By Paul Gibson (@BallsOfWrath) theballsofwrath.com
Most people spend a few hours tossing and turning the night before the biggest moment of their professional careers, but not Conrad Cummings. The Shane McGuigan-trained middleweight faces the unbeaten Alfredo Meli for the Celtic title in a packed Waterfront Hall tonight and when I catch up with him he’s his usual fresh-faced self.
“I said my prayers and was then asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow,” he tells me over a glass of blackcurrant juice. “And I slept like a baby for nine full hours.”
It’s a mark of the confidence of the man and a sign that he knows all the hard work has been done, and been done well. This is Conrad’s first title fight, first time headlining, and first time fighting a ten rounder, yet he appears relaxed and eager to go.
“It’s different but it’s not,” he says. “I’m a wee bit more focused perhaps but I always say that any fight could be your last so in that way it’s just another night at the office.”
“I believe I’m destined for this whereas I don’t think my opponent is. When I saw him at the weigh-in yesterday he looked a bit shocked by the scale of it all whereas I loved it. I love the extra attention and the extra buzz.”
The extra buzz exists for good reason. Both men are unbeaten and the fight will prove a massive stepping stone for the victor who will suddenly be in the frame for British and Commonwealth titles.
For Cummings, the additional carrot of a slot on the undercard of the Frampton Quigg mega-fight in February next year is also dangling tantalisingly in front of him.
Stablemate and IBF world super-bantamweight champ called Conrad last night to wish him well and will be at ringside cheering the Coalislander on. Five years ago Carl also fought for a Celtic title in his eighth outing although Cummings is quick to tell me with a laugh that the Jackal fought in a smaller venue than the Waterfront that night against Gavin Reid. Regardless, it’s another great Cyclone Promotions success story.
“I signed with Cyclone exactly 100 weeks ago,” Cummings tells me. “Barry said that I give everything I’ve got then he’ll get me to the top and so far he’s kept every promise he’s made to me. It’s a unique relationship we have in our stable between fighters and the rest of the team.”
Everyone will tell you that Conrad, a ferociously driven individual, is more than keeping up his side of the bargain as well. It’s that work ethic in the gym that gives him the confidence ahead of tonight’s bout.
“Carl just told me to relax because he’s seen how hard I’ve trained for this. In all my previous fights I knew I was going to win no matter what whereas this is the first that I know if I don’t perform well, I might not win. But I love that, it gives me a bit of an edge and a nervous energy I need to perform at my best.”
He’ll get a further boost when he walks to the ring in a few hours with a packed Waterfront Hall behind him. Cummings is a massive draw as the turn-out for yesterday’s weigh-in proved, with family flying in from as far as the US for this one.
I push him for a prediction but he just smiles. “When I asked Meli if he was ready he kept repeating, ten rounds, ten rounds. I just told him to sleep well and worry about round one. But my only prediction is that I’m leaving the ring with that belt. 100%.”
This one promises to be a Belfast Friday fight night to remember.