The Coalisland southpaw picked up the vacant 135lbs green belt in the chief support bout of the MHD Promotions ‘A Night To Remember’ card at the Ulster Hall defeating Karl Kelly via ninth round stoppage.
Last held by Cavan’s Andy Murray almost a decade ago, McCrory ensured the belt would return to Ulster after a dramatic contest which saw a frankly astonishing number of clean shots landed..
An Irish champion now at both amateur and professional level, McCrory has given himself until the end of this year to start making some serious progress in his paid career and could not have begun better.
The fight, which was announced over the Christmas period, came somewhat from left field.
Kelly had just scored a controversial win over Dublin rival Martin Quinn and looked set to rematch for the BUI Celtic title while McCrory had been campaigning at super featherweight – and had been forced out of an Irish title clash with mandatory Stephen McAfee due to a hand injury.
Plenty of parties were not happy with the match – from Quinn and McAfee’s teams to hungry Naas prospect Gary Cully – but the title clash was sanctioned, made, and tonight delivered in a big way.
Kelly, whose ‘Little Sexy’ nickname was changed to ‘Machine Gun’ for the sensibilities of the Ulster Hall, entered first, looking focused, before the notably-well-supported McCrory came out to his biggest reception yet.
‘Fearless Feargal’ began sharply, both on the jab and when countering Kelly’s advances. The Dubliner did get in one right hand but was then almost sent down by a straight left from McCrory caught squarely.
Kelly, who saw manager Jay Byrne resume coaching duties in place of Declan Geraghty Snr, was reddened after the opening three minutes and looked to get in close in the second and did land some lefts early but was spun in the corner and would engage in a furious toe-to-toe exchange. McCrory landed numerous shots on the cast iron chin of Kelly here but the Monkstown man managed to survive and fired back.
The exchanges, though, were messy, and saw the heads come together and cuts open up over both fighters’ left eyes.
Cutmen Tommy McCormack for Kelly and Andy O’Neill for McCrory tried their utmost at the break of rounds but the crimson streams would soon reopen in the fourth.
McCrory was landing the sharper punches, and more of them, initially but was being dragged into a war by the plucky Dub, with both landing frighteningly clean hooks.
Kelly continued to absorb countless haymakers into the fourth but was landing more and more big shots of his own, forcing McCrory to the ropes at one stage and unleashing.
Reverting more to his boxing following the drama of the proceeding rounds, McCrory enjoyed far more success, jolting the head of Kelly back with straight left hands. The regular Katie Taylor sparring partner, however, hung in there to the disbelief of many – although the cut looked to be becoming an issue, with Kelly attempting to blink away the blood.
The Tyrone favourite’s work-rate dipped slightly as the bout entered its second half and Kelly enjoyed some decent success.
Faces coated in red, the pair were brought together and warned for use of the head in the seventh by referee David Irving and McCrory would look to box more but Kelly dragged him right back into a war with some meaty body shots.
There were suggestions ringside that McCrory was tiring heading into the eighth round and it was even enough at the start of this stanza but the John Breen-trained man would rally well with a real spurt of quality.
On top, McCrory would stamp his authority in the penultimate round, forcing Kelly to the corner, raining in punches, and eventually convincing Irving to jump in and intervene to the delight of the almost entirely pro-McCrory crowd.
Lifted aloft by the legendary Breen, McCrory would drink in the adulation before quickly heading to the Kelly corner to share a word with his brave foe.
The hard-fought stoppage win sees McCrory move to 10(4)-0 and he is now the Irish champion.
The gallant Kelly falls to 2(0)-3(1) but put in a performance which saw him cheered out of the ring by his opponent’s fans.
For McCrory, what’s next is unsure. A return to super featherweight would seem logical for the unbeaten fighter who has attracted big promotional attention in the past – however he may want to defend the belt.
‘Little Sexy’, again, proved that his heart and guts are anything but lacking – and there remains a place for the Dubliner on the scene – with a Quinn rematch still appealing massively.