HOLLYWOOD good looks don’t account for much in the fight game. But the Andy Lee-coached, Matchroom-promoted, hard-hitting attention seeker Paddy Donovan insists only a few hurdles remain between him and his ‘world title’ destiny. Louis Evans spoke to the scintillating southpaw ahead of his big fight with Lewis Ritson tomorrow evening.

What’s your earliest fighting memory?

I come from a very humble family. My dad was a boxing coach, a former boxer who opened his own gym in 2003 in Limerick City. I grew up fighting on the streets. My family, cousins, and brothers were all fighters. It was an environment where you had to be tough and fight your own battles.

My brother [Edward] is also a professional; my uncle has won numerous national titles. My first cousin, Jim, he’s ready to turn professional with Andy [Lee]. We were always in the trenches, always scrapping. Usually, my brother and I would put on boxing gloves outside of the house instead of kicking a football or playing hurling. After school, go out between the front gardens, where there was a square box. We’d battle for about an hour or so before we even got to the gym. It was boxing, boxing, boxing.

My dad always seen something in me. He always knew I would be very successful in boxing. Everyone I ever met at tournaments said I’d be a future world champion, an Irish star. But I didn’t see it that way. It was just the only thing I knew. I wasn’t good at much else—other sports or school—I just knew fighting, and people eventually took notice.

You have a very explosive, exciting style. How has it developed?

I was naturally very talented. My whole life, boxing was something I had never really loved. But in the amateurs, I wasn’t losing. It was win after win, thirty-five fights at a time undefeated. Then, when I reached high European and world amateur levels at 17-18, people started noticing and wanted to see more of me. I started looking at myself and thinking, ‘Hold on, I can do something here.’ I realised I could make a living out of this and provide a life for my family.

From then on, I believed I could be a boxing world champion and change my family’s life. That was the aim at the time. But now, I’m so close. I’m trained by one of the best coaches in boxing [Andy Lee] and signed with the best promoter in the world [Eddie Hearn]. It feels like I’m destined to be a world champion.

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND – JANUARY 27: Paddy Donovan taunts Williams Andres Herrera during the welterweight fight between Paddy Donovan and Williams Andres Herrera at Newforge Sports Complex on January 27, 2024 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

How do you define the art of the KO?

I have one of the highest knockout percentages in Irish amateur boxing history. Everyone would say, ‘This is the guy for the professional ranks.’ I’d have ten fights with nine knockouts. There’d be another seven or eight knockouts for every fight that went the distance.

Natural ability plays a big part. Andy has guys in the gym who come through—some extremely strong punchers—but they don’t have the ‘know-how’ for the KO. You can’t train the KO; it’s there naturally. A good coach can help you sneak those knockout shots in at the right time and place as you go up the levels. Andy designs many of these shots for me, and it’s a lot of what we do at the gym. We work on hitting and not getting hit, keeping it nice and clean, and setting up the killer punch. That’s what it’s been these last couple of years. When I turned professional, Andy said, ‘Paddy, hopefully we can have you ten fights in with a 50% knockout rate.’ My percentage is around 80% in 13 fights [laughs]. Not so bad!

What makes Andy Lee the right coach for you? How is your relationship special?

I look at Andy as an amazing person, not just a coach. I just love being around him. Since I turned professional, he’s never taken a penny off me, never taken money from my corners or in the lines of expenses. He’s taken care of absolutely everything for me. Andy has seen much of himself in me since he started his professional career. He’s more of a father figure than a boxing coach. We have a great relationship; we have never had a falling out or a dispute. I’ve always done everything he says, no matter what the cost.

What’s the best piece of advice Andy has given you in life?

Stay humble. Keep training in the gym. I’ve got a young family [wife, Ellie, and three children], [Andy says] to take care of them and stay away from bad company. I was a wild and brazen kid when I started professional boxing. I was just out to enjoy myself. As the years went on, I started to settle down. The priority was to look after my wife and kids and try to build a future for them. That’s exactly what Andy has helped me do.

Andy has an incredible education, working under Emanuel Steward and Adam Booth. Where do you see that influence in the gym?

[I liken myself more to] An Emanuel Steward fighter. Andy has taken bits from Adam, bits from Emanuel, and, obviously, bits from myself. Sometimes, I take time to look at Emanuel and Adam’s work—and I can see so much of Andy in both of them—but the history and culture of Emanuel and Kronk are still very much with Andy. We relate a little bit more to them and their style.

DUBLIN, IRELAND – NOVEMBER 25: Andy Lee, Head Coach of Paddy Donovan, looks on prior to the Welterweight fight between Paddy Donovan and Danny Ball at The 3Arena Dublin on November 25, 2023 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)

How do you evaluate the state of Irish boxing?

[Standards of] Irish boxing were always very high, even when Andy and I were amateurs. The Irish national team was always a step ahead of Team GB. Now, we’re getting recognised a lot more. We don’t have to go to America; we don’t have to catch flights overseas. Eddie [Hearn] coming to Ireland, putting on two massive shows for Katie [Taylor], and giving opportunities to myself, Gary Cully, Thomas Carty, Caoimhín Agyarko, Lewis Crocker, and all the other fighters coming through has been massive. The talent has always been there; the recognition is all we needed, and we’re getting it now.

I’d love to fight Crocker; it’s an amazing fight for the Irish fans. This is what we’re in boxing for; I’ve known him since quite a young age. He’s 28, three years older than me. Everywhere I go, people ask, ‘When are you gonna fight Crocker? Would you accept the fight?’ It’s possible, it could happen. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it’s a fight that we want.

If I can’t become a ‘world champion’ with my amateur pedigree, Andy Lee and my team, being built up so well by Top Rank and now signed with Eddie Hearn—God help the rest of the Irish fighters! Who else will [become champion] if I can’t do it with all that? I’m going to be a world champion; I do believe that. I know what I must do, and it won’t be easy. I’ve got a big fight with Lewis Ritson, and I know we’ve got another fight made. I don’t wanna leak anything yet, but that’ll put me in place for a world title. Two more wins, and we’ll be ready.

Have you always loved the limelight?

I’ve always loved being the centre of attention in the ring. I grab the headlines at every show I’ve been on. I performed very well on the first Taylor-Catterall card and had another knockout at Katie Taylor-Chantelle Cameron II. I’ve performed amazingly in all the big shows.

I love the attention and everything it brings. I love fight week, the interviews, people talking about me, and all the bars having it on. Being recognised everywhere at home and in Dublin is an amazing feeling. It’s great that someone from a traveller background – someone much less educated – has been very successful. It’s great for me, all the young traveller kids, and the Irish people. They know they could have a star on their hands.

How in touch are you with your American audience?

I’m always in touch with my [US-based] co-manager, Keith Sullivan; I’m on the radio and in the newspapers in New York. I’m always in the limelight over there. I believe I have a big following there. The last time I was in the States, I was in Madison Square Garden and received a [New York Knicks] jersey, and Andy was asked for us to headline it in the next fight or two. That was a couple of months ago when I went out for the Jason Quigley fight.

If I can get my arse to the States, if I can cross that line, I know we can do some amazing things over there. When I was with Top Rank through Covid, things just fell through at the last minute. I was supposed to fight there in 2021. We’d flown out and everything, but it just fell through. To dance in New York and headline MSG, it’s a box that I’d like to get ticked off.

Edgar Berlanga defeated Jason Quigley in New York

How do you deal with pressure?

You feel it in every big fight, of course. The expectation in every fight is very high right now, especially in Ireland. Everyone believes I’m going to win; everyone believes I’m going to perform. But I don’t see it that way. I know I’ve put in a lot of work and had to be away from my family. Put me in the ring and let me fight; it’s in God’s hands. If I win, I win; if I lose, I lose. We’ll go again. It’s not the end of the world.

I love to fight; I love to enjoy it. However, if I let it get to my head and put pressure on myself, my performance won’t be good. It [the fight] all goes in a flash. It’s just a memory, then. Before you know it, I’m back with my wife and kids. Then, I can reminisce. It happens so fast that you go through the motions.

But if you look into it, I’ve done nothing. If I don’t become a world champion, this journey in professional boxing will be a complete failure. My talents and my team are worthy of a world title.

Statistically, traveller men are seven times more likely to be victims of suicide than non-traveller men in Ireland. From your perspective, why do the statistics indicate this?

It’s an answer that nobody can put their finger on. We ask that question so much. It’s happened to our family three times in the last ten years. We know it’s there; we know it’s alive. There are around eight deaths in every traveller’s name. Suicide hits them eight times per generation! We’re trying to find a solution. Everyone we meet [whose family has been a victim of suicide] we ask, ‘Why do you think they did it? What pushes them towards it?’ I don’t know. All I can say is that there’s help; there are people to talk to. They can always contact me, and they can always contact my team. Pieta House is always there. The number is 1800 247 247. They’re the best team in Ireland.

I can’t put my finger directly on it. My family has had two deaths [suicides] in the last two and a half years. I’d be lying if I said I knew the answer. What could drive someone to leave this world? I don’t know. Every family in Ireland wants to know. Hopefully, they can find it in their heart to change their feelings and contact people who can help them.

How do you want to be remembered as a fighter?

Someone who changed Irish boxing, someone who people look up to. A good person inside and outside of the ring, and a ‘world champion’. After that, [when Donovan hangs up the gloves] to give back to the people of the city [Limerick] and Ireland, to give back to the young boxers in Ireland – to have kids wanting to be the next me. If I can become a ‘world champion’ and achieve the things set out in my head, I’ll be very much liked in Ireland.