Danny O’Connor was at a low point in his career following his split-decision loss to journeyman Vivian Harris two years ago. “I remember back at my hotel thinking, ‘Where do I go from here?,’” recalls O’Connor, whose October 2013 loss to the fading former champ ended a nine-fight winning streak.
Frustrated that his profession was pulling him away from home for extended periods, the devoted family man knew it was time for a break. However, he says he never considered hanging up the gloves for good.
“I put boxing aside for a while for my family, but I never left the game,” he says. “I think a lot of people made that assumption, but they’d be wrong.”
Call it a brief retirement or a sabbatical, but Danny O’Connor was out of the ring for an entire year. When the proud native of Framingham, Massachusetts, returned to action on October 30, 2014, however, he did so with a vengeance, knocking out Andrew Farmer (then 18-2) in the fourth round.
Then in April—barely a week removed from his 30th birthday—O’Connor needed less than two minutes to take out veteran Michael Clark (44-12-1). Six weeks after that, he dropped Chris Gilbert (13-1) five times on his way to a fifth-round stoppage.
That’s three fights and three knockouts—in the span of seven months—for a guy who registered just seven KOs in his first 25 pro contests.
The man responsible for tapping into O'Connor's power? Hector Bermudez, a Boston-based trainer whose roster of fighters includes unbeaten 130-pound champion Javier Fortuna.
“Hector was in town with Fortuna and some world-class guys,” says Ken Casey, O’Connor’s manager. “Danny checked him out, and they became boxing soul mates. There’s been a significant change, confidence-wise, in Danny.”
Bermudez recalls meeting O’Connor (26-2, 10 KOs) at the Peter Welch Gym in south Boston.
“Danny came in with [unbeaten 160-pounder] Mark DuLuca and sparred with one of my guys,” Bermudez says. “He needed more maturity and intelligence, ring-wise. His positioning and balance needed tweaking—all intangibles concerning the psychology of boxing.”
Says O’Connor: “Now, I’m [like] a fighter pilot. I’m using my brain every second of every round with no wasted movement.”
That will certainly be the game plan Saturday when O’Connor guns for his fourth consecutive knockout in his rematch against New York’s Gabriel Bracero (23-2, 4 KOs) in a scheduled 10-round, 147-pound contest (NBCSN, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
“ I told Danny, ‘It’s not the end of the world. Take it like a man and come back stronger, not weak-minded.’ ” Micky Ward, on Danny O'Connor's 2013 loss to Vivian Harris
As was the case with his previous three bouts, O’Connor will be fighting before a partisan home crowd, this time at Lowell Memorial Auditorium in Lowell, Massachusetts, which is less than a half hour from Framingham.
Among those scheduled to be ringside is “Irish” Micky Ward, a Lowell native and retired former contender whose life was portrayed in the 2010 Oscar-nominated movie The Fighter. Ward has become a mentor of sorts for O’Connor, and was in attendance when his friend suffered that 2013 loss to Harris in Philadelphia.
“It was a close fight,” Ward recalls. “I told Danny, ‘This can make you better. It’s not the end of the world. Take it like a man and come back stronger, not weak-minded.’ Being with Hector Bermudez, there’s a huge difference.”
O’Connor certainly hopes there will be a huge difference in the result when he tangles with Bracero for a second time. In their first meeting, which was contested at 140 pounds in April 2011, Bracero handed O’Connor his first professional defeat, a one-sided unanimous decision.
From there, O’Connor moved up in weight and ripped off nine consecutive victories while competing between 142 and 152 pounds, eventually settling into the 147-pound division. He officially tipped the scales at 147½ this spring for his demolition of both Clark and Gilbert, the latter a hammer-fisted brawler whose 13 wins included 10 KOs.
“Chris Gilbert’s straightforward style was tailor-made for me,” O’Connor says. “I was accurate and strategically landed in the right spots.”
O’Connor, who checked in at 146.2 pounds at Friday's weigh-in, could be at a strength advantage against Bracero, who tipped the scales at a career-high 146.8 pounds Friday but hasn’t fought above 142 pounds since 2009—a stretch of 18 fights. In his most recent contest in April—a 10-round, unanimous-decision loss to unbeaten former Olympic gold medalist Felix Diaz—Bracero was officially listed at 142.
Now as he prepares for just his second fight in nearly two years, Bracero—who has never been knocked out—will have to deal with O’Connor’s newfound power.
Which begs the question: Will the hometown boy seek to avenge his first loss with another KO?
“I’m not a knockout fighter,” O’Connor says. “But when I’m not looking for them, they come. That effortlessness sets up the knockouts.”
For full coverage of O'Connor vs Bracero, check out our fight page.