IN the first of a three-part feature on Chorley boxer Michael Jennings’ WBO welterweight fight against Miguel Cotto in New York on Saturday, we spoke exclusively to former British ace Lloyd Honeyghan, who conquered the world back in 1986.

LLOYD Honeyghan has a simple – but somewhat brutal – message for Michael Jennings: Forget the jeers and punch Miguel Cotto’s lights out.

It’s just three days until the Chorley welterweight enters the Madison Square Garden stage to cross swords with the biggest fight of his life.

Very few expect him to execute a ‘miracle’ defeat of Cotto, with bookmakers, pundits and, of course, the Puerto Rican dismissing the 31-year-old’s chances.

Yet, Jennings can count former world champion Honeyghan on his side, so long as he proves he’s no British softy come Saturday night.

It was 23 years ago that the ‘Ragamuffin Man’ shocked the world by pounding American ace Don Curry in his own backyard.

Honeyghan was written off beforehand. ‘No chance’, scoffed the boxing fraternity.

But in six earth-shattering rounds at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk, the Jamaican-born Londoner bashed the previously unbeaten Curry into submission to land the WBA welterweight crown.

It turned out to be the greatest victory by any British boxer since Randy Turpin stunned the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson back in 1951.

Many in the trade felt Honeyghan would be overwhelmed on the night – not just by Curry– but by the tirade of cat-calls and jeers from the American ring-side audience. Not a bit of it.

And it is the prospect of hostility from Cotto’s Hispanic supporters that Jennings must first seek to overcome in his efforts to create history in New York.

Once he leaps that barrier, points out Honeyghan, he must dismantle the crowd favourite in the ring.

“It’s going to be hostile - he’s fighting in the United States!” laughed Honeyghan.

“They’ll be screaming at Michael Jennings, shouting, hollering, you name it. I’ve been there.

“But no matter how much noise they make, once that bell goes, you can get in there and smack your opponent right in the gob. That will shut the crowd up.

“Names can’t hurt you, and the fans can’t jump in the ring and get at you. It’s just two boxers slugging it out.”

He added: “It tended to be that good British boxers couldn’t beat good American boxers in the USA.

“But I set the blueprint that we could go over there and beat them, that we could be world champions.

“We’ve always had the ability, but sometimes British boxers have lost the fight before they’ve even got in the ring.

“It’s a mental thing. Personally, I never gave a monkey’s.

“One of my philosophies was that you could punch me as hard as you can, but I’ll punch you back harder.

“That’s how I fought. I never took any rubbish from anybody. I took no prisoners.”

Honeyghan certainly showed no respect for reputations back in September 1986 when, in just 18 devastating minutes, he fought like a man possessed to blow away Curry.

In a parallel to Jennings’ job-in-hand, he was the massive British underdog; up against one of the best ‘pound-for-pound’ fighters at the time.

He earned his right to a shot at the WBC welterweight title, but it was dubbed a mis-match, with many experts failing to regard him as a genuine threat.

Such was Curry’s confidence in swatting aside the Ragamuffin Man that he lined up a $10m bout with ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler.

However, a pumped-up Honeyghan had other ideas.

“It was at the press conference that he said he was going to fight Hagler after beating me,” he said.

“Once he said that though, he was doomed. He didn’t know I was going to destroy him.”

Fuelled by self-belief, Honeyghan even staked a cool $5,000 bet, on the eve of the fight, that he would topple Curry. “It was supposed to be a $10,000 bet,” he joked. “My odds were 6/1 and I told (manager) Mickey Duff to put the bet on.

“After the fight, in the changing room, I said to Mickey ‘Where’s my money?’ But he said he only put $5,000 on.

“You see, for me it wasn’t a shock. But it shocked the world, the whole boxing fraternity.

“The public were shocked, they all saw Don Curry as invincible, unbeatable. But they never saw me coming.”

It’s now the turn of Jennings to prove he can stun the world across the Atlantic this weekend.

The ‘Chorley Lurcher’ has been written off in almost every quarter, as bookmakers offer 66/1 that he defeats Cotto, the overwhelming favourite, for the vacant WBO welterweight belt.

But Cotto enters the New York ring off the back of a loss to Mexican Antonio Margarito seven months ago, his first in a previously unblemished career.

And it is that surprise defeat which gives Honeyghan hope that Jennings can triumph. “It would be wonderful if Michael Jennings could be world champion. Of course, I want him to win,” said the 48-year-old.

“At this stage of his career, it’s a good test for Jennings to see how far he has come.

“It will prove if he’s got the ability to be a world champion. He may never get another chance, so he must take it. I know it will be something he desperately wants. That’s his dream.

“Of course, Cotto has got the pedigree, he’s a very good operator.

“But is he as good as everyone says? I’m not so sure after losing to Margarito. Maybe he’s at about 70 per cent and, if he fights like that again, Jennings has a good chance.”

One thing is for sure, Honeyghan would love to be in Jennings’ corner come Saturday night, shouting on his British compatriot – and sticking two fingers up to the home crowd.