It’s 7:30 on a Thursday evening.
“Sure I’ve homework to do now after I’m finished talking to you,” Cork schoolboy James Power says, fresh off a long day of Leaving Cert preparation. It may not be for another eight months, but the grind is year-long.
Power is no stranger to the grind. He works hard in the classroom but works even harder outside of it.
At just 17 years of age, James Power is Ireland’s youngest professional boxer. Two weeks ago Power travelled to the heart of Tijuana, Mexico for his first pro bout, a successful knockout of hometown brawler Omar Santos, who was six years his senior.
“No there wasn’t really any nerves going into this one,” explained Power, whose tender age means that he can’t legally obtain his pro boxing licence in Ireland.
“Declan Geraghty, my trainer had me calm before getting in, he kept talking to me and he kept me composed before I stepped into the ring and that helped me big time.”
Watching Power fight and you can see his confidence inside the squared-circle. He’s the type of boxer that the fans pay their admission fee to see; walking forward, punching with bad intentions. It’s easy to forget that he’s only 17.
“I come forward,” Power explains when asked about his style.
“When I’m going into the ring I just want to make the fight exciting for everyone that’s watching, I want to entertain people. I don’t want them to be sitting back yawning watching a boring fight where two boxers are tipping around.
“I want to go in there and have a bit of a scrap and make it entertaining really. I try and hurt them with every shot and go from there.”
Power’s eye-catching ability has already earned him plenty of fans, from around the boxing world, and since returning home to Cork, he’s been heralded, he explains, as a bit of a local hero.
“Since I’ve come home it’s been mental, everyone is mental. There’s a good buzz around. Everyone’s in good form so I’m really enjoying it now. The people are all happy and sure that’s the main thing.
“All the teachers and the students, the students in general are congratulating me. It’s a good feeling knowing they’re all supporting me.”
A hero who must keep his head down. Power knows he has a big year ahead of him and values the importance of education. The fight game is one that can take just as much as it gives. So how tricky is it to balance a pro boxing career with being a sixth-year student?
“Yeah since turning pro not much has changed”, says Power.
“I always train hard, always been good, I go to school and I train and to be honest I don’t have time for much else. The only difference is I left for a couple of days.”
“When I returned, I returned home to Dublin and then drove down to Cork so I think I got to my house at about 10 o’clock at night on Tuesday, then woke up and went to school on Wednesday morning. There’s not much of a difference.”
“I’ll take everything as it comes” is a phrase Power uses twice throughout the interview. Perhaps wrong to call it a mantra, but it’s clearly a way for the 17-year old to face the challenges that continue to greet him. The “devil may care” attitude that comes with youth.
One thing, however that Power had planned for over many years was becoming a pro as soon as he possibly could. He had always been told the professional ranks would suit him better than the amateur levels, but he got his wish a little sooner than he had first expected.
“I’ve always wanted to turn pro ever since I was small, but I was always told ‘when you turn 18 you can turn pro’. For me, it was literally ‘the minute I turn 18 I’m going to turn pro.'”
“Then I was talking to Andrew O’Neill, he came up to me after one of my amateur fights and said ‘you look like you’re more suited to the professional game’.
“Why do you want to wait until you’re 18 why don’t you just do it now?’ And I just thought ‘well yeah, why don’t I?’
“I never even thought of doing it before 18 because everyone else just waited until then to do turn pro so we just decided to do it at 17.”
In conversation, Power mentions the likes of Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson as some of his ever-changing boxing idols. Heavy-handed hitters, a style he clearly wants to emulate.
But what about replicating the feats of many young Irish boxers who have taken the Olympic route and gone on to have successful pro careers? That’s something Power explains, he never once considered.
“I never had the Olympics as a goal of mine,” says Power.
“Growing up when I was younger, I think every boxer has experienced it where adults and teachers and people like that are saying ‘Oh will we see you in the Olympics in the future’ and I always kind of just told them ‘no’ and for most of them that was a shock.
“Don’t get me wrong that’s an unbelievable achievement. For anyone who reaches that level, that’s unreal but I just never saw it as something I wanted to do it was never a path I wanted to go down. It’s a strange one, I can’t really explain it.”
As the dust settles on Power’s pro debut, the next few weeks will return to normality. School, training, school, training. He has however got his eyes on a return to Tijuana over the midterm break, but following that what comes next for Ireland’s youngest pro boxer?
As a proud Corkman, Power explains it’s all about bringing the pro ranks down to the Rebel County.
“Yeah myself and Assassin promotions and my manager and coach we were planning on going over (to Tijuana) to get that experience before I stepped into the ring in Dublin or Cork, hopefully it’ll be Cork.
“I want to bring pro boxing down to Cork. There’s no other fighters really doing it, it’s all focused and based in Dublin, even the amateurs are based in Dublin but on the pro note any show is up towards that side of the country so I’d love to get one down in Cork, it’d just be something different.
“The Cork people who want to see me and other Cork boxers don’t have to travel all the way up to Dublin to do that. I’d really like to have a professional event in Cork.”
After the interview, Power completed his homework. He went to school the next day. He took everything as it came.
He still however allowed himself the luxury of dwelling on his success.
“I’d be sitting in class daydreaming about walking around Hollywood or fighting in Mexico, but it makes no difference at the end of the day. I’m easy going.”
Photo Credit @power131_ on Instagram.