It tooks six rounds for ‘Yes He Khan’ to turn into ‘We Khan’t believe it’.
10 years ago today Irish fans flooded the MEN Arena hoping to witness one of the greatest wins in Irish boxing history live.
Paul McCloskey was taking on global name Amir Khan and there was a real sense the Derry slylist could cause an upset.
Granted ‘Dudey’ wasn’t renowned as the biggest puncher but John Breen, his then coach, was adamant his charge would see out the early rounds before landing clean on the temple of doom and make the Bolton native dance in the second half of the fight.
However, a cut caused by a clash of heads prompted a controversial stoppage and we never got to see if Breen’s predictions would come true.
It has to be said Khan had looked relatively comfortable up and until that point but still, there was a massive sense of injustice after the fight.
Ten years on we look back at the fight and the fall out:
Dungiven’s McCloskey traveled with an army of Irish fans to Manchester back in 2011 to challenge Khan for the WBA strap. The fight was quite literally cut short much to the disgust of Team McCloskey, the Hearns, Irish fight fans and even the Irish media at the venue.
A clash of heads in the sixth saw the referee pull McCloskey out and the verdict went to the cards with Khan winning a unanimous technical decision
Such was the ire of the Irish media post-fight that their British counterparts became disgruntled and demanded a ban on rematch questions at the post-fight press conference, only for legendary scribe Gerry Callan to threaten to start an Irish vs England fight of a different kind there and then.
A young Hearn wasn’t going to let up either and was more than content to scream injustice directly after the clash and sang off the same hymn sheet during the days and weeks that followed.
Hearn lodged a complaint with the British Boxing Board of Control within minutes of the final bell in the MEN Arena. The Matchroom boss, whose father Barry, possibly inspired by Callan’s bravery, came close to trading blows with Khan’s management directly after the bout, stressed the Board had agreed to undergo an investigation with the WBA with a view to securing a rematch.
Hearn, then trying to forge a reputation as a big promoter, even claimed the officials showed such a degree of ineptitude in stopping the light welterweight title fight that they should consider a change in profession.
Speaking after the clash, Hearn passionately questioned: “Will we get a rematch? Most likely not.”
“Does Paul McCloskey deserve one?”
“Certainly. Will we fight to try ensure he gets another chance? Of course that is what we do for our fighters.”
“We have already spoken with the board and they have confirmed the will ask for a full explanation from the WBA. It was a very strange end to the fight. Normally they take the fighter to the corner and have a look at the cut.”
“I don’t understand why they didn’t do that. Paul has trained since he was six years old to be a world champ and you don’t give him 30 seconds to finish the round or give the corner the opportunity to try and do something is a disgrace, Hearn explained before suggesting the decision would have been different if their was a cut role reversal.”
“If Khan would have suffered a similar cut there is no chance this fight would have been stopped. Paul was confident of winning the fight since it was made. He was confident in the ring and during the ring walk. Okay he was behind on points, but he wasn’t being outclassed.”
“We all know Khan is a fast starter and Paul is a strong finisher, the fight was by no means over. I am very disappointed with Amir Khan and Freddie Roach for suggesting on radio straight after the fight that Paul wanted to quit. That certainly isn’t the case and I want everyone to know that.”
An incensed yet optimistic Hearn did try and take some positives out of was ultimately a disastrous clash claiming if nothing else McCloskey had proved his World title credentials.
The Matchroom man also had his first taste of Irish support and – although he was the panto villain the next time the Irish fight fan invaded Manchester for Carl Frampton’s victory over Scott Quigg – the promoter did expressed some fan love after the fight.
Indeed if that HBO-aired clash was the start of Hearn and Khan’s ‘differences’ it might also have been the start of the promoter’s Irish fan respect.
“The Irish fans were also unbelievable. It is unprecedented in boxing. They came over in their thousands and created an atmosphere that made the hairs on your neck stand up. No other fans would travel like that, you wouldn’t get that in an away game in a football match.”
“The fact it wasn’t on Sky is another shame cause with a bigger TV audience that crowd would have made fighters and certainly promoters sit up and take note. They would be saying Paul is a credible performer and a great ticket seller and other champions would certainly be tempted into fighting him.”
ALSO READ: Our ringside fight report from 10 years ago.
AlSO READ: McCloskey Khan tense post fight