01 December 2008 – By Mark Doyle
Darren Sutherlands long and arduous journey through the amateur ranks ended on an Olympic podium in Beijing in August.
Now, the 26-year-old Irishman is set to embark on another journey, into the professional game, and he is well aware his path promises to be just as difficult to negotiate.
However, Sutherland has never lacked faith in his own ability, never shied away from a challenge, and has never stopped trying to better himself.
This, remember, is a young man, who went back to do his Leaving Cert [The Irish equivalent of A-Levels] at 20. Then, for four years, he balanced his studies at Dublin City University with his amateur career. That meant getting up at 3am on many mornings to get his training done, before his college day began.
In addition, two years ago he sustained an eye injury whilst representing Ireland in a routine fight against a Russian B team at the National Stadium, an injury which doctors initially feared might prevent him from boxing ever again.
Those were dark days, but Sutherland fought through them and his application, resolve and incredible will to win were finally rewarded this summer when he, along with his Olympic team-mates, captured the imagination of a success-starved Irish sporting public.
Sutherland won bronze in the middleweight division, his progress only halted by eventual winner James DeGale, a man that Sutherland had beaten in four of their five previous meetings.
Most Irish fight fans were devastated but Sutherland did not seem too disappointed. He had won an Olympic bronze and, for him, one dream had been realised. In his eyes, it was now time to pursue another.
Right from day one, the thing that was driving me was the chance to fight in the pros. It was the reason why I took up boxing in the first place, that was what attracted me to the game, he told setanta.com, whilst strolling around the DCU campus.
And that is why he is currently brimming with excitement. Last month, the news that we had all been expecting was finally made public: Darren Sutherland was turning professional.
And Frank Maloney, one of Britains most famous and respected promoters, is the man that Sutherland has entrusted with his future.
Id set out a number of requirements in terms of how I wanted to develop my career: who I would be trained by; where I would be based; how fast I wanted to progress. And Frank answered all of those questions best, he explains.
My priority was not money, thats not what Im about. I want to be a world champion, thats my sole aim. And if you become a world champion, the money will come anyway, so that wasnt a concern.
So I just had to figure out who I felt I could work best with and who I got the best feel about. And that was Frank.
Time will tell, of course, but I already feel like Ive made the right choice for me, and I really just cant wait to get started.
Sutherlands first pro outing has appropriately enough been scheduled for the sports complex at DCU.
The press conference at which it was announced that his first outing in the paid ranks would be against Georgi Iliev drew huge media interest even Maloney seemed taken aback by the size of press pack in attendance – but Sutherland, who some outside observers mistakenly assume is arrogant, has not had his head turned by the attention.
All of this kind of glamour, he says, motioning towards the cameramen waiting to film his next interview, goes hand in hand with professional boxing. But, at the same time, its all about the boxing for me and I just cant wait to get into the ring for the first time and do what I do.
All of this interest counts for nothing and will be quickly taken away if I dont produce in the ring. I have to keep doing everything I have been doing to get this point. If anything, Ill probably have to work even harder.
The hard work, of course, should hardly prove problematic for Sutherland. In the professional arena he will be allowed to focus solely on his boxing… there will be no outside distractions.
He has decided to take a break from his sports science degree he is in no doubt that he will return to it one day and, such is his desire to succeed, he has agreed to move to London and link up with experienced trainer Brian Lawrence.
Sutherland feels that if he is going to do it, he must do it right and that means more hard work and more sacrifices.
And he intends to put himself to the test in his very first outing, opting for a six-rounder instead of the usual four-rounder expected of a newcomer to the pro game.
I requested that myself because I pride myself on my conditioning and I think that you will see the best of me in longer fights, he explains.
Four rounds is not enough for me. Thatd be just like boxing another amateur fight. Six rounds is definitely going to suit me better and allow me to break Iliev down and hopefully get rid of him before the final bell.
But it doesnt really matter who I fight because Im going to bring my A game, like I always do. I also think Im a good reader of fights so I feel Im capable of adapting to whatever style is placed in front of me.
As that final statement would suggest, Sutherland is determined to put on a show at his alma mater. He also wants to repay the faith placed in him by DCU, who were incredibly accommodating and understanding when it came to allowing him to work his course around his amateur career.
Its going to be an exciting night for me on December 18. Itll be a very proud moment for me walking out into the sports complex at DCU for my first professional fight, he admits.
I dont think this has ever been done before, a fighter fighting at his old college and Im so grateful to DCU for everything theyve done for me.
I just hope that as many people as possible come down to support me because I really think this is going to be the start of something big.
Itd be nice to think that people will be able to say in years to come that they was there when world champion Darren Sutherland had his first pro fight.
Because I think Im a born entertainer. This game is about showmanship and I think I possess that. For all my talking, I can fight. Theres no point in talking the talk if you cant walk the walk. But I believe I can do both!
Certainly, he will have ample opportunity to impress in the coming year. His contract with Maloney states that he will have six fights a year for the next three years.
At 26, he feels that he can ill afford to waste any time and knows that he must give himself completely to boxing if he is to have any chance of succeeding.
Its going to be a hectic schedule but thats what I want. Im not here to mess around, I really want to throw myself into this and Im ready to give my all and do whatever it takes to make it to the top, he declares.
I really think Im capable of making a big impact. I mean, I won a bronze medal in the Olympics and I really dont think the amateur game suited me. My style really wasnt suited to the computer-scoring system. I feel like it held me back so thats why I think that the skys the limit in the pro game.
So I really believe that the best is yet to come.
Tickets for the fantastic bill on which Darren Sutherland will make his pro debut cost 100 Euros and 40 Euros and are available from www.frankmaloney.com or www.ticketmaster.ie. To order from ROI call 08 18 719300, from NI and GB 0871 226 1508.