Casey and Spike can pour some southern comfort
By Ciarán Gallagher
The death knell has been ringing on Irish pro boxing for some time. While America deals with weekly doping scandals and Britain gets itself worked up over a Luxembourgian invasion, the number of cards here at home has been falling rapidly with the exception of some welcome Belfast shows.
Meanwhile, time, of course, is ticking away towards Britain’s biggest fight night in years as the highly-anticipated clash of David Haye and Dereck Chisora approaches on July 14.
But while the Brits have been getting themselves in a tizzy over the build-up for that controversial meeting of two average heavyweights, a pair of Irish fighters will also have notable bouts on the same weekend. They could, in their own way, provide some help to reviving pro boxing in the south of Ireland, while they could also be make-or-break dates for each Irish man.
Firmly in that category is Willie Casey, who is waiting on formal confirmation that he will headline an action-packed ‘Summer Rumble’ card on Sunday, July 15 at Sunderland FC’s Stadium of Light. It’s been a long road to redemption for the Limerick fighter after his failed world-title challenge against Cuban great Guillermo Rigondeaux last year, with scheduled fights and management deals falling by the wayside.
His rapid rise after winning Prizefighter and defeating Paulie Hyland for the European title was only matched by the heavy fall endured after being rocked by the majestic Rigondeaux, who has since gone on to take America.
Watching the Cuban was like watching a superhero in action. He came quietly, whipped up a storm and left without any fuss but Casey and all spectators present left with chins dropped to the floor.
However, ‘The Big Bang’ has finally found some stability under Emerald Promotions, headed by Belfast’s Chris Graham, who are dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on a fight with former world-title challenger and British champion Jason Booth.
If all goes to plan, Casey and Booth will meet for the new WBA European super-bantamweight title. While the last thing boxing needs is more belts, Casey’s team are somewhat justified in playing politics on this occasion as it will act as a stepping stone towards another world-title shot.
Boxing fans and analysts may be sick to their teeth of the world governing bodies throwing belts around like tinsel, but Casey has to prioritise his own career and must play the system in order to do so.
‘Once he wins, it will put him back in the top 15 of the WBA rankings,’ Graham explained. ‘Hopefully the sun comes out in Sunderland as it did last year, we’ll have Sky Sport’s Ringside up at it and it’s a good opportunity to promote Willie and get him back in the super-bantamweight mix.’
The fight is expected to be formally confirmed as soon as the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) give the green light. That should be a formality but has been slightly complicated by the fact that the WBA title is on the line, with the WBA and British Board having recently been at loggerheads over the controversial Haye-Chisora card which has seen promoter Frank Warren in an ongoing battle with the board.
While the infamous promoter is accused by some on the British board of attempting to organise a Luxembourgian coup across the water, that event is already the most anticipated British boxing fight night in years, with Warren’s team claiming the card at West Ham’s Upton Park will attract an attendance of around 40,000 on July 14.
That may yet prove to be an exaggeration but the fight is certainly turning the heads of both enthusiast and casual fans.
A late addition to the bill, in chief support, is undefeated Cork middleweight Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan, who will challenge Manchester’s Matthew Hall for the vacant WBO international title.
O’Sullivan, unbeaten in 14 outings, only received the call to fight last week, but his trainer Paschal Collins — brother of former world champion Steve — explained that the date was too promising to pass up on.
‘He’s been living in Dublin the last three weeks and training three times a day. I told him it is an opportunity, it’s not ideal because of the short time-frame we have but sometimes you have to take opportunities,’ said Collins. ‘Plus, with the audience that we’ll have on the night, he can showcase himself. There’s fighters who go though their whole career who never get these opportunities.’
While Irish middleweight champ O’Sullivan has impressed boxing fans at home, with his most recent domestic outing being a stunning first-round KO of Dubliner Robbie Long last summer, his pro career has been stop-start and a date in front of such a big crowd and massive TV audience has the potential to make his name.
He is, unlike Haye or Chisora, a fighter who does not rely on bullshit, bottles or bitch slaps.
David Attenborough would be an appropriate commentator for an O’Sullivan bout as the Cork fighter stalks the ring like a clinical predator, waiting for his moment to pounce. He has solid fists and if ‘Spike’ can manage to produce an explosive finish, many more big opportunities may await.
‘To have your first title fight away from home, with over 40,000 watching and televised in 60 different countries is an unbelievable achievement for him,’ added Collins, who believes that a win for O’Sullivan will lead to a title defence in Dublin or Cork.
Meanwhile, Casey’s backers Emerald Promotions are making great progress in Belfast with modest but entertaining cards, the first of which was staged last February, with another lined up for July 21 at the Emerald Road House.
Their admirable work is welcome as Irish pro boxing struggles to stay on its feet and success for Casey and O’Sullivan will hopefully lead to more shows down south.
*Ciarán Gallagher’s Mail Box column appears every Friday in the Irish Daily Mail, follow him on Twitter: @gallagherbox and read more great/confused sports writing at www.grannykiller.com