By Oliver McManus @OlvierGMcManus
Swansea’s Jay Harris will look to set aside his frustrations from the past two years this Saturday (June 1st) when he fights for the European Flyweight title against Angel Moreno.
The 28 year old was mandated, in April, to face Vincent Legrand but the champion of the time subsequently vacated and Moreno was drafted in as a replacement for Harris’ ‘European dream’. I caught up with Harris just seven days before the showdown and he started off by talking me through his preparations,
“It’s been really hard, a nice long camp around ten weeks, but the sparring I’ve had has been the best I’ve probably ever had; I’ve been sparring with (WBA Super Flyweight champion) Kal Yafai, Rhys Edwards (5-0, fighting on Harris’ undercard) and (Welsh amateur champion) the local boy Josh John. I’ve sparred with Yafai four or five times before this fight and I was involved in one of his previous camps so it’s been amazing.
I would say I’m feeling different, as well, I’m well up for this fight. Last time we spoke, you remember, we were saying it was hard to work myself up for fights such as my last (against Brett Fidoe), but it’s the European title so how can I not switch on and be excited? If I win this it could propel me towards world honours.”
Harris’ previous title bouts, against Thomas Essomba and Ross Murray, had seen him exorcise his fighting frustrations as a result of ‘false promises’ made by those no longer associated with him. He explained to me how he hit this training camp in a world of relaxed optimism.
“The guys at MTK have given me this date pretty much from the beginning of the year – it was the 1st or the 7th of June – so I knew when I was fighting and I could just keep my head down. It’s been brilliant to have that security and peace of mind. We’ve known who were fighting pretty much from the off: obviously it was meant to be Vincent Legrand but he moved up in weight and pretty much straight away Angel Moreno was lined up as a replacement.”
It would have been a completely different ball game
Speaking to me previously, in camp, the 28 year old wasn’t fazed by his change in opponent and told me he ‘had a feeling Legrand was going to pull out, we just stayed prepared’. Legrand and Moreno are quite contrasting opponents with the primary difference being that Legrand boxes out of southpaw and Harris, whilst relishing the opportunity to face a southpaw, was happy the Frenchman vacated in a timely manner.
“I would have fought Vincent anyway and I’ve sparred Touzey (Kristian Touze, undefeated lightweight) before so that wouldn’t have been an issue. We knew early on that he wasn’t going through with the fight so, thankfully, it didn’t have too much impact on us. He’s a tall gangly southpaw and Moreno is about four inches smaller and an orthodox fighter, so it would have been a completely different ball game.”
Odds on Gary Lockett’s fighter to be victorious on his quest for continental glory have repeatedly shortened since the market opened but Harris told me it would be foolish to label him as ‘the favourite’ when competing against such an experienced adversary.
“I’m confident in my ability and am expecting to finish the fight as the winner but I don’t really think it’s a fight where there is a favourite or an underdog. I never overlook any of my opponents and Moreno’s fought for a world title, been European champion before, and he’s not just someone who I’m expected to walk past.
I’m expecting a right tough fight, if I’m honest, because even though Charlie Edwards beat him rather easily, he was always there and trying to get involved. We expect him to come forward and try to close the distance quite quickly so I’ll just have to use my brain and box smartly. He’s not an idiot, he’s fought two world champions, and he’s a massive step up for me.”
“It felt as though boxing had forgotten about me”, that’s how Jay summed up the frustrating 21 months between defenses of his Commonwealth title, “but look where we’re at now, that’s all I’ll say, Gary Lockett has been nagging my way into these fights for me and look we’ve got a Commonwealth title and about to get a European belt around my waist”.
I risked getting my hand bitten off, what with Harris in the middle of a ‘comfortable’ weight cut, by asking what he’d first be eating after the fight. A topic fraught with tension.
I don’t really care who I have to fight
“My girlfriend is nagging for a Chinese, you see, but I fancy a kebab or a pizza. I might even get both, to be honest, but I’ll jump on the bus back to Swansea and see what’s open. There’s a steakhouse that’s open until 4am in the morning so that could be a shout – that could be a real shout, actually.”
Back to boxing and the task at hand is the crux of childhood curiosity – Harris got started in boxing when he wanted to find out where his school friend disappeared at 5pm every evening – and the support for the occasion is fitting with a coach and four minibuses travelling down to Cardiff to show their colours. For the flyweight who works at Amazon, he’s hoping this can be the start of a ‘second phase’ in his career where title success becomes commonplace.
“There’s no reason why there cannot be more shows like this and I’m so glad that MTK have put on a card that has got everyone in Wales talking about boxing again. It feels brilliant to be headlining because those opportunities haven’t really come around before and I’m so glad it’s happening at this time in my career – it’s perfect timing – now I’ve just got to headline a show in Swansea.
We’ll see what opportunities come after I win it because I’ll be taking anything that people want to offer me. I’ve always said I could retire a happy man if I get a shot at a world title and I don’t really care who I have to fight for the opportunity.
I don’t imagine that’ll happen in the first fight afterwards but you get the direction we’re going in and I don’t plan on stepping back.”
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