When Danny O’Connor slipped through the ropes for the biggest fight of his life—a nationally televised clash of unbeatens against Gabriel Bracero in April 2011—he knew he was fully prepared. Except he wasn’t—at least not mentally.
“That was my first time under the lights of national TV, my shot at winning and going on to bigger things,” O’Connor recalls of the 140-pound bout in Laredo, Texas.
“But my first boy, Liam, was three weeks old. I was dealing with the pressures of a life-changing event—starting a family—and the preparation for a fight. Not knowing how to deal with the stress, pressure and the atmosphere was like going into an eight-round anxiety attack.”
Overwhelmed by the moment and his new role as a father, O’Connor succumbed to Bracero in an eight-round unanimous decision.
“Gabriel Bracero beat me, but it’s not like he’s this magical fighter,” O’Connor says. “I ultimately beat myself down, mentally, and didn’t understand what was happening.”
On Saturday, the New England favorite finally gets a shot at redemption—and pursues his fourth straight stoppage—when he faces Gabriel Bracero (23-2, 4 KOs) at Lowell Memorial Auditorium in Lowell, Massachusetts, just 20 minutes from O’Connor’s hometown of Framingham.
The 147-pound contest, which is scheduled for 10 rounds, highlights a Premier Boxing Champions fight card on NBCSN (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m.)
'“After Bracero, I took a while to adjust,” recalls Danny O’Connor (26-2, 10 KOs). “A loss can either ruin you or, with the right mindset, you can grow, move forward. I became a better person.”
Following the loss to Bracero, O’Connor ripped off nine straight victories before falling to former champion Vivian Harrison by split decision on October 12, 2013. He’s since rebounded with three straight stoppage victories—all in his home state—under new trainer, Hector Bermudez.
Now O’Connor is set to return to the site of one of his fondest boxing memories—a town made famous by retired former contender and close friend “Irish” Micky Ward, whose life was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated movie, The Fighter.
“Lowell is already a fight city of hard-core boxing fans with Micky Ward being from there,” says O’Connor, 30. “I won the Golden Gloves there as an amateur—it’s one of the most prestigious tournaments held there, every year.
“You add my fans coming into town, and that makes it even that much more of a powerful, magical atmosphere. This fight is very important to me. It’s going to be bananas in there.”
Ward will be among those cheering on O’Connor from ringside.
“I’ll be there to support Danny,” said Ward, winner of one fight in his unforgettable trilogy with the late Arturo Gatti. “Physically, he’s stronger and punches harder with both hands. He’s also a lefty, which means he’s harder to fight.”
Ironically, O’Connor is facing Bracero under nearly identical circumstances as when they met 4½ years ago: His wife, Diane, gave birth to their second son, Keegan, on September 21. But unlike the first fight with Bracero, the hometown boy and proud papa insists that, come Saturday, he will be fully focused on his job in the ring.
“I’m excited to fight Bracero again,” he says. “This is my challenge to prove to myself that I can handle the pressures of life and a big fight. But I am a different person who is ready for a different events, especially in front of my fans on national TV.
“It’s funny how life comes full circle, and I’m ready for an awesome experience.”
And when it’s over, O’Connor will return home to his growing family with a smile on his face—win or lose.
“Boxing’s my passion, but my priority is my wife and my children,” he says. “Diane’s going to literally drive in, watch me fight, and then leave. She’s my rock. There’d be no me without her.”
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