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4 Talking Points from ‘A Night To Remember’

‘Talking Points’ is back for its first edition of 2019 following the first Irish card of the year last Saturday night in Belfast.

READ: 4 Talking Points from ‘Celtic Clash 7’

READ: 4 Talking Points from ‘The Homecoming’

The series aims to get people talking on issues, ideas, and debates which stem from shows, giving both points of view and allow readers to make up their own minds – and don’t be afraid to give us your views on Facebook and Twitter.

Here we look at ‘A Night To Remember’ at the Ulster Hall where James Tennyson made his return atop a very entertaining card – and one which raised some interesting discussions among us.

Will James Tennyson become an Irish ATG?
Following Tennyson’s bill-topping win, coach Tony Dunlop made what could be described as a big claim, stating that the Belfast boxer “will end up as one of the greatest fighters in Irish boxing history.” As always, it seems, with Tennyson, the prediction has been laughed at by some.

‘The Assassin’s’ achievements already rank highly, winning Irish, Commonwealth, and European titles as well as unsuccessfully challenging for world honours. Still only 25, and with a frame and a punch that could continue to move up through the weights, Tennyson could have another eight years and a dozen or so big fights in him – and maybe more shots at a world belt. He might not win them all, but he has proven to date that this doesn’t have to be a major issue.

Others may employ the ‘levels’ argument and believe that Tennyson has found his ceiling at continental level and, perhaps being a bit less nuanced than many of our previous world champs, will never make the breakthrough. The fact he has been stopped numerous times, too, may be a black mark in some eyes.

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Should the Ulster Hall be Belfast’s go-to mid-size venue?
The booming Belfast scene has a number of locations where pro boxing can take place but there is no doubt that the Ulster Hall is the Irish boxing family’s favourite venue. It’s a step above ‘small hall’ in most eyes and with more and more boxing looking set to take place there it could become the go-to mid-range venue for boxing in Belfast, in between the major nights at the SSE Odyssey Arena and the small hall shows at the Devenish, Europa, and Shorts.

The iconic venue has a lot going for it – the +100-year history, the amazing atmosphere it can generate, the prestige it places upon fights, and the old but true cliché that ‘there’s not a bad seat in the house’ – but then there is its size. From the Odyssey’s 9,000 down to the Ulster Hall’s 1,000 or so is a big jump and there are venues that could offer a better ‘in between’. The Waterfront does more than double the Ulster Hall and the Titanic Exhibition Centre can do even more. However, bar the show at the Titanic in November 2016, all recent cards at these venues have been extremely poorly attended.

The Ulster Hall is undeniably brilliant, but do fights such as the upcoming Luke Keeler v Conrad Cummings rematch ‘deserve’ to be seen in the flesh by more people? Should promoters, media, and boxers push for bigger nights at bigger venues and should fans make an effort to turn out when they are such venues?

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Home And Away for Hylo
Paul Hyland showed guts and guile to survive a fifth-round knockdown to score a win over the dangerous Miroslav Serban and the Lagmore lightweight now wants title fights – with his long-term goal being the British belt while reclaiming the IBF European belt, which he never lost in the ring, from Robbie Barrett is also on the agenda.

However, the Irish lightweight division has boomed in recent years. Whereas the now-BBBoC-licenced Hyland had difficulty getting an Irish title fight sanctioned in years gone by, there are now a number of rivals in the 135lbs class. New champ McCrory will step back down to super feather but Hyland has already had offers to fight Naas starlet Gary Cully, while Mayo’s Ray Moylette is also said to be keen on the fight and Stephen Ormond would no doubt like a rematch following their debated first fight.

It boils down to quite a simple question, will Hyland look to take on big British names for belts, probably bigger money, and better career-progression? Or does he fancy a domestic dalliance or two before moving into such fights? If you were to do a pros and cons list, the former would come out as more the logical option and the avenue Hyland seems set to take – but an Irish fighter’s in-built desire to prove he is top of the pile at home can never be discounted.

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MHD Ready For TV?
There’s little argument that ‘A Night To Remember’ would have looked good on TV. The venue, a bloody Irish title fight, big names such as Tennyson and Tommy McCarthy. It’s not Sky Sports or BT Sport level, granted, but that card was overall easily as good as the shows offered by TG4 or, say, S4C in Wales.

However, the MHD stable in particular are caught ‘in between’ in terms of TV. Dunlop works closely with Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn and has proven time and again that he can get his fighters big opportunities and big money through this avenue and this looks set to continue. There’s always the promise of a Ryan Burnett card at the Odyssey but this can not be counted on in the slightest.

Could something big, organic, and self-sustaining be built in Belfast? BBCNI and UTV have shown an interest over the years – although the Cyclone experiment would not work in Ireland. If he were to receive TV backing, does Dunlop have the talent and profile in his stable, and the links within Irish boxing, to put on regular big cards featuring title fights? Or is Belfast just too small and will forever be where fighters build before taking a chance on a big card in Britain?

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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