The 13th Round: Misunderstood Ormond still has plenty to give – but World title hopes look over

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Following his knockout loss in Scotland on Saturday night, it’s fair to say that it has been a nightmare two years for Stephen Ormond [21(11)-3(1)].

One of the most talented Irish boxers of the past few years and the man appointed by Bernard Dunne as the next star of Dublin boxing, it just hasn’t gone right for ‘The Rock,’ who is something of a misunderstood figure.

Now, at 33 and a half years old, up at a new weight, coming off a knockout loss, and having lost his US backing, a World title sadly does not look to be in Ormond’s future.

Many feel that the Clondalkin fighter should retire, and if indeed that is Ormond’s choice, it is a perfectly acceptable one. The Dubliner has achieved more than the vast majority have ever dreamed of. However, if he does decide to stay, he is still a top quality boxer and there are a multitude of fights at Irish, British, and even European level to be had should he want them.

Regardless of any decision on his future, looking over Ormond’s career is something of a ‘what could have been’ story and the crowd-pleaser is perhaps given an unfair appraisal by those who are not too well-acquainted with the intricacies of his career.

Following an apprenticeship served in America and Ireland, Ormond became a road warrior under Frank Warren. On the books of Queensberry, but always the ‘opponent’ for in-house fights. In 2012 there was a hugely questionable loss to Scot Paul Appleby in Scotland. The Rock would rebound and claim the WBO European title and have three defences against strong opposition, Derry Matthews in his home city of Liverpool especially.

A World ranking secured and solidified, Ormond was given a title eliminator, again as an in-house ‘opponent’ against Terry Flanagan. A postponed first date due to illness, followed by the death of Ormond’s grandmother, who had raised him since childhood, during the refixed fight week resulted in Ormond going into the bout in no fit frame of mind. An off-key Ormond was subsequently disqualified in the tenth of a competitive fight. A quiet man to begin with, and certainly not one to make excuses, Ormond was therefore viewed by many afterwards as merely an ‘idiot’ who had blown his chance.

Rather than feel sorry for himself, the Celtic Warrior fighter instead put the head down and tried to rebuild. A promised rematch with Flanagan never materialised while Eddie Hearn did not want to even consider Ormond as a potential opponent for Anthony Crolla, Kevin Mitchell, or Ricky Burns. With the UK looking like a no-go, Ormond elected to take the US route.

Three wins Stateside pole-vaulted Ormond into contention with the IBF. Around this time, the battle to make the 135lbs lightweight limit became more intense. A move 5lbs north to light welter was long-mooted, but the prize of a World title fight hung tantalisingly close. The penultimate step was a World title eliminator in Philadelphia in August with rising star Alejandro Luna. A tough, but hugely winnable fight for Ormond. It would be a disaster however as Ormond badly missed weight. Again, those not in the know blasted Ormond as merely an ‘idiot’ who had again blown his chance.

In actual fact, the episode in Philadelphia is more complicated than Ormond being too ‘lazy’ to make weight (Indeed, ask any Irish fighter who is the hardest trainer they know and Ormond’s name will repeatedly pop up). Firstly, the date of the title eliminator was brought forward which didn’t help an already-strained Ormond but he went along. Then the gym in the hotel he was put up in had an incorrectly calibrated scales (whether through skulduggery or otherwise) which told him on the morning of the weigh-in that he was at 135lbs. Stepping on the scales at the weigh-in Ormond learnt, too late, that he was actually 139lbs. A frantic sweat session saw him get down to 137lbs with no hope of further loss. Ormond therefore withdrew and rehydrated but was still forced to officially weigh-in a second time – leading to the 146lbs figure that was bandied about in the aftermath and used as fuel by those who dismissed The Rock as a top-level fighter.

Ormond’s weight issues may seem odd on the face of it, with his size suggesting that lightweight shouldn’t pose a problem. However the broad-shouldered and insanely hard-training Dubliner can no longer make it down. Perhaps his body-composition and strength training could be altered, but light welterweight now seems like his only option.

For the second year running, Ormond decided against retirement and looked to reinvent himself at 140lbs with MGM. First up was a relatively short-notice six-round, cobweb-blower, of a fight against Zoltan Szabo. Whether Ormond was under-prepared to face the game Central European, or he underestimated him, the end result was the Dubliner keeled over on the canvas following a perfect body shot in the fifth. However, even before the finishing shot there were worrying signs, with a reckless Ormond touching down for the first time in his career in the first and taking too many shots throughout.

If Ormond decides to ‘go again’ for a third time he is still well able to compete in the 140lbs division. Indeed the Paschal Collins-trained fighter remembers fondly his sparring sessions with current WBA champion Ricky Burns. Nevertheless, the deck is stacked against Ormond in terms of time. An immediate rematch with Szabo would be desirable for the purposes of banishing any demons, but he can no longer realistically look to build slowly through the ranks. Should he stay, the time is now for big fights only, fights with financial reward. It would require a return to the road-warrior days of old but it could result in some brilliant scraps.

Perhaps we could get lucky, perhaps Ormond will be viewed as ‘shot’ and a fight with Burns could happen. But even aside from the Scottish World champion, there are potential exciting match-ups with the likes of Josh Taylor, Tyrone Nurse, John Wayne Hibbert, Lenny Daws, or, dare we say it, Phil Sutcliffe Jr.

This is obviously all speculation and Ormond, with his World title dream looking less likely than ever, may elect to retire.

If Saturday was to have been Ormond’s final fight, it would be grossly unfair, as many are currently doing, to view his career as being a ‘wasted talent’ or a ‘missed opportunity.’ Ormond is victim of circumstance. Never one to back down from a challenge and having always given his all, Ormond carved out a career for himself and came so close to the top.

It seems like it just wasn’t meant to be.

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