By Elliot Worsell

THERE was a time in Jordan Gill’s life – not long ago, in fact – when everything went silent. It was not a peaceful silence, either, this silence, but instead a silence Gill attributed to failure and to isolation and to disappearing. It followed him wherever he went, alas. It was, for a time, the only thing that did. Gone, you see, were the distractions which ordinarily broke the silence: ringing phones, buzzers in gyms, the voices of friends. Gone, too, was Jordan Gill – almost.

Then, however, there was at last some noise. The noise of concern. The noise of someone coming to help. The noise, finally, of Belfast boxing fans applauding his efforts in beating their man, Michael Conlan, inside seven rounds.

Suddenly, the silence had gone; that is, the scary silence, the deadly silence. In its place now was not only a cacophony of noise, the kind connected with celebration and success, but also a new kind of silence; one more commonly associated with contentment and, yes, even peace; the silence within.

“You ride high after a win for a certain amount of time,” Gill told Boxing News, “but then you think, Right, come on then. What’s next?”

Next for Gill, known as “The Thrill”, was an interruption. “Sorry,” he said, pausing our interview to entertain a well-wisher at the gym. “Just give me a second.”

In this time Gill expertly dealt with said well-wisher, doing so with all the grace and gratitude of someone who can remember a time when he was ignored; when everything was silent. “Ah, thank you very much,” he said as the man wished him luck for his fight on Saturday. “Yeah, I’m buzzing for it,” he then added when asked if he was looking forward to it.

Soon back with me, Gill would now remark on this newfound attention by saying, “Yeah, it’s weird,” and laughed. “Oh well,” he said. “It is what it is.” He then returned to where he had left off: “I felt like it was a career-changing win (against Conlan) and I think we’re going to go on a good run now. Saturday is the start of it.”

That’s another sound Gill now hears, by the way: interruptions leading to salutations. It’s a welcome development in a career fought primarily in the shadows and in silence, and it is, as is usually the case in boxing, indicative of him doing well and finding popularity.

The Conlan win, for example, would be a good enough victory on its own, yet it was the manner of it which seemed to resonate with so many people. For one, Gill went against type and took the fight to Conlan in Conlan’s hometown, essentially beating the Irishman at his own game. Secondly, Gill, a pre-fight underdog, pulled off a victory very few were predicting beforehand, the magnitude of which could be seen on his face at the fight’s conclusion.

“You have to experience the lows to appreciate the highs and I’ve been there,” Gill said. “I’ve had my lows. I’ve had my losses. I’ve had times when the phone has gone quiet and people don’t want to know. It’s just character-building. It makes you appreciate those nights when you have a good performance and everything goes the way you want it to go. It suddenly means more.

“It’s a tough sport; a tough old game. It’s brutal. When you’re in those 50-50 fights, there’s a 50-50 chance you’re going to win and a 50-50 chance you’re going to lose. You have to ride the highs and ride the lows. That’s just something you get to learn; sometimes the hard way.

“Every fight is different and every opponent has different attributes and there are different ways to take away these attributes. In the Conlan fight, to pull off the tactics that we worked on I had to be aggressive and I had to be on the front foot and show a different side of me.”

Gill throws his jab at Conlan (Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing)

Fighting now at super-featherweight, having previously won a European title at featherweight, Gill appeared like a man refreshed, if not reborn, in Belfast. He looked physically imposing, more so than usual, and he also boxed as though confident in his punch resistance; one of the first things to go when a fighter is weight-drained.

“It just allows me to have a normal lifestyle,” Gill said of his recent move to super-featherweight. “As strange as that sounds, when I was making featherweight, it was completely draining and it consumed every day of my life. I was always cutting, always struggling and always tired. I couldn’t fuel my training sessions or have the mental clarity to carry out instructions or adhere to game plans.

“For me, I’m more of a technical boxer, even when I’m aggressive, and I need that mental clarity and that energy to perform at my best. My last four or five fights at featherweight, no one saw more than 60 per cent of me. In my last fight I was probably at 20 per cent. After that Kiko (Martinez) fight it was clear to me that I could never do that again (fight at featherweight). It’s one thing making the weight, but it’s another thing performing at it. I couldn’t perform at it anymore. It’s only a four-pound difference, but when you’re cutting at such small percentages it makes all the difference.”

In terms of this difference, one could see it almost immediately in the damage Gill was able to inflict on Conlan, particularly early. In the second round, for instance, he managed to drop Conlan and hurt him; something the fighter from Chatteris continued to do until the fight was eventually halted in the seventh.

“I knew if I landed clean, it would have an effect, but at the same time I expected it to happen a bit later in the fight,” said Gill. “As it turned out, the tactics worked a treat and I hurt him early.

“The move up in weight obviously helped. I’m not known as being a big puncher, and I don’t think I am a big puncher, but what I am is a consistent and accurate puncher and I’m physically strong. Mick felt the power and I applied myself well in the fight.

“I still made mistakes, though. It wasn’t a perfect fight for me. But that’s something to work on and improve for the next one.”

If being the underdog on away soil wasn’t enough to win the hearts of fans that night, Gill made sure of it at the bout’s conclusion by delivering one of the more powerful and heartfelt post-fight speeches heard in a British boxing ring for some time. Unplanned, as often these things are, Gill went on to explain during his victory speech the extent of his recent despair and the lengths to which he had gone to turn his life around.

“I’ve had a hard year,” he said after stopping Conlan. “Not many people know what I’ve been through this year. After the Kiko (Martinez) loss (in October 2022), I sort of lost touch with myself. I broke up with my wife and on the 30th of June I was in a field, I drank a litre of vodka, and I was going to kill myself.” He followed this admission by then saying, “Somebody came and saved me that day,” and praised his corner team, friends and family for pulling him out of what was clearly a very deep and dark hole. He also mentioned the imminent opening of a boxing gym and said, “I’ve turned my life around this year – in the last four months. If you’re thinking, What am I doing with my life? You can do it. You can make a change. Just get up, have that belief in yourself, and go and do it. Nobody believed I could do this, but I did, and that’s all that mattered.”

Jordan Gill speaks following his seventh-round stoppage of Michael Conlan (Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing)

Four months on from that message, and four days from his next fight, Gill said: “It had been a tough year for me. It had been a long road to get back to that point of even fighting again. When you’re given a platform like that, I feel it’s important to share your story. It wasn’t something I planned on doing, but it all came out, all that emotion. That sometimes happens when you’ve just won a big fight, the biggest of your career. Sometimes these things just come out of you.

“Afterwards, I received thousands of messages. They would say, ‘I was in a similar position and you helped me. Thank you so much.’ Obviously, I didn’t expect it, but it’s nice that people reached out and seemed to take something from what I said.

“It humanised me, I think. People – not just in boxing, but the everyday person – have their struggles and they look at other people on TV, or in the public eye, and assume their life is perfect. But you don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors. You don’t know everybody’s day-to-day movements and lifestyle.

“I think it’s important to show that we have struggles just like everyone else. We all have emotions and two arms and two legs. Sometimes it’s harder getting up in the morning than it is on other days. I think it’s a positive thing to know that and share that. It’s good for people to understand the journey and understand that a lot of our journeys are similar.”

As with one’s life, the sooner a boxer is aware that their career, or journey, will be neither straight nor smooth the easier it is to accept and prepare for it. Gill, at 29, now knows and has come to appreciate this. In a 31-bout career, he has been knocked out (by Kiko Martinez), retired on his stool (against Mario Enrique Tinoco), tried fighting when weight-drained (numerous times), and suffered a fight-ending cut (against Alan Castillo). He has also entered another fighter’s backyard and left victorious (against Michael Conlan last time out), something he will attempt to do again on Saturday (April 13) when facing Zelfa Barrett, a Mancunian, in Manchester.

“It’s a massive opportunity, a huge night, and what we work for,” he said. “It’s what we get into boxing for. We want these big fights and we want to be headlining in big arenas with plenty of people cheering in the crowd. It’s nice to be back where I feel I belong. It’s another fight, another away day, and a fight that poses a lot of threat. It’s an important fight for us both and we’re both going to be desperate to win. That’s why I think it will be such a good fight.

“Zelfa is a very tough guy. He’s got a lot of heart, just like Mick Conlan has, but he’s probably a little tougher. He’s established at super-featherweight and he’s got power. I’ve always admired his style, and always been a fan of watching Zelfa. I also think he’s a good guy. Whenever we’ve seen each other in the past we have said, ‘We must do some sparring in the future,’ but that never happened. Now, over 12 rounds and in eight-ounce gloves, it’s going to be exciting.”

When he says this, that it will be exciting, Jordan Gill does so with all the carefree vim of a fan. At ease, it seems, both with himself and whatever is to happen, he speaks like a man who has been to hell and back and therefore can now place boxing, and boxing matches, in perspective. That is to say, he has seemingly come to learn the true meaning of the word “fight” and knows that what is scheduled to happen on Saturday at Manchester Arena is a fight only in the competition sense. Moreover, unlike proper fights, it will be decided, one way or another, within just 36 minutes.

“Boxing is a curse and a saviour for me,” Gill, 28-2-1 (9), said. “I don’t know where I’d be without boxing in my life. It gives me structure and it gives me happiness.

“I also enjoy training now, since moving up in weight. I feel like I have a new lease of life. Boxing is everything for me, as it always has been, but now I can enjoy it without feeling like I have to do it. I’ve got a lot of other projects going on and I don’t do boxing for money or anything like that. I do it because I want to achieve more and I want to win world titles. I want to do it for as long as I continue enjoying it. For me, boxing gave me that structure when I was having my dark days and it has provided a life for me. So, I’m happy.”