Late last month the Wexford heavyweight saw the first blotch on his record as he was held to a majority draw by Joel Caudle in New Hampshire.
Underperformance from him, the fight of his life from his opponent, a fight-week illness, plenty of uncertainty, a reduction in rounds, and some quiet harsh cards all combined to momentarily stop the Kennedy train.
While his undefeated record remains in tact, Kennedy has been left extremely disappointed by the whole affair but remains upbeat that there are still big things in the store for him in 2018.
Following a strong start, things started to unravel for the Gorey Garda in Gilford and he recalled to Irish-Boxing.com how “I came back to the corner and Paschal [Collins, trainer and manager], he has a thing, it’s for your own confidence during fights, where he always asks you how you’re feeling, anticipating that you’ll say ‘I feel amazing’. I came back at the end of the second round, I was panicking, I looked at him and said ‘Paschal, my legs are gone, I’m in trouble’.”
“I’d no zip, the zip in me was gone. It ended up that I fought that fight completely on heart and guts. I couldn’t implement my style in the fight or my gameplan.”
“I’m not taking anything away from him [Caudle], he was far better than his record and he had trained very hard, they had turned up to upset the applecart and I suppose they did by getting the draw.”
That said, and especially now after a few times watching the fight back, Kennedy believes he was deserving of a win (the final cards were 78-76 in his favour and two drawn 76-76 scores).
Breaking it down, the Celtic Warriors workhorse noted how “during the fight I thought [I won] the first and second easily, third he started to come into in but I still won, fourth you’d probably give to him, fifth he had a very strong round, six you could to him as well and the I thought I took him apart in the seventh and eighth.”
“If the eighth round had have been a four-minute round I’d have stopped him Hindsight is a great thing. I hurt him early in the fight as well and I didn’t notice.”
“I had it five-three and I thought I was being harsh on myself. I wasn’t ‘done’ by judges, I only have myself to blame because I only performed to 30% of what I’m capable of.”
Kennedy won the Massachusetts and New England titles last year with big victories over Jesse Barboza and Alexis Santos respectively before picking up the minor IBA Inter-Continental belt versus Danny Calhoun.
The IBA route is one he is now considering exploring and, surveying his options, he outlined how “I’m still unbeaten, which is something I’m grateful for but, if you look at the fight at the end, I’m devastated with a draw, it wasn’t part of the plan, it knocks me back down in the rankings.”
“I was devastated with the result. I went back to the dressing room and it was like a loss to me. Rematching him [Caudle]… he’s of no benefit to me going forward or back. If I was to beat him in a rematch, it’s still of no benefit to me regarding here I want to be at the end of the year.”
“[Hall of Fame Referee] Steve Smoger, the president of the IBA, came into me afterwards and said ‘Niall, I’m not going to say that was a robbery, it was a tough fight, but you won that fight five-three in my opinion and all I can say is that you’re still our champion’.”
“I still thought he was just putting a gloss on it, but then he turned around and said ‘listen, Niall, you do whatever you need to get back, but it would be a massive honour and I would love you to fight for our World title by the end of the year’. So that’s where I’m aiming for at the minute.”
The 33-year-old, who will freely admit that he has suffered with confidence issues in the past, is now well able to see the positives from a disappointing night.
Kennedy described how “Paschal and myself had a good talk about it. I’m devastated over not winning – but I fought at less than thirty percent for a good six rounds of that fight and it just shows that I have the heart and the guts that will get me through.”
“I proved it in the Santos fight that it was there but I suppose it’s good that I went to the well again and it was there.”
“Preparations had been awesome, physically I was in great shape, but I picked up a little virus and I was flat all day – I thought I was just nervous”
“He [Caudle] has thought me one thing, I can never overlook anyone… I wasn’t overlooking him, it was more I didn’t know enough about him, I went off previous performances which he wasn’t that fit for.”
The uncertainty around the opposition – with the fight date going from Fabricio Maldonado over ten to Mexican Christian Mariscal over eight and then on to Caudle – unsettled Kennedy.
It’s something that will need to change for the focused fighter who noted that “to date, I’ve only had two opponents that I’ve been able to have a camp for [Barboza and Santos] – and I think they were my two best performances”
“I was training for a ten rounder from early out and it ended up being an eight rounder, maybe it’s just we’re going to need confirmation early out. Finding out opponents the week before, I know it happens a lot as you’re starting out, but when I’m trying to climb it’s going to be up to Murphys Boxing, and I believe they will, to get me opponents [confirmed] in time to prepare for.”
“He was on notice from six weeks out, preparing for me. He gets six weeks, I get ten days. He was supposed to be fighting Charles Martin or something.”
“We were hoping it would be made an NABA title fight, we’re going to have to have a little sit-down to iron things out.”
“It’s not like they’ve ever let me down, Murphys have been so good to me, I don’t like saying anything negative – and for most boxers it wouldn’t affect them – but for me and the way I fight and approach things, I would rather know.”
For now, though, the main thing is just getting back in the ring and getting another win – with an Autumn date looking likeliest.
Kennedy explained how “I personally would like to get back at it as quick as possible but July and August are quiet months. I sent Ken [Casey, Murphys Boxing boss] a message straight away saying ‘Ken, get me back in the ring as quick as possible to get rid of that’.”
“If I could box next week I’d box next week because the fitness is there,” added Kennedy before ending by thanking his sponsors Conal’s Tree Services, Fun Palace Casino, Porter’s Bar, Toss Kavanagh’s Bar, Whizz Internet, and The Dinky Diner along with the support of his colleagues at Wicklow Garda Station.
Photo Credit: Joseph Kelley for Murphys Boxing