’PrizeFighter’ Final: James Connelly’s Road to Glory

Posted on Tuesday 7th May

Prize Fighter, Final,  James Connelly

On June 8th, James Connelly will enter the BKB™ ring at BKB 17 one half of the ‘PrizeFighter’ tournament final. He gives his prediction on his fight with Ricardo Franco, and touches on his upbringing and life outside of bare-knuckle boxing.


At the Indigo at the O2 Arena in London, England on the night of June 8th, the ‘PrizeFighter’ tournament will finally come to a close, as the finals featuring James Connelly and Ricardo Franco commence earlier that evening. Only one will leave the tournament champion and with the prize of £10,000 and the Jack Broughton trophy.


For Connelly, this tournament has been anything but smooth. After losing in the opening round, his opponent was unable to continue because of injuries sustained in their fight. With the opportunity to return wide up, Connelly would enter back into the tournament, where he would square off with a friend, ‘Smudger’ Smith in the semi-finals, earning himself the decision victory in a long, hard fought battle this past March 30th.


“It was a tough fight (vs. ‘Smudger’), I had to be on my guard every second of the round. Before I used to lack concentrations, but with ‘Smudger’, I had to make sure I was on guard every second of every minute of every round. “For most, fighting a friend is never an easy decision, especially at this level and in the semi-finals of a potential life-changing tournament. Connelly continued, “You got to understand one thing when that bell went, we were going to hit each other. Trust me, he can punch and so can I. What am I supposed to do? We knew what we had to do. We knew what we were getting ourselves into.”


Though he earned himself a victory at BKB 16 against Smith, it wasn’t without disbelief and a once-and-a-lifetime opportunity that would allow that second chance. Instead of focusing on a “loss” in the opening round, Connelly is using the defeat as a learning experience, and it seems to be paying off.


“I can’t believe it. Not many people get this opportunity. I was amazed, but it was a tournament in the end. If I broke my hand and couldn’t continue, ‘Smudge’ would take my place. As far as the tournament is concerned, I’ve made it through. I’m still in the tournament, and I’m in the finals. I used it (losing in the first round and being brought back) as a learning experience.”


James Connelly has done about all you can in a tournament. From suffering a loss to finding redemption, the only thing missing is a victory in the finals against Franco.


Ahead of his up-and-coming pay-per-view fight, Connelly touches on the road before the ‘PrizeFighter’, and what life is, and was like outside of combat sports.  


“Life for me growing up was very good!” James said, “Me, my brothers and sisters were brought up very well by my parents. They made sure we had what we needed. I come from a family of nine children with me being the youngest of them. I have 5 brothers and 3 sisters. My father comes from Galway in Ireland and my mother from Birmingham in the UK. My mom and dad were married for 40 years until my dad passed away when I was 18 from a sudden heart attack. It really shook us as a family. You think your mom and dad are going to live forever when you’re young, so when the day comes as it did with my dad, it was a massive shock. My family is very strong minded, and came together for our mother at that time, and now we remember our dad for the hard, determined man he was.”


“I was a very energetic child, to say the least. When I was growing up I was on autopilot for most of my childhood”, Connelly laughed. “I was in trouble at school far too much, I got expelled from my secondary school St Thomas Aquinas when I wasn’t even a pupil there yet. I was still in primary school St. Bridgits, and I went for induction day, got into a fight with a grade 9, and they expelled me. The only way I got back into the school was because the priest from my primary school was the governor at the secondary school, and he knew my parents, and luckily managed to get me in my chosen school. I had to sign a contract when I started my first day to say I would not be in no trouble for fighting again, and my behaviour had to be appropriate. It was a struggle. I stayed in the school by the skin of my teeth and I’m sure they were glad to see the back of me.”


Fighting wasn’t always done in an “inappropriate” manner for Connelly. At a very young age, he began boxing classes, which was essentially used as a tool to help with the mass amounts of energy James had growing up.


Just one year into training, at the age of 11, James would make his amateur boxing debut…


“I started boxing at the age of 10 and loved it! all the energy I had was getting used up in the gym with sparring kids older than me and more experienced until I was on their level. Really fast, my first amateur fight was when I was 11 years old and I never took a break till I was 17. I was living the life, by the way, I trained back then. Took it very seriously. I was getting picked for squads, training camps, winning best boxer of the nights, a best bout of the night - I still have all my amateur trophies and my vests I won all in top condition, locked away, but I got bored of it. The training, the not really getting anything except trophies and tap on the back.”


A potential promising boxing career ahead of him, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. Instead of maintaining his focus on boxing, it was a darker path for Connelly that would follow shortly after his 18th birthday.


“Amateur boxing back then was different, so then I hit 18 and then the parties, the girls, the drama, the stress all came and took me on a crazy path where boxing was the last thing I thought about. My energy wasn’t going into anything good anymore like boxing, it was in the streets and trying to live a different lifestyle which I was succeeding at. I was selling drugs, I was loaning out money, living a life which I thought could take me somewhere, but trust me it doesn’t! I was up to no good, I’m sure you will understand.”


Now past a life Connelly understood would lead him down the wrong path, he reflects on how he got into boxing, and it’s no thanks to his rather large family, specifically his brothers.


From boxing in the British army to professionally, it was only a matter of time before your now ‘PrizeFighter’ finalist would follow suit with his brothers.


“I got in to combat sport through my brother. My brother Michael boxed for the British army and did very well. My other brother, John boxed professionally, and my other brothers had amateur fights. They all became family men and got soft, I say” Connelly stopped to laugh, then continued. “They are a credit to me because they give out the best advice, but when I was a tear away, I just wouldn’t listen, but now I do, and that’s why I have them in my corner in my fights. There are no better people to have than my own blood, who I trust by my side in these brutal fights. I do this for my family name. I tell my family this all the time, that this is not just about me, I want them to enjoy this with me, and be involved just as much as I am. We do it together.”


Fatherhood as a fighter can be a little different from your regular parenting, and though Connelly works, trains and fights rather regularly, he aims to spend as much time with his two daughters as possible.


“I have 2 beautiful daughters Lacey and Miley, which are a pleasure to bring up. I spend as much time as I can with them, and I get dragged here, there and everywhere when its “their time”. I love it, seeing them grow up, and my 10-year-old walked out with me on my last fight and will walk out with me every time from now on. She’s my “happy place”. She was so happy to do that. As long as my children are happy, then that’s all I could ask for.”


Having grown up in a strong, close, big family, it goes without surprise Connelly’s biggest inspirations are his parents. Having raised nine children, there’s no questioning their work ethic. In addition to his two growning daughters, there’s no better motivation for James than his parents, who have provided and supported his journey in any and all levels of boxing and bare-knuckle combat.


“My inspiration is my parents. When I see the world today, we got it easy, so I understand with bringing up 9 children back in that day and age, it must have been tough! Some moan when they have 1 child nowadays, but the resilience they (Connelly’s parents) had was amazing, so I take a lot from them, from my family in general. I’ve never had an idol or anything like that. I admire boxers, and I’ve studied them for years and years, and see what it takes to become a champion. That alone can be inspiring, but I have wasted time, which I am making up for it now. I have been involved in for just 4 months! I’ve been on the last 3 consecutive BKB fight cards and fought some really top fighters who are not your average joes. They all brought sets of skills that can trouble any man, and I’ve fought them in the last 4 months. But its a pleasure to able to be on this platform and be able to do this, so I embrace it and enjoy it.”


Refocused, motivated by family and just weeks away from the ‘PrizeFighter’ finals, Connelly is as ready as he’ll ever be, and though he admits his fight with Franco will be no walk in the park, he’s certain he will be the one with his hand raised at the end of the fight.


“He’s a good fighter”, James explained about Franco, “he’s very tough and very strong. It’s going to be a tough fight for me, but it’s one I can convincingly win. “


Having returned from a loss, and now finding himself in the finale of the tournament, James Connelly gave fair warning of his much-improved return, and in doing so, he gives us his prediction for BKB 17 on June 8th.


“I said I was going to come back a different fighter, and I did. In bare-knuckle you have to look at the actual opponent, look at what their strengths are. With ‘Smudger I knew he was going to come for me, [and] the best thing to do with a guy like that is to keep on the back foot, get him to walk into things. With Chapman I was chasing after the smaller man. I will be coming into BKB 17 having trained accordingly to how Franco fights. I haven’t just sat around and hope for the best on these fights. I analyze these people.”


Jim Freeman Dove and Joe Smith-Brown (BKB™ co-owners) have said the winner of the ‘PrizeFighter’ tournament will later fight 3-division champ, Jimmy Sweeney, who also competes at BKB 17. Thrilled to be involved with the England based promotion, a potential fight with Sweeney is simply something Connelly “can’t wait” for.


“I can’t wait. It’s honestly just a pleasure being involved in this BKB. My first fight wasn’t even televised, and then the next fight was on TV and it went massive. I would have fought when it was with hay bales if it was still that way. I just wanted to fight. I’ll fight Jimmy Sweeney. I’ll fight any of these men on any day.”


What are your predictions for the ‘PrizeFighter’ finals between James Connelly and Ricardo Franco? Let us know on Twitter: @bkb_official1