Northern stars shine brightest
Belfast reaffirmed its claim as the home of Irish boxing this past week as the northern city continues to lead the way for ring action. Not only is it home to two of Ireland’s six-strong Olympic team, but that ‘neat little town’ is also acting as the main care centre for pro boxing in this country.
While the south of Ireland continues to struggle — with Henry Coyle’s homecoming fight in Castlebar on August 17 the only pro-boxing card scheduled for the 26 counties so far this year — the north is booming.
In addition to hosting what looks likely to be the biggest bill this island has seen since Bernard Dunne claimed a world-title three years ago — with Carl Frampton topping a superb September 22 card at the Odyssey Arena — Belfast has also been hosting a number of small-hall shows, featuring up-and-coming talent.
Last Saturday night saw an eight-fight card take place at the Emerald Roadhouse in Belfast, staged by Chris Graham’s Emerald Promotions, with a host of the city’s young talent on parade along with a certain Spaniard who is well-known in Irish boxing circles.
Kiko Martinez will defend his European title against Frampton on that massive September bill, but, having had just one fight since reclaiming the EBU strap 16 months ago, ‘La Senascion’ was in need of a tune-up outing and featured in a bout against young Newcastle journeyman Dougie Curran tomorrow night.
The man who memorably stopped Dunne in just 86 seconds back in 2007 was less impressive at the weekend, failing to stop Curran despite his best efforts.
Martinez pursued the tough Newcastle man with hard-hitting punches to the body, but even some heavy head shots failed to halt Curran while the Spaniard seemed to tire into the fight after starting each round in energetic bursts lasting a minute or so.
Curran was far from being a controlling matador, but Martinez certainly resembled a frustrated bull; steaming in but becoming gradually tired and weary as his lunges failed to make the desired impact.
Frampton was present at ringside, noting that even Martinez’s much-hyped power did not look quite as explosive as often presumed. However, the champion was adamant that he will be fully prepared come September.
‘You will see a better Kiko when I fight Carl Frampton. I felt like I could have done better tonight,’ said Martinez after the win. ‘I didn’t catch him clean with any shots – if I had caught him clean he would have went down.’
In the headline fight, Leeds-based Lee Murtagh claimed the Irish light-middleweight title after his opponent, Joe Hillerby, was forced to retire with a dislocated shoulder at the end of the sixth round.
By the time he took to his stool, Hillerby’s protruding shoulder resembled a wing ready to break through the Sandy Row man’s skin.
Hillerby had floored his opponent with a right early on, but the 38-year-old Murtagh gradually exerted his influence before finally winning an Irish belt at his fifth attempt. ‘It is something I have been battling for all my career,’ said the delighted new champion.
The most promising performances of the evening, however, came from two of Emerald Promotion’s own gems, Belfast natives Anto Cacace and Ray Ginley.
Super-featherweight Cacace scored a stunning sixth-round knockout over former Irish champion Mickey Coveney, having delivered a measured and impressive performance throughout.
Cacace complimented his stablemate, Willie Casey, for aiding his preparations, but going on this performance, the undefeated 23-year-old may soon rival The Big Bang as a future headliner for fights in his home town.
‘Coveney was tough wee man,’ said Cacace. ‘I never taught I was going to stop him. When I upped it in the last round I hurt him, I never upped a gear till the last round.
‘I will take anything that comes my way. I’ll take a British title or Irish title fight, bring them on.’
While Cacace may soon be just a few fights away from competing for domestic honours, Ginley may first need to address which weight he will compete at.
The 19-year-old looked commanding against durable British fighter Jody Meikle, dropping his opponent on the way to a solid 40-35 points win. However, while Ginely fought around the light-heavyweight limit, it would appear his future lies at super-middleweight where his power would be much more effective and suitable for his natural frame.
Another young talent to impress on the card was Galway super-middleweight Alan Donnellan, who was on the wrong side of a very questionable points loss to veteran Ciarán Healy, but it was a golden oldie who drew the biggest crowd and cheers of the night.
Former five-time Irish amateur champion Stephen Reynolds took a 39-38 points victory over tough Ugandan Moses Matovu on his pro debut and, at the age of 39, the Sligo cruiserweight is in a hurry to impress in the paid ranks.
‘I’m not in day-dream land, if I’m good enough to win an Irish title I’ll keep going and see if I can do it; if I can’t’, there’s no harm done,’ said Reynolds.
Both Donnellan and Reynolds will fight on the August Castlebar card, which looks like it could be one of just two pro cards in the south of Ireland this year.
Economic conditions mean it is currently more viable to stage pro-boxing cards north of the border, although Emerald Promotion’s ambitions of putting on a show down south were boosted by Casey’s recent points win over Britain’s Jason Booth for the WBA European belt.
Cork’s Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan will also be trying to entice high-calibre opposition to Ireland after recording a career-best win over Manchester’s Matthew Hall. But while the success of the Irish duo last weekend may hopefully lead to more cards countrywide, for now, all optimism is flowing from Béal Feirste.
Frampton-Martinez looks set to be the biggest bill in Ireland this year, with the Odyssey card also featuring Paul McCloskey, highly-rated prospect Jamie Conlan — brother of Irish Olympian Michael — Irish Prizefighter winner Eamonn O’Kane and Belfast featherweight Martin Lindsay.