Kieron Conway: ‘I want to be remembered as a risk taker, someone who will fight anyone.’
By Louis Devereux
Kieron Conway is one of many supremely talented fighters from the UK, but becoming successful in professional boxing is just as reliant on opportunity as it is ability.
That being said, there are few opportunities bigger than a fight with an undefeated Olympic medallist on the undercard of the biggest boxing event this year.
This weekend, Kieron Conway faces 12-0 French prospect Souleymane Cissokho on the Canelo vs Saunders card in Texas. Though it will be no easy feat, Kieron feels confident that he will get the job done and make the most of this chance.
‘Training has been really good to be fair, I feel really fit and really sharp. I’ve had a very tough camp this time round, working on a few different things- I’m feeling really confident and ready to go.
‘Originally, I was supposed to fight Jesse Vargas- that offer came about two months ago, so I’ve had a good 8 weeks’ notice for this May date. There are no excuses, I will be ready. Vargas pulled out about 4 weeks ago and Cissokho was ready so he stepped in. He’s confident, I’m confident so it’s definitely going to be a good fight.’
The Vargas fight would have been a golden opportunity for Conway had it come about, and he seemed frustrated as he explained to me that he doesn’t think it will ever materialise, and that the two of them probably won’t ever meet in the ring.
‘I don’t think they’re coming back to be honest, they literally just decided out of nowhere that they didn’t want the fight. It was probably a risk/reward thing that didn’t add up for him, and probably not anything else other than that. He wasn’t injured, and I wasn’t given a good reason as to why he pulled out. I don’t see that fight coming back around if I’m being honest, which is pretty disappointing. I remember thinking the fight was all wrong for him, I guess they agreed, and that’s why it fell through.’
Jesse Vargas is a former two-weight world champion with a huge global profile – if Conway had fought and beat him it would have been life changing.
His replacement opponent, Souleymane Cissokho, may not yet have the reputation of a huge star like Vargas, but he is a top prospect tipped for great things, and as such, a win for Conway would raise his stock immensely.
Cissokho is respected by boxing fans and pundits alike, and many believe he is destined for great things after a stellar amateur career and a perfect record so far in the professional game. Conway, on the other hand, isn’t overly impressed with what he’s seen so far.
‘He’s never had a real fight as a pro. He’s been around a good few years now and all his fights have been old, out of shape men who have just got up off the sofa- especially the guy he fought in his last fight. It looked like the opponent didn’t bother training or anything; he just turned up for a payday, but that’s the same as everyone he’s fought so far.
‘I’ll admit he looks good, but that means nothing because he’s only been fighting punchbags really. I’m not coming to make up the numbers, I’m coming to win. I’m confident because I believe in myself, I believe in the hard work I put in, I don’t do anything wrong and all my preparation is spot on; from my recovery, to food, sleep, and training, I do everything the right way, and that’s why I’m so confident.’
Conway vs Cissokho has been eagerly awaited by the boxing world since it was announced, but I’m sure neither of them will have a problem admitting that the main event is what fans are most excited for. Canelo vs Saunders is the biggest fight of the year so far (by some distance, too) – the fighters are loved and hated in equal measure and though everyone has a different view on who wins and how, most people are in agreement that the fight will be hugely entertaining and both men are due a difficult night.
Conway agrees, and considering he’s fighting on the same bill, I can’t imagine many will want to discredit his opinion in a hurry.
‘It’s a close one for me, I’m split down the middle. Billy Joe is a very good boxer, and he can make a fight difficult for anyone in the world. I don’t think he’ll look outclassed or out of place at all. With Canelo, I think I’ve written him off a few times, saying he’s too small for his new weight and stuff, and yet he keeps winning, which makes it impossible to go against him now.
‘Like I said, Billy Joe has quick feet and he’s awkward; he can make it hard for anyone, especially if he’s on form, motivated and in shape. It’s a really hard one to predict, especially if it goes to points against a guy like Canelo.’
Conway will want to be watching the main event as a winner, maybe a bit bashed up (‘you should see the other guy’) but ultimately victorious in what many will consider to be his hardest test to date.
When I asked Kieron what was to come afterwards, there was a considered pause before he admitted that he was only focussed on Cissokho, and everything else could wait.
‘I don’t know what comes next to be honest, I’ve been so set and focussed on this date we haven’t really gone through a game plan for afterwards; I know there’s big things to come. Winning this fight means big things, I know that much.
‘I’ll always be interested in a Cheeseman rematch but I don’t think his side want it to be honest. I don’t think that fight will ever happen again unless it’s for a big title with big money on the line, they just don’t want it. That’s the facts. As much as I call and shout for it, it won’t happen until there’s big money involved.
‘I’m not avoiding anyone, especially domestically, but I’ll happily fight anyone all over the world. I believe in myself because I’ve risen through the small hall ranks, not like some of these other guys who come straight from the amateurs into a big TV promoter. I came up the hard way. I think that potentially puts me at an advantage. I came here with nothing, so what have I got to lose?’
Every fighter has dreams and goals, but Conway was happy to admit to me that his ambitions now far outweigh what they were at the beginning of his career.
‘When I first turned pro, I wanted to be British champion, and the first British champion from Northampton. My dreams are much bigger than that now though. My dreams are to be a worldwide superstar- world titles, big fights, everything big. I’ve always wanted that, but now a fight for a British Title doesn’t seem too likely, we go back to the real goals, world titles. World honours is the dream, and I feel like I’m more than capable of achieving that.’
Like many, Conway has dreamt about these big fights and prestigious belts since he was a schoolboy, and the story of how he found boxing is an interesting one.
‘My closest mate at school was boxing, and it was just across where we went to school, we were about 6 years old I think. That friend has just turned professional, he’s just waiting for a chance now.’ (Watch out for Sam Daley)
‘I always asked my dad if I could go with my mate, but he would never let me because he thought I was too soft for boxing. I had to go to karate and get a black belt before my Dad would even consider letting me box. I got my black belt out the way, started boxing and had my first bout when I was 12 or 13, and it all went from there really.’
Something I always find interesting when speaking to boxers is asking them how they’d like to be remembered after they retire. When I asked Kieron he seemed stumped, and admitted he had never had a question like that before. After a few seconds of thought, he told me this.
‘I suppose I want to be remembered as a risk taker, someone who will fight anyone, who goes against the odds and proves people wrong. I’ve always been underestimated and people don’t realise how good I am until they get in the ring with me. I haven’t looked at the odds for my fight with Cissokho but he’s probably the favourite, that doesn’t bother me because I’m going to beat him, and upset the odds yet again. Most importantly though, I want to be remembered as a world champion and a superstar and I believe one day that is exactly what I will be.’