Meet Jay Harris (17-0, 9 KOs), the professional boxing champion who works part-time at Amazon to support his pro boxing career.
The 29-year-old now gets the opportunity of a lifetime when he challenges WBC flyweight champion Julio Cesar Martinez on a Matchroom Boxing USA event in Texas on February 29, a rare date that only rolls around once every four years, much like the chance Harris has secured for himself. It’s actually taken over six years of hard graft and hardships to reach this peak in his developing career.
Hard-hitting Mexican ‘El Rey’ will make the first defence of his green belt against mandatory challenger Harris on the quadrennial date, having won the vacant title that formerly belonged to Charlie Edwards by stopping Cristofer Rosales in the ninth round of their December 20 clash in Phoenix, Arizona.
He is well known for his brutality over Britons, having first crushed Andrew Selby in five rounds in March last year, before dropping then-WBC champ Charlie Edwards five months later, momentarily believing he had won the championship before that body’s President Mauricio Sulaiman declared the fight a No Contest due to Martinez having struck Edwards when he was already down.
While Martinez was rampaging against Selby at world level, Harris was racing around Swansea to sell tickets to his fight against journeyman Brett Fidoe, whose record was 13-48-5 at the time. His performance that March night in Cardiff was far from impressive as Jay laboured to a 59-57 points win in what was his 15th professional fight.
However, Harris roared into life in his next fight after Fidoe, against recent world title contender Angel Moreno, keen to make a statement as he stepped up a level. Harris outclassed the experienced Spaniard to win the vacant European flyweight title, prompting comparisons with Edwards who had similarly dominated Moreno.
It was the Welshan’s next fight, however, that really propelled his name into the mix, when he travelled to Belfast on another MTK-promoted event to dismantle double Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes within four brutal rounds in front of the latter’s home crowd, ending the decorated Irishman’s career in the process.
After a relatively slow and arguably unremarkable start to his career, Harris now stands on the edge of glory but, in an exclusive interview with British Boxing News, revealed he was exceedingly close to walking away from the sport less than three years ago.
“I was thinking of quitting after I won the Commonwealth title,” Harris told us. He captured said strap from Thomas Essomba in early 2017. “There was a massive stale period after it where I pretty much got put on the shelf for nine months and ended up going on small hall shows with [promoter] Mo Prior.
“I had to work because I wasn’t making enough money from boxing alone, then MTK came along and changed my life. [Trainer] Gary [Lockett] got in touch with Lee Eaton from MTK and told them about me and they signed me straight away. Within the space of a year they delivered everything they said they would.”
Harris has had to build himself up the hard way by fighting at small hall arenas, struggling to sell enough tickets, and quite often thinking, ‘Is this all worth it?’
“When I first turned pro, I was working four times a week, doing 10-hour night shifts,” he recalled. “After I won the Commonwealth title, I dropped down to two nights a week. I picked the night shifts over day because they were easier for my boxing schedule.
“It was a struggle at the start, I wasn’t earning enough to make a living. I was working at Amazon, earning around £300 a week. My medicals were £600 a year, I had to pay for my own training gear on top of all that. For my debut fight I made £130 and that’s after selling over 100 tickets.
“People don’t see that side of boxing, they only see the big fights and the money side of it. But it doesn’t matter because I got to the top now so I’m just happy.”
Despite the arduous journey, Harris is now on the brink of stardom as he prepares to challenge Martinez on a big stage in the Lone Star State. DAZN and Sky Sports will broadcast the show, headlined by Mikey Garcia vs Jessie Vargas, on their respective sides of the Atlantic, and Harris was delighted when he got word of the opportunity.
“I was in Paris at the time when my phone died, the battery ran out, so I didn’t know what was going on and when I turned it back on my phone was going nuts, my dad told me first!” he enthused. “I got a message saying ‘RING ME!’ When you hear that, it’s one of two things – either very bad news or very good news! Luckily for me it was amazing news!
“Gary always says that boxing can change at any moment, one minute you think you’re going nowhere and the next you could be fighting for a world title. My mentality is that I’ve being doing it way too long, so I’m glad I didn’t give up.”
Harris has already studied his forthcoming foe and sees weaknesses in his game, “I think I can pick holes in him, I can dig a bit myself,” he understated – nine KOs from 17 contests fails to tell the full story of a hard hitter. “I feel great, I proved I can box against Barnes and I proved how strong I am.”
Riding the crest of a wave, being well used to travelling away to compete, Harris is a 7/1 underdog but one used to overcoming the odds.