FeaturesThe 13th Round

The 13th Round: Irish boxing is doing things right

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Normally for this column we pick the biggest story to emerge in the world of Irish boxing over the past few days, but we are spoiled for choice today.

Last week was one of those sort of weeks that restored your faith in boxing. It had everything, at all levels of Irish boxing.

While the mind-numbing merry-go-round regarding the World heavyweight titles continues, Irish boxing showed how it was done. Big fights are happening, the suits behind the scenes are working together, and boxing almost seems to make sense.

On Monday it was revealed that Mick Conlan would not only make his debut at Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Day, he will actually headline the whole damn show. An extremely rare move by promotional behemoth Top Rank, it shows the confidence they have in the Belfast man who moves into centre stage a lot earlier than previously predicted. In one night Conlan will become probably the second most well-known Irish fighter globally (if he isn’t already after the Olympics). Straight into a six-rounder, should Conlan’s debut be a success in terms of fans and television, as well as performance, expect him to be fast-tracked.

On Wednesday FS Promotions confirmed their second show which will take place on December 3rd at the National Stadium. Their first offering in June was a packed affair, one of the most entertaining cards in recent memory, with plenty of well-matched fights. Expect ‘History in the Making’ to be similar with two important differences – it will be shown live on free-to-air television (Sky ch. 468), and it will be headlined by a World title fight.

Boxing doesn’t always lend itself to ‘happily ever after’ stories, but Christina McMahon will be given the chance for a fairytale win on December 3rd. The 42 year old Monaghan woman will take on WBA super flyweight champ Linda Laura Lecca of Peru on the top of the bill. It is a third World title fight for Lightning, but most importantly it is the first of which that will play out on her terms – which is merely an insistence on a level playing field.

Thursday saw the big news in terms of the global boxing scene.  Carl Frampton will defend his WBA featherweight title in a rematch with Leo Santa Cruz at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on January 28th. A third massive fight in a row for Frampton, it’s boxing done right – big fights that the fans want to see, no keep-busys, and no will-they-wont-they soap opera.

Their first fight in New York this July was a Fight of the Year contender, and while their was little dispute over the result, a rematch was certainly warranted. Indeed the fight remains a tight one with no clear favourite and plenty of unanswered questions going into the return leg. Did Santa Cruz underestimate Frampton? Will Frampton be even better and more adjusted to featherweight for his second fight? How much did the illness of his father affect Santa Cruz? Does the more versatile Frampton have Santa Cruz ‘figured out’?

We can’t wait until January 28th to find out.

If you’re a fan of the Irish scene, Friday was manna from heaven. First, Mark Dunlop confirmed the first show to take place in Ireland next year, and then Phil Sutcliffe Jr secured the big fight against a top British light welter that he has craved.

So, on Saturday February 4th we return to the Europa Hotel in Belfast for an MHD Promotions dinner show, the boxing bread and butter that has helped keep the pro game alive in the Titanic City. Paul Hyland Jr will headline again and looks set to have a step up, with Dunlop eyeing a BBBoC Celtic title fight for the Belfast lightweight.

First up in Belfast though is Phil Sutcliffe Jr on November 5th at the Titanic Exhibition Centre. Seemingly from nowhere, an assumed building fight on the Boxnation card has become a potential bill-topper against Prizefighter champion and two-time British title challenger Chris Jenkins. The Welsh light welter brings an exciting style and the perfect opportunity for Sutcliffe Jr to get his name out there after what seems like an eternity as Irish boxing’s ‘worst kept secret.’

On Saturday there was more surprising Irish fight news with the announcement that Dublin’s Declan Geraghty will face Belfast’s James Tennyson for the Irish super featherweight title in December. Respectively the pair are aged 26 and 23, with records of 13(3)-1(0) and 16(13)-2(2), a southpaw slickster and a ferocious puncher. It is the dream Irish title fight, a clash of styles pick ’em, the best bout for the green belt in recent memory all things considered.

Finally on Sunday evening there was confirmation that Jason Quigley will face another strong opponent on another huge card. The Donegal middleweight boxes Jorge Melendez [29(27)-7(4)-1] on the Bernard Hopkins v Joe Smith Jr undercard on December 17th. ‘El Animal’ will feature prominently on the show and it is another opportunity for the already World-ranked Ballybofey star to show of his skills in what will be a tough fight. Should he prevail, it leads to an interesting 2017 for Quigley, with a fight against a ‘name’ (read: Gabe Rosado, Sergio Mora, Fernando Guerrero, John Thompson) looking likely ahead of a World title fight in 2018.

Now, this is boxing, and there is sure to be a hiccup with at least one of these good news stories at some stage. However, as weeks go, it was been a pretty good one for Irish boxing.

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