31 December 2008 – By Mark Doyle
Paul McCloskey is surprised – primarily because so many people seem so surprised.
On December 5, the 29-year-old light-welterweight dismantled Colin Lynes over nine rounds to claim the vacant British title. Unseen in England in two years, McCloskeys performance shocked many at ringside.
After a nervy opening, in which he suffered a minor scare in the second when he was wobbled by a fine one-two from Lynes, McCloskey, with his elusive, hands-down style, quickly took complete command of the fight, blitzing his opponent with quick-fire combinations and stinging uppercuts.
That he had produced a performance of such dazzling brilliance against an opponent as lauded as Lynes, a former European champion, was impressive, but the fact that he had taken the fight at a weeks notice following the withdrawal of former champion David Barnes made it all the more remarkable.
However, McCloskey, who had been set to appear on the undercard anyway, insists that he always fully expected to win. He had been waiting for a chance to really show what he could do for some time; he wasnt going to let it pass him by.
Im not surprised that I did that to him because Ive always known that Im capable of that kind of display, he tells irish-boxing.com.
I do it every week in the gym. I work hard and I have quality sparring so Im confident of what I can do in myself. Just getting the opportunity to show other people what I can do is nearly the harder part.
I believe I can do great things in my career but I need to be given the chances. But I think Ive climbed a fair bit up the ladder now on the back of that performance. I think it made a few people sit up and take notice, which is a very positive thing for me.
When I started off my career I was with Frank Warren and my first few fights were on British television and they were raving about me then. So, they just thought I slipped off the radar for a while. But I hadnt I was just fighting in Ireland, which I absolutely loved.
Its given my own supporters a chance to come and watch me fight. Its been brilliant. But the British fans and the Sky lads were probably thinking that because they hadnt heard from me in a while that Id been inactive. But that wasnt the case. Ive been very busy in the past year and a half on Brian Peters shows and its been great for me. He brought me to Belfast on the John Duddy-Howard Eastman card, to Limerick with Andy Lee and Letterkenny on my own show, so its been great.
Still, McCloskeys problem up until the Lynes fight had been convincing the doubters in spite of the impressive nature of his displays against fighters of the calibre of Tontcho Tontchev, Manuel Garnica and Cesar Bazan.
Still, those in the know were well aware that McCloskey was a coming fighter and that, coupled with the fact that elusive southpaws are avoided like the plague anyway, meant that the 29-year-old Dungiven native did not make for an attractive proposition for any titleholder in the 140lbs division.
However, there were those that remained unconvinced, believing that McCloskey was being wrapped in cotton wool by promoter Brian Peters and trainer John Breen. Indeed, Ring Magazine went as far as to label him the most over-protected fighter in the light-welterweight division. That stung.
Theyve said Im a protected fighter when, in reality, Im actually an avoided fighter, he argues.
Lynes took the fight against me and fair play to him for that, because many wouldnt. I suppose in a way he had to because he wanted the title regardless and maybe thought that because it was somewhat short notice for me that I might not be in the very best condition. But I was on the ball anyway, Id done ten weeks of hard training so I was more than ready for it.
Now, I probably would have done more training if Id known I was going to be in a scheduled title fight but I was in great shape all the same. John knew I was in great shape, too, and he jumped at the opportunity when it was offered to us.
He couldnt contain his excitement, to be honest, because he knew I was ready and I knew it, too. After being left on the outside for so long, I knew this was my route into the British, European and world title picture.
Indeed, McCloskey, now with a belt around his waist, has options more options that at any previous juncture in his career. Encouragingly, he is well aware that picking the right one requires serious thought.
Considering what Im after doing, Ive opened a lot of doors and thats a great position to now be in, he explained.
Ill probably sit down with Brian and John in the early part of the New Year and decide what were doing.
Id say theres a very good chance that Ill probably defend the title. And if I do defend I want to do it at home.
We might even go after the European title straight away but I suppose the sensible thing to do would be to make a mandatory title defence, probably early in 2009.
And, as he alluded to, his dream is for his first outing as the new British light-welterweight champion to be as close to his native Dungiven as possible.
The chances of staging a title fight in such a small town would be very limited, he concedes. “But maybe Derry or even Letterkenny again.
Belfast is an option, too, because I train up here and could get a good crowd. But whatever Brian comes up with Ill go along with. Well have a good chat about it anyway and Im sure well come up with something good.
And the question of exactly who he would like to fight next brings a predictably bullish response from the undefeated McCloskey.
Ill really fight anybody, to be honest, he declares. I feel I can go as far as world title level so it makes no odds to me who they put in front of me.
Ive never turned a fight down in my life. If Id been offered Ricky Hatton on December 5, Id have fought him! Thats just how I feel at the moment.
I feel like Im on the way up. Im young and Im hungry. I just want to keep fighting and keep winning. I didnt get here by fluke. Ive worked hard my whole life for this and Im not about to let up now that Ive got a British title.