By Jonny Stapleton
When opportunity comes knocking Jono Carroll [16(3)-0] rushes to open the door and greets it with a beaming bearded smile.
It’s not a trait all Irish fighters have but ‘King Kong’ has grabbed every chance that has been presented to him with both gloves and has become one of Dublin boxing’s biggest names and main world title hopes as a result.
Dublin has been searching for a ‘star’ and someone to fill a big Bernard Dunne-sized hole since the Clondalkin fighter’s retirement in 2009 and, while MTK’s self-imposed exile means he can’t fight in the capital presently, Carroll could become a Dublin fighter of serious note.
Stardom didn’t look likely when the now 26-year-old turned over in Australia back in 2012.
In fact, that far back, the Finglas super featherweight wasn’t on many Irish fighters’ or fans’ radars and has revealed he wasn’t living a life conducive to boxing.
Weed proved a weed on his development and talent – and without any major shows back home or high profile amateur background to build off, Carroll was a pro with little prospects.
His first two wins, which both came Down Under, were spaced out and went under the radar.
However, having returned home to Ireland in 2014 he was presented with the chance to change the trajectory of his career and he certainly took it.
To say people asked ‘Jono who?’ when Carroll was announced as elite amateur Declan Geraghty’s opponent for the Return of the Mack is no exaggeration.
When Eddie Hearn first announced the fight, no one was giving the Dunshaughlin-based puncher a chance. However, the fighter himself always believed and within minutes of the press conference finishing the now world title hopeful began a pre0fight game plan that would ultimately win him the fight.
‘King Kong’ first made sure everyone knew he wasn’t just another opponent and he wasn’t going to be used to help progress ‘Pretty Boy’ toward stardom.
Then came process of getting into his fellow Dub’s head. Aware at that stage in their career, and considering his own circumstances, Geraghty would be favoured to out box him he his used his mouth to lure his opponent into a scrap.
‘He doesn’t want it’, ‘he is scared’, ‘he is going to run’ and ‘he hasn’t the balls to fight’ became the lyrical back drop to the build up.
What at first looked like a routine fight bout for slick southpaw Geraghty became an eagerly anticipated clash on a card that included the much hyped Spike O’Sullivan versus Anthony Fitzgerald grudge match.
News a place in Prizefighter was at stake added value, intrigue, and the added desire to win for both.
The talk eventually paid off as Geraghty went to war with the then Paschal Collins-trained puncher and was eventually disqualified.
In just his third fight Carroll made sure he had gone from complete unknown to winner of the Irish Fight of the Year and Prizefighter contestant.
The mind games were Fergie-like and they paid dividends and, after making the most of chance one, the born entertainer would go from silver to golden opportunity.
Three weeks after his Gergahty bout and three weeks and one day from being a relative unknown Carroll was fighting in the ultimate of career-changing tournaments.
The Dub now had the chance to impress live on Sky Sports, win some serious money and take a big stride toward a big fight.
With the likes of former British and European champion Stephen Foster and former British and Commonwealth champion Gary Buckland on the guest list victory looked unlikely for a 16/1 underdog carrying a knock and with just weeks to prepare.
However, as stated already, Carroll is the ultimate chance taker and came to life under the spotlight.
Not only did he win a tournament the likes of Willie Casey and Martin Rogan used to propel their careers with Foster and Buckland in it, he beat both with skill rather than strength en-route to collecting a sizable £32,000 cheque following a final victory over Luton-Wexford puncher Michael Devine.
Within a matter of weeks, the fighter had enjoyed two career changing nights and rose to the occasion on four separate occasions to record the kind of success more vaunted novice pros would kill for.
So impressed was Eddie Hearn that a Matchroom contract was put on the table. It was said to be a fifteen-fight three-year deal that would first allow Carroll to do some learning on the job before pushing him toward stardom.
Things didn’t quite work out under Hearn as Ireland, and especially Dublin, didn’t look a viable option for the Matchroom shows.
The eager to fight and progress southpaw grew frustrated and finally parted ways with the Sky promoter, although not before producing another big showing.
In November of 2015 the super featherweight showed his boxing ability to step up to ten rounds widely outpoint Miguel Gonzalez in what turned out to be the chief support to the monster heavyweight title clash between Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko.
Another fight taken at just a few weeks notice against a supposedly dangerous knockout artist opponent – albeit one who soon became a journeyman – Carroll had taken another opportunity and looked set to explode in 2016.
Things slowed down for King Kong from that point on, however, and he would fight just once under the Matchroom banner again.
Linking up with MTK Global and coach Danny Vaughan, Carroll would depart from Collins and the Celtic Warriors gym and, following the birth of his first child, he went into another a clash with another unbeaten fighter on a TV show.
Carroll was to face Johnny Quigley on a Waterfront Hall-hosted BoxNation-broadcast card in June of 2017.
The fight night seemed to be fast approaching without much hyps but Carroll once again showed he knows how to turn it on before, during, and after fights producing all manner of performances that will reap reward.
The charismatic pressure fighter upped his game in what was an overly respectful press conference until the mic sat under his impressive beard and, once again, used his mouth to ensure his fight was the one people were looking forward to most.
Carroll backed up his words, delivered on the night and after dropping Quigley twice emerged a points victor in a Fight of the Year candidate which won him the IBF European rankings belt. A first title in the bag, the start of a Belfast love affair and another significant win for a fighter that never meant to have high level success.
The fact the win came at a time when other Irish fighters had missed big breakthrough chances further highlighted the southpaw’s ability to shine when it mattered most.
The victory also seemed to set up the eagerly anticipated Geraghty rematch. Indeed, the return was scheduled for BT’s first Belfast broadcast and the undercard of Carl Frampton’s Belfast return.
An injury to his former foe meant relatively underwhelming opponent Humberto de Santiago was drafted in last minute.
It looked a blow to the MTK fighter, but again Carroll showed his marketing capabilities.
Aware he has his biggest TV audience since Prizefighter ‘King Kong’ was going to do all he could to make people sit up and take note.
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?
— BoxNation (@boxnationtv) November 20, 2017
If a win over De Santiago wasn’t going to grab the attention Carroll was going to use his showmanship skills to put his name on peoples’ lips again.
As soon as the red light came on the camera and the first note of the ring walk dropped Carroll came alive.
He played to the crowd and the TV audience pre, post and during the fight and made as irrelevant as possible the ‘Pretty Boy’ pull out.
Indeed while it will not end up being a major name on his record, the De Santiago fight is a crucial one. With a Mexican opponent brought in, the IBF Inter-Continental belt [far superior to the IBF European title in terms of rankings] was put on the line and the impressive third round stoppage vaulted Carroll into the rankings.
His star potential became evident once again but the Geraghty fight still hung over him. The 26-year-old was always going to have to settle that grudge.
He would get the chance last month and just like he has with every opportunity handed to him he grabbed it with both gloved hands.
Geraghty had looked as, if not more impressive, against Quigley, had also beaten Michael Roberts on the road, and had shown flashes of class against now-European champion James Tennyson and actually went into the rematch as bookies favourite.
‘King Kong’ was also going into the clash after leaving trainer Vaughan, linking up with Albert Airapetian and probably had more to lose than his old rival.
The pressure was on, the doubters were out if not in force in sizable enough numbers, but Carroll rose to the occasion once again and didn’t just secure victory, but produced one of the performances of the year to dominate and eventually stop Geraghty on his feet in the ninth.
The nigh-on possessed super feather inflicted a beat down on his technical foe and settled the grudge in such a fashion the pair who were linked for four years may never be linked again.
It was once again proof that Carroll is an Irish fighter that sees big fights and occasions as an massive opportunity to progress rather than something to fear and World title fights are closer than you may think.
While the Geraghty win did not boost Carroll’s #7 ranking with the IBF, the Dubliner could still fight for a title, or in a final eliminator
This #7 ranking is essentially #3, with the first two slots in the ladder being empty while the third and fourth-ranked fighters, Tevin Farmer and Billy Dib, clash next weekend in Australia for the vacant title.
This leaves just #5 Guillaume Frenois and #6 Devis Boschiero, who intends to defend his EU title next, ahead of Carroll who has emerged as a more than viable first defence for the Farmer-Dib winner.
— BoxNation (@boxnationtv) July 24, 2018
Carroll’s potential has certainly been noticed by Top Rank who are currently orchestrating the rise of his managerial stablemate Mick Conlan – and the pair together would have a licence to print money on the U.S. East Coast.
The promotional giant’s COO Brad Jacobs and matchmaker Bruce Trampler were both in attendance at the SSE Odyssey Arena that night and were both taken by the Jono Carroll package.
With super feathereight a division in flux, and Carroll being marketable to the hilt in the USA, it would not be surprising at all to see a new King Kong head to New York for a world title fight – and with Carroll’s big fight, big chance previous, it would be a brave man that backs against him.
Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish)