By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES, July 9 (Reuters) - Having decided to abort his dream of competing as an amateur at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, exciting Irish prospect Jason Quigley is itching to make his debut as a professional in Las Vegas on Saturday.
The 23-year-old from County Donegal will take on American Howard Reece in a four-round middleweight bout at the MGM Grand, on the undercard of the super welterweight non-title contest between Mexico's Saul Alvarez and Erislandy Lara of Cuba.
Quigley, who has been training at the Rock Gym in Torrance, California for the past three weeks, plans to take a leaf out of Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s playbook when he steps into the ring by focusing on foot and hand speed allied to a water-tight defence.
"I like to be a boxer, I like to get into that ring and show me skills, show me talent, be fast, be sharp and just get to the point, do what I have to do inside that ring," Quigley told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"Coming into the professional game, everybody thinks that you have to close up your defence and keep coming forward fighting, which I think isn't correct if you look at the top fighters in the world.
"Just look at number one Mayweather. He's an absolute genius with his boxing skills and his defensive technique is absolutely brilliant, so I try to idolise him."
Five-division world champion Mayweather, who has a perfect 46-0 record as a professional, is widely regarded as one of the best defensive fighters of all time.
Quigley will make his debut in boxing's paid ranks after a stellar 2013 campaign highlighted by a gold medal at the European Championships in Minsk and a silver at the world championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
NEAR-PERFECT SWAN SONG
While he readily admits that the decision to end his amateur career prematurely was a difficult one to make, he feels the timing was near-perfect following all the successes he enjoyed during his swan-song year.
"Of course it wasn't easy but, deep down, I've always wanted to turn professional, I've always wanted to be a professional world champion," Quigley said. "This is my time now to make a move into the professional ranks.
"As I started out as an amateur, things started going really well for me and the Olympics started to become a very big possibility. That was a goal of mine, to make the Olympics, but then I had an amazing year in 2013.
"I beat the reigning number one in the world and the world champion in Evhen Khytrov, the Ukrainian, at the European Championships and I went on to win gold there. I went on then to win the silver medal in the world championships in Kazakhstan."
Quigley became the first Irishman to reach a world championship final and, though he lost the gold medal bout to Kazakhstan's Zhanibek Alimkhanuly, is confident that he will ultimately benefit from the experience of that defeat.
"To realise I was three rounds away from becoming a world champion is something that hurts me very much deep down," he said. "The best thing I can do now is use that memory to drive me, give me incentive to become a world professional champion.
"I know if I ever get that close again to becoming a world champion, there's no man that's going to stop me from doing it."
Quigley, who is trained by his father, Conor, and managed by Sheer Sports, was ecstatic to be offered a promotional contract by Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions.
"Oscar is an absolute legend," Quigley said of the Mexican-American, who held world titles in six different weight classes and was a gold medal winner at the 1992 Olympic Games. "I've always looked up to him.
"He could box, he could fight, he could mix it up, he could do whatever had to be done to win fights. When that man came along with a contract and offered me to go professional, I couldn't have been happier.
"Oscar, I think, is the only promoter out there who has been in the ring. He knows what a fighter goes through, he knows what a fighter needs. It was a no-brainer for me to say yes to Oscar." (Editing by Frank Pingue)