We continue our look at the year ahead with a preview of the super bantamweight and featherweight divisions – with world titles and potential domestic wars on the horizon.
Super Bantamweight – 122lbs (55.3kg)
Irish title – vacant
BUI Celtic title – vacant
At the Top
Irish boxing has one world title challenge in 2018 already guaranteed through TJ Doheny [18(13)-0]. After biding his time and overcoming a late change of opponent, country, and climate, Doheny defeated Thailand’s Mike Tawatchai in an IBF final eliminator in Bangkok last month.
That victory means ‘The Power’ is now set for a shot at the title in the Summer. Doheny will face the winner of the March bout between champion Ryosuke Iwasa [24(16)-2(2)] of Japan and unheralded Filipino Ernesto Saulong [21(8)-2(1)-1]. Southpaw Iwasa will be a heavy favourite for this bout, however the IBF title has been passed around a lot since it was vacated by Carl Frampton, with three successive upsets.
Portlaoise-born, Sydney-based, and Boston-trained, Doheny will have no problems travelling for his shot – nor will have much issue ticking over until the Summer – and, should he prevail, there is potential for a historic fight with Ryan Burnett.
Tyrone McCullagh [9(5)-0] finally got the step-up he craved last month and dominated previously undefeated German Tom Tran. ‘White Chocolate’ will now want to claim his first titles and both he and Scottish champion Joe Ham [13(5)-0] have stated their willingness to trade leather – perhaps for the BBBoC Celtic title – on the big BT Sport Carl Frampton v Nonito Donaire card at the SSE Odyssey Arena in Belfast on April 7th.
Hopefully their calls are heard by the powers that be, however there are also other avenues to titles such as Commonwealth champion Ashley Lane [11(1)-8(4)-2].
The two remaining Irish super bantams then look to be a perfect match-up. Both in their late 20s, Belfast’s Sean Magee [1(1)-0] and Dubliner Carl McDonald [2(0)-1(0)] don’t have the time or the backing to be built in the traditional manner, and a fight between the pair makes sense. McDonald has already had an all-Irish fight with Regan Buckley, in which he lost but still enhanced his reputation, and if Magee can get another fight or two under his belt a BUI Celtic title fight in Dublin could be a runner.
Featherweight – 126lbs (57.2kg)
Irish title – vacant
BUI Celtic title – Eric Donovan
At the Top
While it may be too early to describe it as a ‘legacy fight’. Carl Frampton [24(14)-1(0)] has the opportunity to add a massive name to his resume on April 7th when he takes on four-weight champion and former pound-for-pound star Nonito Donaire [38(24)-4(1)].
While somewhat faded, ‘The Filipino Flash’ won’t be a walkover and acts as a final roadblock between Frampton and another world title shot. Should he win in April, the Belfast man will remain on course for a dream Windsor Park fight in August and a chance to become a four-time world champion against, most likely, the winner of Lee Selby’s IBF title defence against Josh Warrington in May.
Beyond this, if the unpredictable game of boxing goes as predicted, ‘The Jackal’ may look to squeeze in three fights into the year – a Christmas rubber unification with WBA champ Leo Santa Cruz in Las Vegas should the Californian, as expected, beat Abner Mares? Or perhaps even a big Belfast bash with Scott Quigg if the English fighter can shock WBO champ Oscar Valdez and prove his worth in the featherweight division.
Everyone wants to see Marco McCullough [18(11)-4(3)] get a belt, but the British title avenue looks somewhat closed off his defeators Ryan Walsh and Isaac Lowe facing off for the championship next month. Similarly, it would not be good to see McCullough come in as the B-side to heavy-punching Matchroom hotshot and Commonwealth champion Reece Bellotti. Perhaps though the BBBoC Celtic title could be an option, and a fight against Scottish champion Lewis Paulin [11(2)-0], who just scored an impressive upset win over Stephen Tiffney, would appeal.
BUI Celtic featherweight champion Eric Donovan [6(3)-0] is in a race to get to eight fights and potential consideration for EBU titles. European champion Marc Vidal is set to rematch Sergio Blanco, while Carmine Tommasone and Kamil Laszczyk will go head-to-head for the EU belt. None of these potential opponents would faze southpaw Donovan who had an impressive breakthrough 2017, headlining three shows. ‘Lilywhite Lightning’ needs a big fight first though, with some suggesting an Irish title bout with former champ McCullough, while Czech slugger Martin Parlagi [21(12)-2(0)-1] would provide a real acid test.
The Conlan Revolution continues this year following five wins in 2017, and the Top Rank prospect returns to The Theater at Madison Square Garden for another St Patrick’s Day headline slot before his big Belfast homecoming in the Summer. There will also most likely be a headline slot in Boston as well as some high profile undercard fights in a year where Conlan will be aiming to fight for a rankings title from one of the four major sanctioning bodies and a subsequent move into their Top 15.
In terms of all-Irish fights, there is the potential for a series of wars among come-forward trio Allan Phelan [9(6)-3(1)-1], Ciaran McVarnock [9(3)-0-1], and Sean Higginson [1(0)-0]. A Belfast battle between McVarnock and Higginson especially appeals and would threaten to break punch-count records.
2018 will also see us welcome back Belfast’s Stevie Quinn Jr [8(2)-2(0)] after two years away, as well as welcoming Eoin McGrath into the pros – while the Kildare fighter’s teenage team-mate Liam Gaynor [2(0)-0] will be aiming to continue his impressive start to pro life.