Jordan Gill starts 2024 with a new hope

Jordan Gill scooped many year-end awards, but rather than reaching the end of the line he starts afresh in 2024.

Gill – a claimant to Upset of the Year and Comeback of the Year – was a big underdog when he fought Michael Conlan in Belfast last December, but he scored the win of his career, dropping Conlan in round two and stopping the Irish star in the seventh.

Gill improved to 28-2-1 (9KOs) and was having his first fight in 14 months and his first under new trainer Ben Davison.

Gill now gets the chance to capitalise on that momentum with an April 13 bout against Zelfa Barrett in Manchester. 

“I think he’s a great fighter,” said Gill. “He’s a really good fighter, very good mover, can punch, can box, he’s won everything I’ve won and boxed for a world title and he’s mixed in good company and got some good wins. It’s a tough fight, but as a world title eliminator, you’re not going to get any easy ones.” 

Barrett is 30-2 with 16 stoppages, and while he might not have been on Gill’s radar to fight competitively, their paths have crossed over the years.

“It’s one of them where, he’s a nice fella, whenever I see him, we say ‘Ah, we’ll have to get some [sparring] rounds in’. We’ve always talked about it and it never actually happened,” said Gill.

But had he ever thought they might meet competitively?

“Not really, to be honest, because I was down at featherweight,” Gill added. “And the last fight was at super-featherweight and he’s always been a super-feather, so I never thought there was really an opportunity for that to happen but then, me moving up, I knew he was in the rankings, I knew he was at super-feather and at that level, the fight’s been offered and we’ve taken it.”

Of course, Gill is hoping to pick up from where he left off against Conlan. It was the night he upset the boxing world while showing he was reborn. After the contest, he emotionally addressed the crowd and spoke of the struggles he had endured, with his mental health, with suicidal thoughts and that he had split up with his wife in the aftermath of losing to Kiko Martinez. 

“I’ve just changed my life,” he said, after defeating the Irish icon.

Being in Ireland around the time of the Conlan event is a time GIll has fond memories of.

“I loved it,” Gill recalled. “The whole week, I just had a great week. I was enjoying myself, nipping about in Belfast, speaking to the people, everyone was so friendly. I had a great time and obviously the night, everything came together, everything I’d been working on came together and to go over there and beat Michael Conlan in his backyard, it was very special for me.”

Then, of course, came the in-ring interview with Matchroom’s Jamie Ward, that went viral, with Gill close to tears.

“I didn’t plan to say what I said,” Gill admitted, having poured his heart out. “But I won the fight in dramatic fashion, I was given a platform and I thought it was a good time to express to people how hard it was to get to that point and make people in the same or similar position understand that you can get through it and you can push on. I just wanted to share how hard it was, not only to get back fighting but get back in the ring, overcome my obstacles and win that fight.”

And Gill had been able to express himself because there was no pressure on him. It was the Conlan show, but the 29-year-old from Chatteris was fine with that.

“That was exactly it, I was massively overlooked,” Gill continued. “No one expected me to win that fight, and really it took all the pressure off, and I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll show you.’ And I knew I’d win the fight. I knew it would be a hard fight, but I knew I’d win. 

“I just believe in my ability. People still haven’t seen the best of me. I’ve always either been hampered with an injury or hampered with making weight and when the pressure’s all off… it was just my night and I just knew that to progress in life, I need a performance like that and I went and did the job. I just enjoyed myself. I enjoyed the whole camp. There was no issue in camp. I trained hard. I enjoyed the training and it was refreshing working with a new team but at the same time I’d been out of the ring for 13 or 14 months, so there were question marks there, as well. But I just proved to myself that I can come back and perform at that level and next time I’ll be even better because it’ll be my second camp with my team and I’m looking forward to another good performance.”

In Gill’s more than a year off, he left Dave Coldwell’s gym – amicably – and moved down to Davison’s Performance Centre. Sure, there were changes in routines, training structures and methodology, but Gill was far more comfortable with the location and being around loved ones.

“It was very different,” he explained of the camp. “It was a lot more tactical. A lot of trainers will make you into the best version of yourself, whereas Ben Davison, Lee Wylie, Barry Smith, they have very specific tactics that they want you to work on. You have a gameplan for each fight, every fight is different, every opponent has got their weaknesses and their aim was to exploit Michael Conlan’s weaknesses and the aim for the Zelfa fight is to exploit Zelfa’s weaknesses. 

“That’s a very different task to beating Michael Conlan. We had a very clear plan, there was no stress, like in sparring if something wasn’t working they wouldn’t get annoyed. It was very relaxed. And I’m not away from home, I’m travelling to Harlow every day, I’m not away from my family and my friends all week like I was up in Sheffield for 10 years, so I’ve got my home comforts, my family, my friends, and it’s nice.”

In the aftermath of Gill’s triumph, Coldwell was asked by Boxing News how he felt when Gill revealed he had been at his lowest ebb. A gobsmacked and visibly upset Coldwell said he wished he had known, that he had wished he had been able to help his ex-fighter, and Gill has seen the interview online.

“I felt bad, because Dave was one of the first people I spoke to after the [Conlan] fight,” Gill went on. “We never fell out. I appreciate everything he’s done for me and [the way he’s] developed me. It was sad to see and he reached out to me and said he didn’t know I was feeling like that and he said, ‘Any time you ever feel like that just pick up the phone’. 

“I understand that, but at the same time, when you’re in that space, you don’t really want to speak to anyone, so it’s one of them. But I know he’s happy for me, he’s supported me and wanting me to win every fight.”

The Conlan bout was only a couple of months ago. Gill hopes the dark days might well be behind him now, and he is certainly only looking forwards, to Barrett, to world titles and to the future – even without boxing.

“I think I’m in a good place,” he said. “I’m training hard, I’ve got a lot of other projects I’m working on as well, and it’s getting to a point where I almost haven’t got time for boxing. It’s been manic, and I’m so busy that I’m just getting on with things, taking one day at a time and trying to be successful, pro-active and trying to be productive. Boxing has always been my passion, my love and my No. 1 focus. While I’m boxing it will get the majority of my attention and the other projects will have to go on the backburner. I just know that if I can make a success of them, giving a small amount of time to them, I know that after boxing I’ll be able to smash through it all and I’ve got the support and the business partners to help me.”