The 13th Round: Dunlop brings Boxing back to Belfast with best show yet

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Professional boxing made its triumphant return to Belfast at the weekend after a long eight months.

Again it was Mark Dunlop and MHD Promotions who put on the card, feeding the hungry fight fans in the Titanic City and helping keeping the pro game alive in Ireland’s boxing capital.

In truth, we have been starved and would have taken any card, just to see boxing back in Ireland again. However, we were given a brilliant, well-matched seven-fight dinner show.

The card was titled ‘Another Level,’ referencing the step-up in class headliner Paul Hyland Jr was due to take against Felix Lora. Visa issues meant that the fight did not take place, but the title remained apt, with MHD Promotions going to another level and putting on their best show yet.

Initially we were concerned about the atmosphere this card could generate, considering there was just one Belfast fighter on the bill. We needn’t have worried, it was bedlam in the Europa Hotel. Admittedly the card seemed slightly disorganised with some relatively long gaps and changes to the running order, but the atmosphere did not suffer one bit. One thing which should be noted is that the card was streamed live on Facebook via AMMG Media, a welcome move that allowed those not in attendance a chance to see Irish boxers in action and is something which should happen for all non-televised shows.

The card began with Loughlinstown’s Jay Byrne in his second professional contest. The Enniskerry YC player-manager’s fight certainly had a bit of an away-day feel to it, with a loud traveling support from Dublin making themselves heard. Byrne found it difficult against the ultra-awkward Liam Griffiths, but still landed some big shots. Afterwards he emphasised his desire to move into big fights quickly, and we could see the 30 year old in an intriguing bout next time out, with a date tentatively eyed for December.

36 year old Ian Tims then made his MGM debut and marked his first fight back with Phil Sutcliffe Sr with an entertaining win over Lithuanian Remigijus Ziausys. While it was more of a rust-shaker of a fight, it was the best Timsey had looked in years, with some combination punching that made his desire for big fights seem perfectly plausible.

Ronnie Clark showed that he will be an exciting addition to the Irish scene, outpointing Reynaldo Cajina. The Scottish super featherweight has joined MHD Promotions and certainly brings a bit of razzmatazz, with a passionate fanbase, a surprisingly fist-thumping personalised walk-on tune, and an all-action style. With Dunlop having a solid relationship with MGM, a clash between Clark and Dublin’s Deco Geraghty is something which appeals.

Performance of the night undoubtedly goes to Tyrone McCullagh, with the Derry super bantam oozing class in his fourth round stoppage over Nicaraguan step-up opponent Edwin Tellez. Showing patience, maturity, and good shot selection, the bout looked like McCullagh’s fifteenth fight rather than his fifth. White Chocolate also probably elicited the loudest cheers of the night from his certifiably bonkers fans who drank the bar dry.

Headliner Paul Hyland Jr was up next and the Belfast lightweight dealt brilliantly with a late change of opponent, Nelson Altamirano, who turned out to be much heavier than originally assumed. It was a trademark Hylo war for much of the bout, but the 26 year old did use his boxing in patches to give himself a break against a great late replacement opponent. In the last twelve months Hyland has been involved in 28 tough rounds with game opponents, Bence Molnar, Virgile Degonzaga, Jacek Wylezol, and now Alramirano. He is ready for the next level, which admittedly Felix Lora would have provided. With the Irish title looking unlikely in the immediate future, a BBBoC Celtic title seems a logical move and Scotland’s Jordan McCory [10(2)-2(1)-1], beaten earlier this year by Ronnie Clark, should be given a phone call.

Following on from Hyland was the man who badly wants to fight him, Feargal McCrory. The Coalisland puncher was involved in a war with Ivailo Boyanov, in what was the fight of the night. McCrory is back out in November in Dublin, hopefully over six rounds, and if he can continue to build momentum, a fight in early 2017 with Hyland is a guaranteed fight for the ages.

Finally there was Jobstown debutant Carl McDonald, with the feel-good story of the week winning against Kamil Jaworek. So often in boxing the joy is sucked out via bad fights, rivals not facing each other, and so much waiting, but seeing McDonald fulfill a lifelong dream and box professional would bring a smile to the most hardened of observers.

An exhausting, frantic, night, it’s good to have boxing back in Ireland.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie