The Fighting O’Sullivans

The Fighting O’Sullivans 2018

“I finished the fight with Chavez Jr and had 1,600 missed calls. When I lost my fight with Cotto, I had four missed calls. One was from a withheld number and the other three were from my mother. That put everything in its place.” — Sergio Martinez

“Good win mate… when’s the next fight… if I’m around I’ll come and watch ya mate.. nothing like a bit of Osullivan support” — @ronnie0147, 2 October 2017, 10.13am

“Ronnie i’m not sure when the next fight is mate but if you came it would make my night 100% #Legend — @spike_osullivan, 2 October 2017, 11.19am

“Ok mate when it’s announced let me know… I’ll come if I’m not away playing” — @ronnie147, 2 October 2017, 11.22am

“Of all the games men and women play, tennis is the closest to solitary confinement, which inevitably leads to self-talk, and for me the self-talk starts here in the afternoon shower. This is when I begin to say things to myself, crazy things, over and over, until I believe them.” — Andre Agassi

An idea in the notepad. Don’t I see Ronnie talking about boxing a bit in his interviews these days, posting padwork,? He’s a fan of Spike O’Sullivan’s? I’d like to get them in a room together, see what they’d talk about. Who wouldn’t?

Eight months later, the snooker icon’s touring Ireland and, given I now know they’re following one another on Twitter, I’ve asked the Cork middleweight to help set it up (Spike: “LMAO i’ll tell him his tour will end on the first night if he doesn’t agree”). So here we are, sitting in a hotel on Leeside, looking into the past and into the future.

The snooker player, the boxer and the other guy

In a conversation that touches on stagefright, hunger, denial and Nikolai Valuez, Ronnie starts by telling us about his family background of Irish boxing men — “My uncle Danny holds the record for being knocked down the most times in one fight. It was 14 times in a world title fight. I’d love to follow my family tree (back to Ireland)” — but we’ll get to that later.

KB: Let’s begin, I’m joined here by Ronnie O’Sullivan and Gary O’Sullivan in Cork for a chat about boxing and everything else.

SPIKE: Spike, I’m called Spike. I was Christened Gary but I’ve never been called it. If someone calls me Gary, I’m not in tune.

RONNIE: Yeah I love the boxing, I follow Spike, I follow him on Twitter. I watched his last fight where he based up the geezer, four rounds was it? He come out flying for the first two rounds but then Spike got him with a good body shot on the ropes, wasn’t it? So yeah, big boxing fan.

KB: Spike, you’d be a bit of a snooker and a Ronnie fan yourself?

SPIKE: Massive, yeah. I love snooker, I’ve been a fan since I was a kid. Remember when I made my Communion here in Ireland, all I wanted was a waistcoat for when I was playing, I used to have a milk crate so I could reach the table and everything. I had a Ronnie O’Sullivan cue and made my best break of a 63.

RONNIE: That’s good that, 63 is not bad.

SPIKE: Not quite as good as your standard.

RONNIE: I know but it’s good, 63 is not bad. I’m not sure my boxing is up to the same standard as your 63 break. Probably about a 20 break in boxing if we was to compare.

SPIKE: I dunno, I think you’re underselling yourself there now.

Hooked on the sweet science

KB: Ronnie, you’ve been partaking in a bit of boxing now these last few years to keep yourself fit and active?

RONNIE: Yeah I love it. I’ve always been into — well not always been into fitness — but I started when I was about 28. I have got quite an addictive personality so I got quite into running. ‘Cos I used to like food, and drink and whatever, and then I got into running and I then all that overeating and drinking kinda never crossed my mind. I just thought I wanted to get up in the mornings and do my runs. I got into that, quite a lot. And then in the last three years, because I couldn’t run as much, I joined a boxing club, went down there, and all the guys in there were really friendly, they said ‘come and have a little spar’. First round I done a spar and I was absolutely knackered, ready to fall over. I had never done anything so demanding, physically wise, and then I just got into it and I love it. I watch loads of stuff on YouTube and I just love the training now, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

KB: Body sparring mainly, I see…

RONNIE: Yeah I got into body sparring which in hindsight is probably the worst thing I ever done because obviously you get quite a lot of bad habits. I always keep my hands low and the guy in there I’m sparring, he keeps clipping me round the head! It’s so hard to keep my hands up but I’m going to try to start doing one or two rounds just jabbing to the head and that, try and knock out a few bad habits. It’s so much harder when you’ve got to keep your hands up as well because you’ve got to move more. With body sparring you can stand there and just punch each other. With the head sparring, it’s like a different sport altogether. But I love it, I’ve got so much respect for the boxers, you know?

KB: Spike, you’ve been a fan of Ronnie for a long time, do you see any commonalities between you? You’re both sort of maverick characters, you like to have fun in your games and express yourselves, would Ronnie be a bit of an idol for you in that way?

SPIKE: Absolutely yeah. I regard Ronnie as THE, and as I think most people would really, truthfully, as THE greatest snooker player ever. I’m a big snooker fan so naturally I am going to admire the greatest player of all time. He’s the Muhammad Ali of snooker, you know?

KB: Boxers tend to love Ronnie. Anyone I mentioned this to, the reaction I got was that the boxers really adore you. Maybe it’s because you have done it your own way, or maybe it’s because you’ve had plenty of fights with the Hearns.

RONNIE: I think it’s because boxing is an entertainment sport. And I think they appreciate… obviously there’s the fine art of boxing, hit and not get hit, but I think most people like to see someone get in there like a Roberto Duran, or a bit like yourself Spike, and just have a row. I think it’s the same with snooker. We’re in the entertainment business. Whatever you do, you bring joy to the people watching it at home and they appreciate that, they’ll support you.

SPIKE: I love the snooker myself and when I watch it I feel like going down to the snooker hall but it’s very frustrating after watching you, I feel so shit when I’m missing shots left right and centre! It’s a frustrating sport though.

RONNIE: It’s such a hard game. Spike was saying before, ‘I had a 63 break and in the next round I should have beat it, and I just smashed my cue and broke it into a few pieces. I said that I’d done exactly the same thing. Snooker is quite a frustrating sport. You might as well be that far out as that far out (widens fingers) because a miss is a miss.

SPIKE: Very — well, my misses would be like that (widens arms).

KB: As frustrating as your sports are, and Spike I know you’ve had your ups and downs in boxing as well, I saw an interview you did with Donald McRae seven or eight years ago and I think you said ‘at least it’s not a job. Going through London in rush-hour traffic every day would drive me insane’. Do you still think of it that way? Happy to play rather than going out and doing what most stiffs do?

RONNIE: Yeah, I mean it gives me choices. I can pick and choose where I wanna go, I can pick and choose the times I wanna go work, and all that sort of stuff. Your life has to come first, for me anyway, what you do is just a job at the end of the day, for me it allows me to go to China and it allows me to meet loads of different people and have great experiences. Sometimes the hardest part is the playing bit. There’s pressure involved, expectation from people who expect you to perform every night. Sometimes — well probably every time I go out — I have doubts. I probably liken it a bit to stage-fright. Every time I’ve gone out for the last 20 years, I’ve thought, ‘am I going to be able to perform tonight?’ And that pressure over a period of time can drain you down mentally as well. I think that’s the hardest part about my job as well, the performing side of it, but everything else is… we’re lucky, really.

Snooker — it ain’t easy, with O’Sullivan saying he has constant doubts

SPIKE: I can completely relate to everything you’ve said. It’s very similar to me. I never want to have a bad night but when you’re in an individual sport, you don’t have ten other players to help you out, you can’t be just subbed off, you’ve got to do it yourself. That’s part of the big pressure of an individual sportsman. I get what you’re saying in that I feel blessed that we can choose what we do. I was just saying to Kevin on the way up in the car how I just got to meet Ibrahimovic and Mike Tyson, it’s wonderful.

RONNIE: It opens you up to new experiences.

KB: Have you always been individualistic? Spike showed me the gym today where he had his first fight aged five. You played a lot of team sports as a kid but was it something that you always liked, the responsibility on your shoulders win or lose?

RONNIE: I used to play football and I used to think if a team player did something bad, I’d get quite upset. I never wanted to pass the ball because I thought ‘if I can get the ball and put it in the goal…’ and I found it with snooker, I could take all the glory and it was all in my control. Defeat, I had to deal with that, winning, I had to deal with that, but the thought was that it was all in my control. Whereas in the team sport, I just thought that a lot of it is out of your control — unless you play for someone like Barcelona or Real Madrid and you’ve got fantastic players around you. You’ve just got to look at Messi in this year’s World Cup. A lot of his team-mates were not really performing. No matter how good you are, it is a team sport. In one way, being in an individual sport is great but it is difficult because you’ve got to be on it, 24–7. You really have to.

SPIKE: I can relate to what you’re saying about the doubt as well. I’m almost surprised to hear it from you because you’re so great, like you’re the best, but everyone has bad nights. But I always feel doubts, ‘am I going to perform tonight? Am I going to get beat?’ I’m never afraid of my opponents.

RONNIE: Sometimes you can look at it and that doubt can drive you on as well. Sometimes you think ‘am I just not cut out for this?’ But then I think sometimes, that doubt is what makes me. I’m scared but then I come out… it triggers something inside you that takes you to another level. Sometimes it’s not a bad thing but if it’s on you constantly, it can chip away at you.

SPIKE: It can drain you, yeah. In the amateurs, I could have lost a few fights due to underperforming because I let the pressure get to me too much, but I think I’ve got that well under control now. I mastered it a bit better.

RONNIE: I always find that once you’re out there it’s OK. It’s the build-up. For me I find the build-up worse.

SPIKE: In boxing, it’s the waiting on the night of the fight. Waiting and waiting to get in the ring. But when the first few punches crack, you’re grand then.

Waiting game — Spike prepares to take on Anthony Fitzgerald in 2014. When the first punches cracked, it wasn’t long finishing on that occasion — KO1

RONNIE: You’re in it, there’s no turning back now.

SPIKE: Do you like the walk-out?

RONNIE: I don’t mind when it’s 20 minutes before, an hour before, I’m fine. But the day before, the week before, or even two or three weeks before the World Championships, I just think ‘ugh’, do you know what I mean? The pressure builds and builds and I think the important thing is to try to manage that. Sometimes I step away from it — I go for a run, I go for a swim, I do stuff which you shouldn’t really do in the build-up. But if you’re in shape all year round, you can take time off. And that’s what I try to do now, because I know there’ll be moments in the season when I don’t feel like playing and it’ll probably be best to walk away, and having a week or two away isn’t going to make that much difference. So sometimes it’s just about managing the anxiety, the stress.

SPIKE: I’ve come to the conclusion that we must be related because I do things as well that you shouldn’t do before fights. I always remember my first fight in America, Jeez, I was so…I couldn’t sleep. Paschal my manager always says he’s going to handcuff me to the bed because I went out and did ice skating the night before the fight. I couldn’t sleep!

RONNIE: Sometimes you’ve got to do that, you’ve got to take your mind away from it. It might sound strange but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get to the start line. My kids want to play snooker and I always tell them ‘no’. I don’t want them to play snooker. Any other sport, Formula One, tennis, golf. In fact I say ‘I don’t want you to play sport at all. You’ve got a good brain, a good education, use your mind, be a people person — be an agent! Be a trainer! Just don’t put yourself through it’. It’s a lot of sacrifices.

Solitary man — O’Sullivan’s latest book “explains how running has helped me to fight my demons — my addictive personality, depression, my dad’s murder conviction, the painful break-up with the mother of my children — and allowed me to win five World Snooker Championships”

KB: You’ve said that snooker caused your depression, Ronnie. Because you have to be solitary, it’s part of the job.

RONNIE: Over the years, a lot of people said I’m quite a dark character. I’m not really. I call it snooker depression. When you play something over the years, and you’re a bit of a perfectionist, unless you hit perfection then you can be a little bit hard on yourself. I call it snooker perfection.

SPIKE: I can get quite frustrated at boxing as well when things aren’t working out as well as I thought they should have. Sparring mightn’t have gone so well, you can get pissed off and feel like you’re shit and feeling, ‘do I have it any more?’ And I can relate with snooker as well because it’s a very frustrating game.

RONNIE: It’s tough. I think any sport is tough though. No matter what sport you is in, there’s always someone around the world training harder and wanting to be the best.

SPIKE: That’s like me at the moment. I’m training every day now, religiously. I’m striving to be that. For all I know there’s probably other fellas out there doing the same. But I’m trying my best.

KB: You’ve probably achieved a lot of what you want from snooker, what ambitions do you have left at the minute and is that hunger thing — you know they’re out there working their ass off to get to where you’ve been — driving you on? Like Spike is doing as he strives to reach that career peak.

Ronnie’s insta: “Me and the lads after a good sparring session, nothing better to start your day off!”

RONNIE: I’m naturally very competitive. I’m competitive with myself, not with my opponents. I like to master the game and that’s what it’s all about for me. You need an opponent. You can’t play snooker on your own; you can’t box yourself. I like to master the sport and once you’ve mastered the sport, you should be able to take whatever your opponent throws at you. You can’t always do that. A young Brazilian kid, when he first plays football he wants to master the ball and then he can think about playing football for Brazil.

SPIKE: I was watching the Argentina side preparing with a little ball and now I have my son doing it. He’s obsessed with football, loves it. He’s only 21 months. He started it himself and I’ve encouraged him now. He’s fucking obsessed with it! One of the times he ran over and was kicking ball, he fell and hit his head, smashed it off a glass table. He’s cracked open, blood was pissing down, he’s so tough he gets back up and it’s tunnel vision for the football. I nearly fucking fainted myself looking at him because he was split open. So I got out my phone, video’d him, and sent it to the missus saying ‘look how fucking tough he is’. She couldn’t believe it! He was only about 17 months when it happened. Obsessed. I read somewhere it’s about your genetics and how you activate them. Like if I’d been a fat fucker, a couch potato, I’d have passed them on to him. You have to activate the genes.

RONNIE: I’m a lazy bastard.

SPIKE: You are?

RONNIE: I think so. When left to my own devices.

SPIKE: This is so weird. We have to be related. I feel the same. I feel like a lazy cunt at times as well, but I go training every day. It’s a fucking struggle to do it though. I don’t want to. It’s hard to do it. But it’s worth it too. I’m going to fight the winner of Canelo v Golovkin in December.

The prize — Spike’s closing in on GGG-Canelo winner

…….

“Throughout the Eighties, Hearn’s Matchroom headquarters in Romford, Essex, was bullshit central, with Barry giving GBH of the earhole to anybody who cared to push his button and get him started on aspirational this, and socially hygienic that, and how everybody associated with the Matchroom set-up stood to make fortunes. ‘At the end of the day, the only things we wanna see is the numbers,’ the Bazza used to like to say. ‘We’re all in a numbers world. “Tell me what the ratings were.” That’s the only reaction.’

“Ronnie senior listening to Ronnie junior progressing towards his first world title via a series of knocks and taps on the woodwork and the prison plumbing carries a heavy echo of the Fifties London of the gang wars between family ‘firms’ like the Richardsons and the Lambrianous, the Maltese Messina brothers and the Krays, when Ronnie and Reggie’s billiard hall, The Regal in Eric Street, was the haunt of every up-and-coming thief, fence and racketeer in the East End.

“And it turns out to be not just an imaginative link but a real one. Ronnie O’Sullivan’s grandfather, Mickey, was a boxer. And so were Mickey’s brothers, Danny and Dickie (ring name, ‘The Toy Bulldog’). They knew some renown in post-war boxing circles. They were ‘The Fighting O’Sullivans’.

“Danny was British bantamweight champion 1949–51. The brothers merit a mention in a memoir by Charlie Kray, in a chapter devoted to Ronnie and Reggie’s early boxing exploits at the famous Fitzroy Lynn Club, whose members at the time, in addition to the O’Sullivan boys, included Freddie King, later to be Barry Hearn’s business partner in his East End fruit machine and amusement arcade ‘empire’.” — Gordon Burn, Observor Sport Monthly, December 2001

RONNIE: My granddad was a pro fighter. He had two brothers who were pro fighters, Danny and Dickie. I think Danny was British champion, European champion and he fought for the world title. I don’t know too much about the history, but I hear it from my dad and stuff, and at family barbeques. My granddad used to say to me, ‘come on son, get the boxing gloves on’ and my brothers would be having a scrap in the garden.

Dickie (left) and Danny O’Sullivan

SPIKE: Fucking hell, that’s like our family as well. We all boxed, my brothers and me would be sparring at home.

RONNIE: Boxing is kind of in the family.

KB: You were brought up with that mentality as well — get up, get out, go for a run, be fit?

RONNIE: Yeah, my dad was tough on me.

SPIKE: My dad was in the army, he was the same. He used to make us go out training.

RONNIE: He used to kill me. He used to go to me, ‘right, out for a run’ and I was like, ‘I’m a snooker player. I want to eat burgers and chips and have a game of cards, mate’. That’s all my other mates were doing but he was like, ‘nah, if you want to be successful, fit body fit mind’. So he’d make me go for a run and he’d follow me around the park just to make sure I was doing it! All I’d hear was, ‘beep beep, come on get up that hill’. And I was like, ‘Jesus Christ’, but I needed that. I think naturally I was just a lazy person. Given the opportunity I think I’d just be happy to lay on a beach, deck chairs, nice cup of coffee, nice cigarette, read the paper, I’m happy. But you’re stuck on the treadmill and it’s like, ‘this is it, this is my life now!’ I’m actually quite looking forward to the point where I don’t have to look at another snooker ball or another snooker table. I love it, and I’ve enjoyed what it’s given to me, but it’s hard work. There’s a Chinese saying, you get two lives — zero to forty and forty to eighty, and I’m working on that one now. What do I want my life to be like from forty to eighty?

SPIKE: This has been the strangest conversation I’ve ever had in my life. You could combine our two brains and you could’ve just spoke for me too. I feel like that too. Boxing is just so hard, you know? I keep asking myself, ‘why am I doing it? What am I doing?’ And I’m looking forward to it kind of being over as well.

RONNIE: I sometimes like to think, in a way I see the positive in it. If I didn’t have snooker, and I didn’t have that discipline in my life, I probably would have been a loser. Know what I mean? I probably would have just settled for anything. Sport gives you that discipline.

SPIKE: I think you wouldn’t, Ronnie, you’re competitive and you would have done something good. I done a trade before I took up professional boxing at 23. I done sheet metal-work and qualified as a tradesman. I had my first kid at 19, so the boxing was dodgy.

RONNIE: It was kind of late, weren’t it?

SPIKE: Well, I started the boxing aged five and I’m boxing 29 years come September, but I wasn’t taking it quite as serious, it was taking a back seat. I done the trade and with the building boom and a kid on the way, it seemed to be the right thing to do. So I did the apprenticeship and qualified that way. But when you’re competitive, you find your way. You’d hardly want to sit at home and do fuck all.

Maiden year — Spike in 2008, his first year as a pro

RONNIE: You’re right, you’re right. I’m just convincing myself.

KB: Ronnie, you were saying there’s two stages to life and it reminds me of a quote of yours involving two good friends, “two gladiators of the sport, the best of the best. We were like Mexican boxers, tough boys who grew up fighting with each other.” It’s yourself, John Higgins and Mark Williams, snooker’s Barrera, Morales and Marquez. Higgins and Williams just competed in the oldest World Championships final ever this year, what did you make of that?

RONNIE: I thought it was — and I was speaking about it with Tony Knowles — I thought it was the best final that I’ve ever seen. I don’t think snooker, if you was going to fast forward 60 years, I don’t think the game possibly could be played better than that, because snooker is about defending and attacking. A lot of the older players probably defended too much and a lot of the modern players probably attack too much and I think these two players just had the perfect blend. I can say they’re like Mexican boxers. They live and breathe the sport, they love the sport, they just sort of… me watching, and I’ve watched a lot of snooker as well, I can see a great game from a not-so-great game and it’s just the little subtle things they were doing, when to attack, when to defend, and when they’re defending they’re really attacking, you know, there was no breathing space.

Mexican style — O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams came up like Barrera, Morales and Marquez, who are pictured with Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez

SPIKE: The counter punching.

RONNIE: A bit like the Mexicans, they stand there and have a scrap but actually they’re not giving you much breathing space. There’s no hiding place with them.

SPIKE: Them guys, I kind of fight like a Mexican. I’ve got a lot of Mexican fans actually. When I was fighting on Golovkin’s last fight, it took me an hour and 20 minutes to get back to my seat, it was Cinco De Mayo, the Mexican holiday, and all the Mexicans were fucking crazy when I fought in LA. Another time when I was in the away dressing room I was expected to get beat and I think it was about five Mexicans on the card and me, an Irishman, in there. There was a big screen in the room and they all got beat up — black eyes, busted noses, everything, one girl as well got beat up. I was going out just before Billy Joe Saunders and when I came back, I’d won. The fighters were delighted for me. They were expecting me to get beat as well.

RONNIE: They was buzzing for you, because you fight like them. They like your style.

SPIKE: We were speaking the same language.

RONNIE: It’s fantastic, it’s a universal thing really. And snooker’s the same. You go away, you play and people just gravitate towards you because of your game. They don’t know you as a person. They watch your game and they go, ‘ah yeah, I like him’.

KB: I saw an interview you did about ‘numpties’ — people and opponents’ relatives who keep coming up to you annoying you while you’re practising, looking to take selfies…

RONNIE: I don’t have a problem with that, I love the game and stuff like that, but when I play a snooker match I want to play against the best and compete against the best. Now, obviously the game’s opened up, the first three or four rounds you’re playing people who can’t make a break or 40 or 50 and it’s a bit of a waste of time. It’s very hard to get up for it, and that’s just the way the sport has gone. I find that part difficult. I like to play John Higgins, Mark Williams, the Selbys, you get up for them type of games. The tour’s changed. That’s why I go away to places like here, I get to play Mark Allen for five nights. For me, snooker’s snooker. It doesn’t have to be in the Crucible or some big fancy venue. Just put a table there, get a few people and let’s have a battle. And for me, I call it pure snooker. Instead of all the razzmatazz, at the end of the day it’s just a game. It’s you against the other guy, you against the balls, and that’s what you love about it.

David Lemieux, Spike’s opponent for September 15

SPIKE: I find that in boxing with the level of opponent you’re sometimes in against, or with sparring, the better the opponent the better of you it brings out. You’re more in tune and more focused.

KB: Boxing can have a lot of banana skins with novice-type opponents, you often see more polished fighters struggling against less accomplished opponents. They’re not used to the moves being pulled.

SPIKE: I think with the snooker though, Ronnie would just batter you if you weren’t good enough. It’s not like you can block him or punch him back. He’s just going to fucking break the table.

KB: Does it bother you being out and about and being pulled in for photographs the way people do, rather than come up to say ‘hello, I enjoyed your last fight’?

Spike with famous fan Katie Taylor

SPIKE: I kind of enjoy it. Because I took up professional boxing at 23, I thought that might never come in my life so it’s a bit of a novelty to me. I always go around with my hair ready for the photographs! I don’t mind at all.

KB: Ronnie, what do you want to do after snooker?

RONNIE: I’m into my keep-fit and my fitness so maybe trying to help people that haven’t got such an active life to maybe be more active, to get their food and nutrition right. I believe that you get one life and you’ve got to make it the best life it can possibly be. And once you get fit and healthy, it opens up so many opportunities because you’re thinking more and acting on a higher level.

……

SPIKE: You get it in boxing a lot, you find most boxing people are good people. No matter how good you are, you get the bollox knocked out of you. And I’ve had the bollox knocked out of me in the gym. It humbles you. When I was younger I thought I was Macho Man, that I could beat fucking anybody, but you end up getting the shit beaten out of you in the ring. You fucking learn that you’re not a Macho Man. It happens everyone in boxing though. You get humbled.

KB: You get manners put on you, like if you meet Ronnie in a snooker hall.

SPIKE: You would yeah. I fucking wouldn’t play him, fuck sake. I was fighting Matthew Hall on two and a half weeks’ notice. It was a 12-round fight, my first 12-round fight, at Upton Park.

RONNIE: In London? Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Upton sparks — Chisora goes down to Haye

SPIKE: David Haye and Chisora were on that.

RONNIE: I was there that night.

SPIKE: You were fucking there!

RONNIE: And Andy Murray was there too, that’s right.

SPIKE: Ye were sitting next to Billy Joe. I remember because I was going to fight Billy Joe next. But you know what happened? Frank Warren was promoting that show and I was brought in to lose that night to Matthew Hall, because I got so little notice. I had to lose 18lbs in two and a half weeks. I was fucked. I got conjunctivitis, my eyelids were swollen before the fight, but they didn’t leave me fight Billy Joe after that because Warren says, ‘this Spike O’Sullivan fella is dodgy’. So they gave me another 11 months out and Billy Joe had five fights in the meantime.

RONNIE: That’s the frustrating thing in boxing. A lot of politics.

SPIKE: Promoters dictate everything. They’re bastards.

RONNIE: I don’t think I could deal with that.

SPIKE: It’s hard but we’ve no choice. It’s either get out of the sport or put up with it. You’ve no choice. They’re the powerhouses, they dictate what’s happening. I remember you being there, man. They had to get the ponchos because it started lashing raining. I fucked off to my room. I was staying in the ground that night and was looking out at the fight. Haye knocked Chisora out in the fifth round. Remember he wore the runners? Smart fucker. He wore them wet shoes, them plastic shoes coming to the ring but Chisora’s fucking brain-dead and he didn’t. I remember Dynamo the magician being there. Ah, it was my birthday as well, 2012.

KB: Just the mention of Haye reminds me of the giant Russian Nikolai Valuev, who named Ronnie O’Sullivan as his sporting hero.

RONNIE: Who the big guy? Are you serious? Massive, weren’t he! Fucking hell. I liked him.

Valuev — big on snooker

KB: Another giant heavyweight champ, Tyson Fury, was speaking about you recently. He said he’d employed you to help him with the mental side of things. Did you join his camp for the comeback?

RONNIE: Nah, never! We just chatted a bit on Instagram and stuff like that. He obviously knows that I love my boxing and I’m into my training. So he shouted me out, saying ‘any time you want to come out, come to the gym, whatever’. I started chatting back to him. He knows that I’ve been through my thing with my sport, and he’s been through his things with his sport, and sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not the only one going through it. Like me and Spike have been chatting here, sometimes I feel strange saying it and that most people probably feel I’m bloody crazy. But then Spike’s saying he’s got exactly the same thing. For me it’s nice to know I’m not alone. And I’d say for Spike it’s the same. It’s nice to know we all think the same. That’s why I say it’s tough.

Tyson Fury with Ronnie O’Sullivan, who he turned to for advice. The pair trained at the same gym for a while as the former heavyweight champ attempted to lose weight ahead of his comeback

SPIKE: I don’t know who was the first to speak out about this kind of thing but I really appreciate whoever it was because it’s good for people to talk about it.

RONNIE: Some people think if you start talking about that, you’re weak and that.

SPIKE: You’re not fucking weak, nah.

RONNIE: It can be tough and you’ve got to be tough to come through it. A lot of people turn to drink, drugs, gambling, it’s like an escapism. My escapism is running, boxing, I still have to find escapisms. I can probably deal with it better now than I used to. I’ve a different perspective on it now. I’m 42, I know it can’t go on forever and I realise worrying about a lot of the stuff I worried about is pointless. But at the time it didn’t feel pointless, because it was a matter of life and death. For me everything was a matter of life and death. Now you kinda learn, you see your kids grow up and it’s kinda ‘you’re not here forever, just try and enjoy it’.

SPIKE: One of my favourite sayings is, ‘this too shall pass’. If it’s good or bad, I’m just trying to stay on the level all the time as much as I can. If it’s exciting times, or low times…

RONNIE: Just flatline it. Don’t get too up or too down.

SPIKE: Exactly. I always apply that thought when things are bad, I say ‘this will pass as well’. The good times I never get too excited, I enjoy the moment but I know it’s going to go by too and next week’s gonna be different.

KB: Is it something that disproportionately affects individual sportsmen, mental health issues?

SPIKE: I dunno. There’s Premier League soccer players, some of them, that’s not an individual sport, but they have it as well.

KB: Very few come out with it though.

RONNIE: Some of them are so thick, they don’t get it. If you’ve got a bit of intelligence, if you’re a bit of a feeling person, then things are going to affect you. But if you’re a bit of a thicko, and I don’t mean to insult anybody, sometimes there’s not a lot going on up there so there’s not a lot that can go wrong. If you’re a bit of a sensitive person then it can affect you more. That’s my theory on it sometimes. If you think too much…

SPIKE: A friend of mine said the same to me, along those lines, I thought he was right and I think you’re right too.

RONNIE: I’ve known a lot of people and they’re good, but there’s not a lot going on up there. But sometimes that stops them from being the greatest, because to be the greatest you need to think, you need to have a brain. You need to have a boxing brain, a snooker brain, whatever it is. If there’s not a lot going on up there… I know a lot of snooker players, technically they’re great. They get down and pot balls and it’s ‘wow, amazing’ — but as soon as they have to think their way through a game, I look at them and think, ‘wow, there’s nothing going on there, he really ain’t got a clue what to do here’. That doesn’t make them a complete player, a complete sportsman. So I think to be the best, you need to be bordering on that line of going through it, as well.

SPIKE: I think it’s a lot like chess as well.

RONNIE: Absolutely, you look at Kasparov, they don’t want to see anybody. They’re like ‘leave me alone for a month’ and go into solitary. They put themselves in that space where they feel they need to be where they need to be to get psyched up for it.

SPIKE: I probably have to go away about six weeks from a big fight. I miss my family, I’m very family orientated, and fucking hell it gets me. The way I cope with it, I think to myself that I’m doing it for them anyway. It’s for their future.

RONNIE: I just think sometimes, ‘I’ve got my cue, I’ve got my laptop, boom, I’m away’. Sometimes you’ve got to think, ‘free’. Freedom is the best thing you can have and sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I watched a great film, Braveheart, and sometimes you’ve got to go. And then come back years later after a rethink. I watch all these great films and sometimes you’ve got to be a bit selfish and a bit single minded, just for the greater good.

SPIKE: Everyone wants a piece of you, Ronnie. It’s been a pleasure to meet you man.

Dipping his toes — with Coach Kacvanagh in Dublin

RONNIE: It’s been great here in Ireland. I’d love to come to the gym with you in Cork. I was in with Coach Kavanagh, McGregor’s guy in Dublin, he’s fantastic, brilliant. I’ve been in the boxing gym every day. Six or seven rounds sparring. Doing my four-mile run.

SPIKE: I’ll give you a body spar next time.

RONNIE: I dunno if I can body spar with you, mate.

SPIKE: You’d walk into any gym, anyway. They’d open the doors for you. The Mardyke here in Cork is possibly the best gym in the country. They’ve everything there. I train there every day. I’m living in Togher on the south side of the city. I’d have brought you to the gym but I’d never met you and didn’t know what you’d be like. You know the way you have perceptions about people? When I met Zlatan Ibrahimovic, I thought that he’d be an arrogant cunt, like, but I was fucking well wrong. Because he’s a big-headed cunt, and he followed about three people on Twitter, I was going ‘this fella is going to be a prick’ but he wasn’t. He was fucking sound! He walked down on to the pitch and I was fighting my last fight in his arena in LA. He came down and he was like, ‘why aren’t you fighting Triple G?’ And I goes, ‘it was all over the money and all that’. He follows the boxing as well. He loves it.

Paschal Collins, Zlatan and Spike talk tactics in LA

RONNIE: He loves a row, doesn’t he? He’s strong, mate. Like a warrior.

SPIKE: Beast, he’s a specimen of a man.

RONNIE: You’d want him in your team.

SPIKE: I’d rather be with him than against him, anyway. Mike Tyson, when I met him, it was fascinating as well.

RONNIE: He’s an intimidating guy, isn’t he?

SPIKE: I thought he would be worse. I was saying that to my mother before I met him, ‘I dunno about this fella’ — I thought he was a bit of a racist ‘cos I seen him saying in the past, calling fellas ‘white boy’ and ‘I’m gonna make you my bitch’ and all this, and I says ‘if he fucking says that to me, he’ll get it’, you know?

Mike Tyson with a white boy

RONNIE: When he was boxing, he must have been under some pressure. He’s just chilled now, isn’t he, he seems much more easy with life.

SPIKE: I loved him, I thought he was great. You’d have that perception of guys. I didn’t know what you’d be like either, ‘cos this was the first time meeting you. I would have invited you to the gym.

KB: I assume you will be inviting Ronnie if you ever get to have a homecoming fight in Cork — you have potential world title fight on the cards if you win your next one or two fights?

SPIKE: Bring Ronnie on the ring walk for my defence. Why not?

KB: You’re out in September on the GGG-Canelo card and you’ve been told you can fight the winner, correct?

SPIKE: Yep, that’s correct. I haven’t stopped training since my last fight. I’m keeping fit, ready. They’re going to see the best Spike ever, the best performance of my career. The GGG or Canelo fight would then be in December so it’ll be the best Christmas present ever.

KB: Then if you win, hopefully a fight next year in Cork?

SPIKE: When I win, when I win. I will be fighting across the river in Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

KB: Well, that might wrap us up. Thanks for meeting us today, Ronnie, it’s been great…

SPIKE: Thanks Ronnie. They say ‘never meet your heroes’ but that’s bullshit. I’ve met loads of them now and they’re all great guys. Even Chris Eubank Sr, when I fought his son, he was one of my heroes growing up, Senior, lots of people diss him but I like him.

RONNIE: I thought he was alright. I really like the Eubanks, yeah.

SPIKE: I loved watching him growing up. I like him. I think he’s intelligent.

RONNIE: He won’t do you wrong.

SPIKE: I admire him.

Eubank — his own man

RONNIE: He loves to chat. He don’t stop talking. Caught me for about 20 minutes one day. He come along on one of those, you know those little skateboards with wheels on, he come along in Brighton in all his gear and that, and was chatting away. He wanted me to moonwalk around the table and I was like, ‘Chris, I can’t do that’.

SPIKE: He’s nuts, man. Eccentric.

RONNIE: He’s funny though, he’s a character. He was entertainment. I loved him.

SPIKE: He was different. I’m looking to go into Hollywood after my career. I’ve been talking to a few directors over there and they like the look, the moustache…

RONNIE: All day long, mate, all day long.

SPIKE: So why not? Besides being such a wonderful snooker player, the entertainment factor you bring in your interviews, we were speaking about it earlier, myself and Kevin, the way some Premier League players are very polished in their interviews and they say the same shit all the time. I’d never do that — and that’s what I admire about you, you’re always funny out.

KB: Do you have to mind your manners now, Ronnie, watch yourself?

RONNIE: Em, I suppose if you wanna be a David Beckham or someone like that then you have to be a certain way. You can’t be real in many ways. Or like a Joshua, they have to kind of, there’s this perception, they don’t say the wrong thing. I think that’s good for them commercially wise, they’ve done really well, but I could never… I mean I’d need a year of school to get it beaten out of me! It just doesn’t fit me. But I’m happy, I just have a little laugh, I enjoy it, have a bit of fun and a laugh with the authorities.

SPIKE: A bit more like Tyson Fury and Billy Joe, you are. I like their style too — they have a bit of a laugh.

AJ or Fury? Ronnie fancies the Gypsy King

KB: Who do you think wins, Fury or Joshua should they fight?

RONNIE: Listen, I’m no boxing expert but what I do know about boxing, you have to say that Fury is probably the better boxer. Whether Joshua would be good enough to get near him, I’m not sure. I’d probably have to go for Fury but you know, it’s heavyweight boxing, it just takes one punch.

SPIKE: I’d like to see Fury winning that fight, personally. I like Tyson Fury. AJ is a nice guy too, I’ve met him, fought on his undercards as well, nice guys the both of them. But I like Tyson Fury’s style and think he’s a better boxer. Joshua is probably more powerful and a more dedicated athlete. You were saying about Beckham and AJ, the only thing I’d like is their bank balance — and maybe AJ’s six-pack! I couldn’t be like them, though — scripted — it wouldn’t be me either.

RONNIE: I don’t think the heavyweight scene is like it used to be, though. We had Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Razor Ruddock, there were some fantastic heavyweights there, amazing fighters. Andrew Golota, what a fighter he was.

SPIKE: Punching in the bollox and all that.

RONNIE: Yeah, he was! That’s right.

KB: Who was your favourite fighter growing up?

RONNIE: I suppose when I was coming along, Hagler-Hearns was brilliant, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, they were fantastic, but if you’re really looking at the all-time greats they say Sugar Ray Robinson.

SPIKE: Robinson, that’s who my grandfather used to say, obviously before my time though. Great fighter.

RONNIE: I met Duran the other week.

SPIKE: I do be back and forth with his son on Twitter.

RONNIE: His son was with him, because he don’t speak no English, and we were signing things. Obviously there was loads of snooker cues and balls, and Roberto Duran got his son over and it was ‘tell him I love snooker’ and he was showing me pictures of his pool table that he’s got in his house, and the snooker table that he plays at, and he says, ‘I play with big balls’ and I says, ‘yeah, they’re American pool balls, I play snooker’. His son was saying how his dad plays for six or seven hours a day, he just loves it.

Living legends — O’Sullivan and Duran are on the circuit

KB: Did he know who you were, Duran?

RONNIE: I’m not sure he actually knew who I was, but he could see I played the sport that he enjoyed and he must have known that I was pretty good at it because I was there signing things as a sportsman as he was as a boxer. It was quite funny. I said to him, ‘I know more about you than you probably know about yourself’. I told them I’d watched every documentary and all of his fights. I said, ‘I love this geezer!’

SPIKE: Did you ever meet Sugar Ray Leonard?

RONNIE: I’ve never met him, no.

SPIKE: He commentated on one or two of my fights in America and seems nice. Marvin Hagler, my mother wanted to call me Marvin, instead of Gary, but my dad said he was too flamboyant and he wouldn’t have it.

RONNIE: A warrior.

SPIKE: Big time. That’s where Steve Collins trained, in the Petronelli gym in Brockton, Massachusetts, where Hagler used to train. The brothers trained Hagler, they trained Collins, I trained there as well when I was over.

RONNIE: He’s a nice guy too, Collins, I met him.

SPIKE: I know him very well, they’re like family to me.

RONNIE: He’s got his head screwed on, hasn’t he. Smart guy.

Someone to look up to — Steve Collins, Marvin Hagler

SPIKE: I think, going back to what you said, you’ve got to have a level of intelligence to go to the top. Like Billy Joe and Tyson Fury are very smart guys as well. And Steve Collins. His brother is my trainer and he’s my daughter’s godfather as well. They’re like family.

KB: Did you ever consider getting in for a fight yourself, against a Quentin Hann maybe or even Mark Williams, wasn’t he a former amateur boxer?

RONNIE: No, I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself. I like training, I love fighting, I’d happily go into a gym and do a bit of sparring, but all that having a sit-down dinner with a thousand people watching me, I’m not good enough to do it.

SPIKE: I’d strongly advise you against it too, that white collar stuff. Dangerous. I’ve been to a few events and I don’t like it. They start training for 12 weeks but I think some guys might hold back a little bit and then on the night, let lads get beaten up on. I seen one bloke, he was a plasterer, really strong, and he knocked out one boy, bad. Then there was another lad with no opponent, so he got back in again. The two lads ended up in hospital.

RONNIE: That’s one thing I like about boxing. When you go in the gym, they shouldn’t allow any of that going on. If you take liberties, it’s like ‘oi, don’t do that’. Like Spike says, you go to these things and someone’s holding back and they could kill someone. Boxing’s not about that — it’s a gentleman’s sport.

KB: Boxing isn’t really like other sports, in that you could get seriously harmed by simply taking part, whereas in snooker or football you could get embarrassed badly but aren’t likely to be badly hurt.

RONNIE: I’ll stick to snooker, let Spike stick to boxing, I’ll go to Spike’s gym to do a bit of boxing and he can come around and have a game of snooker with me. Mind you, I’m looking forward to that because you’ve had a break of 63 so you can play. You can be my practice partner.

SPIKE: I’ll walk around after you taking the balls out of the pockets.

The following morning there’s no boxing or snooker, but they go out for a run.

The O’Sullivans Spike and Ronnie after a morning run in Cork

Next For Spike: World middleweight title eliminator v David Lemieux, September 15, Las Vegas, on the Gennady Golovkin v Canelo Alvarez title fight.

Next for Ronnie: Shanghai Masters, September 10–16