(By Dermot Bolger)
2015 finished on a downer for our leading middleweights with Any Lee, Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan and Eamonn O’Kane all suffering reverses in their high profile fights. Victory in those final fights of 2015 would have elevated them to the next level.
For Lee, it would have seen him in the mix to face the division’s biggest stars, Golovkin and Alvarez to name but two. Well established in the US and with his mandatory defence out of the way, he could make loud noises for a unification fight, and have cause to be heard by the sports powerbrokers.
A fight with either would also guarantee a life changing purse. The rewards for O’Sullivan and O’Kane would have been the right to fight for the WBA and IBF titles respectively. Rare opportunities, chances they have craved.
2016 will be a crucial year for all the aforementon to get back in the mix at the elite level. All three fighters are now in their thirties and will be aware of the sense of urgency to strike back while they have the physical prowess to do so. We can add our other big name middleweight, Matthew Macklin, to that category too. Age should not be a factor for any them at this stage in their careers. Steve Collins was in his thirties when his career reached the lofty heights that it did. More important will be getting them the right matches to prove their worth and get back into the bigger picture.
From an Irish perspective, it would be intriguing to see them pair off in an all Irish tournament to see who comes out on top but that’s not going to happen.
Lee will no doubt yearn to win back his WBO title. He will have re-run that fateful third round over and over in his head. Had he merely lost the round 10-9 he would still be Champion. 10-7 in Saunders favour gave the Englishman a lead to hold on to rather than having to go chase the fight. Those flaws in his defence that have seen him getting tagged and dropped in not just the Saunders fight, will need to be ironed out.
The aces now though are with Saunders and Frank Warren. They have plenty of options. The clamour in the UK for him to face Eubank Jnr again will be loud. Lee may not get an immediate rematch and may be forced to look elsewhere for a title shot.
Spike O’Sullivan has an ear injury to get over as well as smarting from the Eubank loss. With five fights in 2015, periods of inactivity which had blighted his career was certainly not an issue. A break in the old routine to start 2016 will do him no harm. His crowd pleasing style will not see him short of work but crucially getting matched with the right style of fighter will be the key to getting him back on the bigger scene. He still has his North American title to defend and has an established fan base on the east coast thanks to his link up with Ken Casey and the Murphy’s Boxing banner.
Eamonn O’Kane earned plenty of plaudits for the courage and spirit he showed in going the distance with Tureano Johnson in October. He could look at the European title route or even press for a British title shot. Either of which are prestigious enough to put his name back in the bigger picture.
Matthew Macklin has paid his dues to the sport and treated us to some memorable contests over the years. He is a former European Champion and three time world title challenger. He is still has the desire for a fourth crack and is flirting with the idea of campaigning at super welterweight. A fight with another war horse, England’s Brian Rose is currently being mooted and would certainly tell us a lot more about what Mack The Knife has left in the tank.
Cool Hand Luke Keeler will hope to kick on again following his reverse in the Prizefighter tournament last February. He got back to winning ways on the Josh Warrington undercard last September and will be hoping to build on that.
Over in the US, Jason Quigley continued his progression in the pro game with six wins in six fights to up his record to a perfect 9-0, with 8 KO’s. At just 24 years of age, time most certainly is on his side. The level of opposition will be upped in 2016 but the expectation is there that the Donegal native will have a big future in the pro game.