ireland, O’Sullivan is the son of a career military man. A family man, he says that his sole motivation for fighting is to provide for the future of his four children. The handlebar mustache that he usually sports harks to the legendary bare-knuckle champion John L. Sullivan. That’s no coincidence. O’ Sullivan believes he is a distant relative of the Boston Strong Boy. A part-time resident of the Massachusetts city, he’s had ten pro fights in New England, but his thick Irish brogue informs us that he’s Irish to the core.
On paper the colorful Irishman isn’t in Gennady Golovkin’s league, but he’s no palooka. He was a national amateur champion in his native country before turning pro. His only losses in 29 fights came at the hands of Billy Joe Saunders in 2011 (B.J. was too slick for him, winning a wide 12-round decision) and Chris Eubank Jr. in 2015. O’Sullivan’s corner stopped that fight after seven rounds, apparently aware that O’Sullivan had suffered a perforated eardrum that affected his equilibrium.
O’Sullivan doesn’t have fast hands but he does pack a hard punch. Two of his 17 knockouts — against Anthony Fitzgerald in Dublin and Melvin Betancourt in Boston — were of the highlight reel variety. O’Sullivan dismissed Fitzgerald in the opening round with a wicked uppercut. He took out Betancourt in the second round wearing a kilt and danced a jig after laying Betancourt flat on his back (but had the decency to cut the dance short when he realized his opponent was badly hurt).
O’Sullivan set himself up for a good payday with two impressive wins on ESPN. In September of last year, he stopped Nick Quigley in the fourth round at the House of Blues in Boston. O’Sullivan never stopped punching from the opening bell and ultimately overpowered his British adversary. Ten weeks later, in his most recent fight, he stopped Antoine Douglas in the seventh round. Douglas, once a highly touted prospect, had no answer for O’Sullivan’s heavy hands and high octane attack.
O’Sullivan’s U.S. promoter is Boston-based Murphy’s Boxing which cut a deal with Golden Boy Promotions, an organization with more clout.
Golden Boy had big plans for O’Sullivan. They had him penciled in as Canelo’s opponent on Mexican Independence Day weekend in September of this year, no matter the outcome of the Canelo-GGG rematch. In advance of that fight, they would showcase Spike in a pair of tune-ups. The first would be on the undercard of Canelo-GGG on May 5. The second would likely to take place somewhere in Ireland on a card that included Golden Boy stablemates Jason Quigley (no relation to Nick Quigley) and precocious Aaron McKenna. Looking to diversify their product, both geographically and ethnic, Golden Boy gathered up these promising prospects from Ireland and then added O’Sullivan to the mix.
Of course, things went haywire, disheveling these well-laid plans. When Canelo Alvarez returns from his “sabbatical” in September, the man in the opposite corner will almost certainly be Golovkin and not Spike O’Sullivan.
Golden Boy president Eric Gomez gave his take on the matter in a conversation with noted boxing writer Steve Kim: “Ultimately, short time, short money. Two negatives don’t make a positive here. So he’s not going to do the fight (with Golovkin on May 5). He’d have three weeks to get ready for Golovkin and he wants to win…eventually, yes, he’s going to fight Golovkin or Canelo.”
Gomez hasn’t been forthright with the media lately. Canelo Alvarez recently had arthroscopic knee surgery which Gomez audaciously called a cosmetic procedure. He’s right about the short money, however. O’Sullivan could have had the fight with Golovkin (or the fight with Daniel Jacobs), if he had been willing to work cheap. To suggest that he wouldn’t have had sufficient time to get ready, however, is disingenuous. O’Sullivan has reportedly been training hard in Dublin for well over a month, most of that time spent under the assumption that Triple-G would be his next opponent.
There will be fights on back-to-back nights at the StubHub Center on the first weekend of May. Golden Boy kicks things off with a Friday promotion. The main event pits 19-year-old prospect Ryan Garcia against Puerto Rico’s Jayson Velez in a 10-round contest in the 130-pound division. Spike O’Sullivan is scheduled to make his West Coast debut in the chief supporting bout. However, that fight is now only two weeks away and O’Sullivan doesn’t yet have an opponent.
If O’Sullivan does appear, one has to wonder about his motivation. He first called out Triple-G in February of 2015 after TKOing one Larry Smith on a show in Melrose, Massachusetts. He doesn’t want to be fighting here on Friday, but rather on the next night, in this very same ring, against the man he has dreamed about fighting for more than three years.
O’Sullivan has put his trust in Golden Boy on the assumption that things will work out for the best if he bites his tongue and keeps the faith. It’s a calculated gamble. And for a fighter who keeps getting stranded at the altar, perhaps the wisest course would have been to heed the old adage that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
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