THERE are multiple reasons why boxing is considered the hardest sport of all, and not least among them is the brutal way in which competitors can be riding a wave of championship success one moment with all the possibilities that brings, only to see it all come crashing down the next with a few minutes of action that don’t go as planned. For Pompey light-heavyweight Joel McIntyre (17 – 2) the harsh transition from English champion to KO victim was brought about by the fists of Barrow’s Liam Conroy (16 – 3 – 1) in four minutes of mayhem last September, and the conclusive nature of the win with McIntyre down heavily in the first before the ref intervened in one minute and twenty seconds of round two, led inevitably to the thirty year old’s very future in the game being brought into question. Prior to that first ever stoppage loss the talk was that McIntyre was surely moving towards a British title tilt and the chance to become the first Lonsdale Belt holder from the island-city since Tony Oakey a decade ago, and while that dream has receded for the present at least, McIntyre hasn’t given it up. Far from it.
Nemesis Conroy has meanwhile proved himself a tough and busy operator since that September night against McIntyre, with a highly entertaining contest against Chris Hobbs that was brought to a halt only by the serving soldier from Southampton suffering a dislocated shoulder in the ninth round that prompted his retirement from the sport, and a controversial second round win over Bushey’s former Southern Area champ and British title challenger Miles Shinkwin. Conroy landed some heavy shots to the back of the neck that night in March, maybe intentional, maybe not, but they were ruled sufficiently unfair for the Board to mandate a rematch. There’s plenty of history between McIntyre and Shinkwin, and they stand one win apiece over each other after two terrific contests which saw Shinkwin take a close points win for the Southern Area in 2014 before the Pompey man turned the tables in December 2016 on his home turf. Since then, there have been constant calls for a third fight between the two and while the careers of both men have had their ups and downs, it’s a match that still holds great appeal. But not yet. Before then, Shinkwin will get another opportunity against the rough, tough Conroy while on June 2 McIntyre goes in against London’s Kirk Garvey on Joe Pyle for Noble Art Promotion’s ‘New Era’ show. On the line will be the vacant Southern Area title, and for McIntyre the stakes couldn’t be higher. Another loss now will place his career in such jeopardy it’s hard to envisage a route back.
The loss to Conroy hit McIntyre hard, and under the tough exterior there is a sensitive and highly-thoughtful man: “For about a week after the loss I was tempted to walk away but I got through that. I want people to look back at that fight when I lost the English title and think ‘that is what can happen’, you can be fit as **** and as strong as a bull but if your head isn’t right in this game, and it’s a lonely-ass game, then you don’t stand a chance. I just wasn’t mentally prepared for that fight. Physically yes, I’ve always done what I’ve had to do but that’s done on auto-pilot and there were other things that were not being seen and not being addressed. Ultimately the bottom line is it’s up to me to take care of those things, and I should have seen and I should have known. I did underestimate Conroy and I shouldn’t have done, so ultimately the responsibility lies with me. I’ve always said the only one who could beat me is myself, and when I lost to Miles Shinkwin it was because I wasn’t showing the game enough respect and he beat me because I didn’t have enough respect to put the effort into the fight. That’s all behind me now, I’m focused and on my game.”
Managed by Steve Goodwin, the defeat to Conroy brought about a split with trainer John Murray who had guided McIntyre to that superb rematch victory over Shinkwin in 2016: “The team had a meeting after the loss in September and we sort of said we had to communicate a lot better, there was a lack of communication and that’s how it started. I felt like I had to take control of my own training, I know you’re supposed to leave it to your trainer or your coach, but I think I’d left the responsibility with others a little bit too much. At the moment Daron Wiseman is helping me out, he’s always given us use of his gym. Technically he has good input and he’s a good pad-man too. I also have Dan Iaciofano who’s my strength and conditioning man but has a background in boxing. He plans the program and we then execute it as a team. Scott Welch was on the team for a short while and he was a great help with the show in February and making that work [an eight rounds points victory over Bulgarian Tavar Mehmed]. He was brilliant and he was also helping me with training for a while. But he’s got a lot on his plate and I needed 100% focus, and with the team I’ve got now that is definitely happening. Steve Goodwin is my long-term manager and he’s a decent man, we get on very well. Put it this way, going forward, I’ve never been in a better place than this. I feel so happy and quite frankly, unbeatable. ”
A former ABA champion, Garvey is light years away in quality from an import like Mehmed, and McIntyre insists he isn’t underestimating the challenge: “We’ve watched a few of his fights. He’s got a good amateur pedigree of course, and he’s tall and lets his shots go. He’s a decent lad. He’s also had a few stoppages recently. With what I’ve been doing in training I don’t see any problems apart from the fact that he wants to beat me! It’s definitely going to be a good fight. I’m totally motivated to be fighting for the Southern Area title, that belt is the reason I’m fighting him. I need it, it’s my route back into contention. If I lose there’s not going to be anyone wanting to give me a title shot. I’ll be high risk but little reward. I’m still dangerous, and while the Southern Area is a step down from the English it’s still a great belt. If I were to lose this fight the believers will disappear completely. I’m so determined for this one. Make no mistake, I’m on it.”
Looking down the line, McIntyre craves an opportunity to avenge that stoppage to Conroy: “I’m eager to fight Conroy again. I know it’s a business but as a man that’s what I’d want. I had to wait two and a half years for my rematch with Shinkwin, and because it’s a business when it makes financial sense we’ll do it. That loss to Conroy should never have happened, and I have to put right that wrong before I die. It just needs to be done.”
It’s highly likely that his rival Shinkwin feels the same about the nature of his loss to the Barrovian, and while there has been some banter and perhaps a superficial dislike over the years between Shinkwin and McIntyre one can detect an underlying professional respect that comes when you’ve shared twenty tough rounds in the pro ring with a man, and have a suspicion that you’re destined to cross swords again. The Bushey man faced some criticism on social media for his protests over the Conroy fight, and while one may reasonably expect a rival such as McIntyre to add to that criticism, he discusses the issue with objectivity and an innate fairness: “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking anything away from Conroy and I don’t want to come across as bitter, but the way he threw them hooks they were to the back of his head and you can’t get away with that, it’s ****ing well dodgy. I do think the Board have done the right thing in ordering the rematch. It’s about the safety of the boxers and people do get hurt in the ring, so I definitely think this decision looks good for them. I’d feel the same if Miles had won the fight that way and that had happened. Miles did have grounds for appeal and I’m glad the Board have upheld it, I think it was the right thing to do in the interests of safety. Conroy’s obviously a big puncher so you don’t want to take too many of those type of shots. Basically to beat him you need to do the opposite of what I did against him! He might look a basic boxer but he’s got skills and he’s definitely strong.”
Of course, all the speculation regarding future matches will remain exactly that if McIntyre fails to get past Garvey on June 2, but with an understated belief he says: “To anyone thinking of coming to the show, you’re going to see me win the title. I don’t believe it’s going to go the distance the way I am at the moment, and you’re going to see a future British champion in action.”
‘New Era’ takes place at the York Hall on Saturday June 2. Contact Noble Art Promotions for tickets.