O'Brien ends a nearly year-long layoff on Friday (Photo courtesy of Team O'Brien).
Written by John Archibald, Resolution Sports
One of the most shameful tragedies in boxing is that most people never take the time to learn who the man is behind the fighter. All they do is look at a record to decide if someone is relevant, ride his coat tails until a loss or two and then ditch him because he no longer provides them with easy personal gain. The further unfortunateness of this boxing regularity is that the man can become lost, overcome by his fighter side. But sometimes, the fighter and the man are the same person, and he can overcome all of those obstacles to find himself still standing on the other side.
When you meet Vinny O’Brien the man, you meet Vinny O’Brien the fighter. The 2010 New Jersey Golden Gloves champion began his professional career in 2011, greeted by tons of fanfare and a massive fan base at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. He did not disappoint those supporters, pummeling David Navarro until he did not answer the fourth round bell. His next fight went the same, stopping Shakir Anquel Dunn in the fourth frame. O’Brien was then the swing bout for an ESPN Friday Night Fights card in Newark, where he and unknown Puerto Rican scrapper Rafael Montalvo engaged in a blood and guts war that eventually caused the first blemish of O’Brien’s career. The New Jersey native rebounded four months later with a well-deserved decision over Carlos Velez before suffering a decision loss to converted MMA fighter Jeff Lentz almost a year ago to the day.
With a record of 3-2 and a pair of knockouts, many of those who were previously riding the coat tails of O’Brien have jumped ship, but not everyone. Those who know him as a man still stand behind him.
The man behind this keyboard included.
The two of us recently caught up to discuss the now Brooklyn resident returning to the ring this Friday night, just as we have done before every one of his professional fights. With a newfound focus and reestablished dedication to the sport of boxing, O’Brien will end the longest layoff of his career when he meets Anthony Smith (1-1, 0 KOs) at the Birchwood Manor in Whippany, New Jersey.
“When I was going out for the Golden Gloves, I was completely engulfed into boxing,” O’Brien recollected. “All I was doing was boxing and worrying about that. When I turned pro, it was a good situation for me out in New Jersey. I became a personal trainer because I was right there at the gym, but it ended up pulling me away from my dream more than it was helping me. The consistent paycheck from personal training took a little bit too much of my focus away from boxing.”
Noticing that his busy lifestyle was distancing him from achieving his goals within the game of boxing, O’Brien decided that the best thing he could do was make some changes.
“I started working as a bartender at another place in New Jersey, and my ultimate goal was to get over to Brooklyn where I train because I was spending an hour and 45 minutes traveling on the train both ways,” he said. “It took up so much of my time, and I wasn’t getting the rest I needed. I was training three hours, then it would take me nearly two hours to get home. I’d get home, have a quick meal, then I would have to train three or four clients, and I would still have to do my runs after that. It was too much on me, and it wasn’t benefitting me or getting me where I wanted to be.
“I just made a decision to get both feet into boxing and get right back to basics. I went ahead and made the move to Brooklyn, and I got a job bartending on the Upper East Side on the weekends. Now I just bartend on the weekends and train my ass off six days a week boxing. It’s beautiful because now I just work when I have to work, train when I train and get to rest when I need to rest. This time around, I have both feet and all of me into boxing.”
With everything now focused once again on boxing, O’Brien says he is in the perfect frame of mind to restart his professional career and get back on the right track.
“I just feel ready, man,” he told me. When Friday comes, it’s time for me to go to work and do what I have to do to be great. That’s who I really am, and I lost track of that. I lost sight of that. I had certain distractions on both a business level and personal level, but what I have done is simply go back to the basics. I know I’m great, and I believe I’m great. I just had to go back to doing what I know I have to do.”
Something definitely going in favor of O’Brien is his current trainer, Hector Roca, who has worked with the likes of such world champions as Arturo Gatti, Iran Barkley and Buddy McGirt. He also received much acclaim for his work preparing Hilary Swank for her role in Million Dollar Baby.
“I have the best coach in the world right now training me,” O’Brien stated. “He’s had 19 world champions. He’s amazing. He’s not a ‘yes man.’ He tells me when I’m messing up, and he tells me when I’m not. I’ve also been getting great sparring out at Gleason’s Gym, so I’m feeling ready. Everything has just fallen into place. Come Friday, I just have to go ahead and let my actions speak louder than words. That’s what I have to do.”
Now that his boxing career has been put back at the forefront, O’Brien feels that it has improved his overall quality of life.
“I seriously feel great right now,” he confirmed. “The best thing about what I’m doing right now is that I’m mastering my craft. I have the right trainer to do that and keep me moving in the right direction. Every person who has ever talked to me knows I’m all about chasing dreams. Whether you’re an artist, photographer, even if your dream is to just have a white picket fence and a family, I encourage people to chase their dreams. For me, I had some distractions that pulled me away from my own dreams. I know I have the talent. I know I have the work ethic, the dedication. I have the little tools that make a champion. Like I said, I just had to get back to basics and get back to being who I needed to be.
“There are no words to describe how I’m feeling. I’m just ready to get out there Friday. It’s been a long layoff, and the start of my pro career hasn’t gone as planned. But at the end of the day, that’s life, man. Boxing relates a lot to life. You have to roll with the punches, you have to deal with adversity. You have to keep pushing forward and moving on.”
As for Friday night, O’Brien says that he plans to unleash a new and improved version of “The Lion.” He is looking to once again get his supporters back to their feet, as well as catch the eyes of those who looked the other direction when he was forced to overcome a few hurdles early in his professional career.
“Expect a great fight,” he concluded. “I’m going to put on a show for everybody like I always have. I’m going to open up some new tricks I’ve learned, new things I’ve put in my arsenal. I’m going to go ahead and dominate this fight. I’m going to do what I do best, and I’m going to let the real Vinny O’Brien out. That’s what I’m going to do.”
For more information on Vinny O’Brien, check out his official website at www.vinnyobrien.net.