Jay Harris: “I Don’t Want To Take A Step Back.”
By Oliver McManus
New adventures beckon for Jay Harris with the flyweight and his partner awaiting the arrival of their baby girl on June 12th. Quite the world to bring a wean into but I spoke to the Welshman before his life got even busier and we started by reflecting on his gutsy performance against Julio Cesar Martinez in February.
The sweltering heat of Texas welcomed Harris for his WBC title tilt and, despite losing on the scorecards, he looked back on the fight with nothing but pride.
“I’ve watched the fight back loads since and I’m happy with my performance. I’ve got absolutely no regrets because I put my all into the twelve rounds and, in terms of the plan, we stuck to that. He’s never going to change his style so we had a good feel for that and I think we exposed some flaws in him, to be honest. It felt (like a good fight) when I was in the ring because the crowd were roaring but you could tell when I was having spells of success because they’d go quiet for a while.”
“It’s the best experience I’ve ever had in boxing”, he continued, “the whole build up was fantastic and even doing the head to head was such a good feeling. I loved every minute of it, to be honest, and it helped really make the occasion feel like a big one. I was soaking it all up and when I got into the ring I was able to feed off all those emotions.”
Pre-fight Harris went in as a hefty underdog at 9/2 and eyes were on Martinez continuing his flashy run of knock-out victories. With quick wins over both Andrew Selby and Charlie Edwards, before the stoppage was overturned, the Mexican would have been hoping to make it three on the bounce against British opponents. Harris stood firm and proved the sternest test in Martinez’ career to date.
“I knew he could hit hard – he broke down Cristofer Rosales and Andrew and stopped Charlie early on. I’d sparred with Kal (Yafai) so we’d had that conditioning going into the fight and, to be fair, he hit me and I did think ‘ooo, he does hit hard’. They weren’t shots that I felt were going to knock me out but with every punch you could tell he has that power where some people have been broken down over the rounds.”
The scorecards were varied – 118-109, 115-112 and 116-111 – and skewed as a result of a tenth round knockdown in favour of Martinez. There was little doubt as to the plaudits warranted by the Welshmen who left Texas with an enhanced reputation and renewed belief he belonged in elite-level fights.
“With the knockdown it was a shot that just took my breath away a little so I felt if I stayed up he probably would have taken me out. I took the knee to refocus, gather the thoughts, and get my breath back. I think I responded well from there on and I was happy with how I ended the fight.
“I came on strong in the championship rounds and that was a positive to take. We got to those rounds, and despite the knockdown, I was feeling good physically. Gary (Lockett) and I had prepared for a really tough fight and, because of that, we knew how much I had left in the tank and I was able to commit in the final rounds to catch the judges’ eyes.”
Indeed the words of, head coach, Gary Lockett and Peter Harris, Jay’s father, have often served as reassurance throughout Harris’ seven years as a professional. I asked him what conversations they had in the immediate aftermath of the contest: a Sunday spent in Dallas.
“(Gary and Peter) were proud as hell. My dad thought I’d just nicked it and Gary was over the moon with how we’d performed. I felt like a celebrity for a couple of days with people asking me photos and mobbing me when I got out of the hotel. I got back to Swansea with loads of messages, none of them negative, of people I’ve never heard of telling me they watched the fight and I’d done a good job: I had about two solid weeks of replying to people!”
Never one to shy from his emotions, I first spoke to Jay Harris shortly after he’d defended his Commonwealth title against Ross Murray. That contest was his first, and to date only, defence and came 21 months after first winning the belt. Fights against Dexter Marquez had been scheduled but the Guaynese fighter couldn’t pass a medical – and with that Harris’ fight date, and that of our anticipated interview, kept on getting nudged back. Released from Queensbury Promotions without as much as a “how do you do” saw the Welshman left without a fighting home.
As Harris reflected on that period of his career, the cracks in his voice said all you needed to know: he’s still hurt and angry but he’s in a position now to have the last laugh.
“I shut a lot of people up with that performance because there were loads of people just trying to have an opinion and saying I had no chance in the fight: they were the first, after the fight, to say how well I’d done. I’ve had that a lot in my career, a lot of people who don’t really know about me but want to write me off anyway, and I’ve kept proving them wrong. The past few years there’s been a lot of crap to put up with, moments where I seriously thought about packing it in, and there are people that should be kicking themselves in the shins for the way in which they treated me”
What next? I pondered out loud. Timeframes are, of course, impossible to predict with the world as uncertain as it is. When boxing does kick into life once more there is a fervent desire from Harris not to waste anymore time and to continue on this fun run of momentum of his.
“I don’t want to take a step back, I’m 30 this year, and I put in a good showing. In 2019 I became European champion and I’d beat Paddy Barnes so I’ve got good wins behind me: I’ve got the Commonwealth, European and International titles so I really just want to keep testing myself against the best in the world. I’ve earned my way into this position and it feels like I belong here now.
“I’ve got the perfect team around me who have kept the morale up when I’ve been in those dark spells and it’s been one hell of an experience: now it’s time to really make the most of it.”