The Loughlinstown welterweight stopped Crank Whitehouse in the fourth round to claim the vacant BUI Celtic title at the National Stadium in Dublin – a win which he believes may be the perfect send-off following a whirlwind 18 months in the sport.
An underdog with the bookies – and a seemingly less technically talented fighter than a former amateur of note – Byrne won the mental battle, the tactical battle, and then finally the physical battle to seal a notable victory.
Following two cagey rounds, Byrne upped the pace and physicality in the third, and then closed the show with huge shots in the fourth.
It was all part of a game plan from coach Declan Geraghty Sr, implemented to a tee by Byrne who explained to Irish-Boxing.com afterwards how “Declan told me, ‘the first couple of rounds, go in, put the jab on him, third round, pick it up, start putting the pressure on him.'”
“Going into the fourth round he told me ‘okay, now I want to see you touch then bring up and over your right hand because he’s wide open for you.’ The first time I did it, I landed flush on his chin and his legs buckled, I went for it a little bit, couldn’t land a clean shot, so I stepped off, gave him a bit of time, let him think he was coming back into it – then I landed another, his legs went again.”
“I sat back and watched and waited for him to panic, and when he did then I landed the third and he went down.”
“I felt I was outboxing him, I felt I was picking my shots when I wanted to and, when it came to a fight there at the end, I won the fight.”
Over the past year Byrne has received both praise and criticism for his decision to fight on the road against top English prospects.
‘The Negotiator’ though credited these learning experiences, and Whitehouse’s lack thereof, as the basis behind his win.
Byrne described how “I knew I had been to places that he hadn’t been to, I knew he wasn’t going to hit me with anything I hadn’t been hit with before, whereas I knew I was going to hit him and do things to him that he hadn’t had done to him before.”
“His level of opponents, he went the other route than to what I went. He built his career up slowly with journeymen. No disrespect to journeymen, he did his thing the way he did it, and I respect him for that. But, when you’re in against lightweights, light welterweights that don’t come to fight, that come to survive, that when you land a heavy shot they tuck up.”
“It’s a big difference when you hit someone and they smile at you. In the first round, it was about making him miss and letting him hit me, not leaving my chin out, but one or two shots to show him that he ain’t hurting me here. I could see, I knew within three rounds that he was breathing heavy.”
It’s one of the few upsets this year in Ireland, and former semi-pro boxer Byrne was keen to note how “knocking a guy out who was 7-0 – as the away fighter, you’ve got to remember that – that’s like me going to England and knocking one of the boys out who was 7-0.”
“I’m the away fighter and I’ve come in and blown their boy out of the water.”
“I do respect the man. I went over to the corner afterwards and wished him and his team well. I hope he comes back”
The future for Byrne is unsure. While he has always seemed keen for a fight with Conor Benn, the 31 year old admits that his time in the sport could be up.
With his goals already achieved – and indeed surpassed beyond his wildest dreams – Byrne is happy with his lot, and retirement could be on the horizon for the all-or-nothing kind of fighter.
Looking ahead, Byrne outlined how “I’ll knock anyone out at welterweight. Not anyone in the world obviously, but you give me any of those boys who are ‘superstars’ and I will match them, and that’s a fact.”
“I’ve agreed to fight Noely Murphy, that’s not going to happen because he’s away. He was the number one, I was told Gerard was the number two and look what I done.”
“I’ll be straight with you, I’m going to Vegas on Thursday. I’m bringing the wife with me, me and the wife had a bad year, we’re now back together, we’re going away on Thursday and we’re going to talk. We’ll see.”
“I set out in this game to win one pro fight – I’ve a belt around my waist now, I’m only boxing as a pro 18 months.”
“This could be the end, but we’ll see.”
Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish)