An Interview With Tiernan Bradley (part 1)
By Jonny Rashman
A journey from the local boxing club at 7 years of age to being involved in one of the biggest boxing fights of all time
To make it to the pinnacle of any sport certain ingredients are required, all of which must complement each other to create the perfect recipe.
Talent, self-discipline, work ethic and desire are the fundamentals in order to make it as a professional boxer.
But what if you want to be one of the greatest? This demands something more than the above, a special talent that cannot be taught; you either have it or you don’t. Amateur standout Tiernan Bradley has a raw, natural talent most other fighters simply don’t have.
Omagh, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland where Bradley hails from, hosts the Drumragh and Camowen rivers which meander through the town like a spine.
These ultimately converge to form the larger river Strule, stealthily absorbing several more rivers in the same way before eventually finding a home in the Atlantic Ocean.
This process is similar to the Irishman’s boxing career, where being a small fish from Omagh has taken him all the way to the whales of Las Vegas.
The Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor fight captivated the planet. It was as if time stood still in the pre-fight build up.
Little did Bradley know at the time that at just 20 years young, his talent had sailed all the way through to sporting heavyweight and global superstar Conor McGregor, who personally selected him to be his main sparring partner for the blockbuster extravaganza.
The 22-year-old has seen things most haven’t at such a young age. After a short hiatus away from the ring, Bradley relocated to Dublin, Ireland, to embark on a professional boxing career under the guidance of talented trainer Steven O’Rourke at O’Rourke’s gym.
Younger brother Callum, a prospect in his own right has just turned professional, with older brother Aaron as his coach. Competing inside of the ring is as normal as making a cup of tea in the Bradley household.
“My older brother Aaron started it off,” he says. “He went boxing when he was 9, seeing this made me want to try it. My grandfather was the coach of the local boxing club and my dad boxed up until he was 16.”
Ireland is a true fighting country and has a tradition of producing world class fighters, how did the young Bradley fare when he first entered a boxing gym?
“The first year of boxing I didn’t like it” he says, “I felt like I was being bullied, I was a 7-year-old kid sparring 12 years olds. I stopped for a year at 8. It was the hardest thing ever because my older brother continued, and I wanted to be just like him.
“From 9 till 11 I changed boxing club and it was a better atmosphere, my father became head coach and I won my first Irish title at 11 years of age. My first 22 fights I was unbeaten.”
Boxing is a sport where passion and dedication must shine above everything else. But when was the first time being a professional prize-fighter first came into Bradley’s head?
“When I was 10, I watched John Duddy fight at the King’s Hall in Belfast. It was a cracking fight, that’s what really changed my mindset and I thought I could make some money out of this (he laughs) because it was packed.”
In his teenage years he would travel the world regularly medalling in the various schoolboy competitions he competed in. He recounts a story at just 13 years of age when he encountered Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov.
“It was crazy” he said, “I travelled to Grozney, Chechnya, and won a bronze medal and Kadyrov put the medal around my neck and shook my hand, I also won 100 dollars which was a lot of money being so young.”
Fighting international fighters was the turning point for me, I saw different styles, styles which I hadn’t been used to.”
Bradley was candid about his natural, unconventional boxing style.
“I used to watch a lot of the drunken master Emanuel Augustus,” he explains.
“He had a style where his hands were down and would dance around the ring. I also watched a lot of Russian boxers. When I was 15 one of Ireland’s high-performance coaches stayed with me for two days. He worked on old Russian movements with me, which really got my head and body moving. As soon as I went back to the high-performance team and started sparring, I was putting people down just by using those movements.
“Some people say I want to fight like you, but I always say you can’t fight like me, I don’t have a rhythm, I have my own rhythm in my head, but I cannot teach that, I cannot show that. It’s very hard for people to figure my style out.”
By adopting this elusive, silky style, the Omagh native would receive a life changing request from one of the biggest superstars on the planet. ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor.
Flicking his hair back Bradley explained,
“My friend Conor Wallace was in the McGregor camp for the Diaz fight and Conor texted him, asking if there were any fighters in Ireland who fight like Floyd and Conor (Wallace) put my name forward. I was known as a counter puncher, similar height to Floyd and a similar style.”
Recounting his career defining movement the 22-year-old is more than enthusiastic in the way it transpired.
“I was actually watching Gaelic football my county team was playing and I was cheering them on,” he explains. “I got the phone call asking if would come down to the gym? I said yes, no problem.”
Was it SBG you went to I asked?
“No, it was Conor’s own makeshift gym. It was the one where there was a mural of him on the wall hitting Floyd, it was his own gym in a warehouse just for the fight.
“I met everybody, such as John Kavanagh, Artem Lobov and Owen Roddy.”
Did they say anything to you?
“They kind of looked at me, as to say, you look a bit young Conor might beat this fella up.”
Fascinated by the detailed account, I wanted to know how he was feeling and did a baptism of fire await him when the 2 division UFC Champion arrived at the gym.
“I was pretty relaxed and confident” Bradley assured me. “I did my warmup and Conor arrived in his BMW I8 in his usual flowery shirt.” Does he have a presence to him I asked? “Yeh he does, he walked in and looked at me and said” ‘are you ready to get some rounds in kid?’ “I said yes, no problem.”
“After warming up he jumped in the ring and we sparred, it was an incredible spar. I was very sharp and light back then. We were only meant to spar 6 rounds but ended up doing 9.
“I was an amateur fighter back then; I wasn’t even used to doing 6 rounds. After the 6th Conor asked if I wanted to do another one? I said yes.”
McGregor asked the same question after the 7th and 8th rounds with the young Bradley happily accepting.
Anyone who enters a ring, or a cage is usually subjected to a verbal assault by the silver-tongued UFC star. Did the same fate await the youngster?
“Yes, it was funny because one of the guys said to me, you are probably the only person who has talked backed to Conor in the ring. I wanted there to be a bit of bravado around me. I knew if I impressed him there, I would be going to Vegas.”
Did McGregor say anything to you when the spar finished?
“Yes, he came up to me and said ‘that was very good. We could see some similar styles between you and Floyd’.
Being compared to Floyd Mayweather is not the norm. Did Bradley ever study the undefeated superstar?
“Yes, I studied him when I was a kid” he says with a focused look in his eye, “especially that Philly shell (shoulder roll) and that step back right hand which me and my coach drilled a lot on the pads.
In 2017 McGregor had the ‘Mystic Mac’ aura to him, with opponents crumbling from that famous left hand. Did the same power translate into the boxing ring?
“I could feel his power; it is not a phenomenon. I know why he knocks people out with 4-ounce gloves on. He doesn’t waste his punches, he’s very efficient with his hands.”
In classic Irish humour, Bradley references a photograph that McGregor posted on his Instagram account of the spar with the caption ‘reach for the stars’.
“He caught me with a cracking uppercut” he says, “after he caught me, I remember thinking this is going straight on social media, I was like FU**, oh god.
I actually didn’t mind though, because you couldn’t see my face, but you could see some of my sponsors, which was good” (he laughs). The picture in question generated 457,801 likes on Instagram, with 1,582 comments.
When did Bradley first hear team McGregor had officially selected him to be his main sparring partner for the fight? How did he cope with being catapulted in front of the world’s cameras? And what really happened in that infamous Pauli Malignaggi spar?
Find out in part 2 of my feature with the Irish prospect.