By Jonny Stapleton
The all-Irish fight’s stock has never been as high – 2018 looks set to be the year of the domestic dust-up.
We have yet to reach March and no fewer than six eye-catching all Irish fights have been officially announced and that’s without taking Ireland’s Last Man Standing into account.
Four of that half dozen are set to be broadcast live on TV, one tops a bill and the other is an intriguing warm-up to the eight-man single-elimination Prizefighter-style tournament that itself can only lead to more derbies down the line.
It’s a positive move for the sport and one that has excited fans. The power of the all-Irish fight and what it brings to a show has been ignored for far too long. While record and experience-building scraps are essential in the sport, fans would prefer to go and watch bill that features a narrative-packed fight or two than a card stacked top to bottom with what can sometimes be effective walkovers.
Such cards turn fans into supporters – you pay to help the fighter who you have an affiliation to rather than attend a fight night to experience all the things ‘hardcores’ love about the sport – tension, skill in adversity, passion, guts, guile and so on.
Finally, a change in tact seems to have accrued as promoters have realised that each card need sat the very least one good fight for fans to hang their hat on.
In Frank Warren’s case he has served up three with Luke Keeler vs Conrad Cummings, Tyrone McKenna vs Phillip Sutcliffe Jr, and Jono Carroll vs Marco McCullough all populating the massive Frampton versus Donaire undercard.
Red Corner and Assassin Promotions are going all out Irish on tomorrow night as they bring Last Man Standing to the Stadium with a mouthwatering Irish title fight between Craig O’Brien and Jay Byrne to play out on the live TV undercard. Also on that card is a chance for Mark Morris and Victor Rabei to make a name for themselves by winning a derby that despite being further down the card has peaked interest.
The Celtic Clash series has its roots in the all-Irish fight and in the fifth installment they serve up a fight that is probably the best recent advocate of the domestic derby. Stephen McAfee and Colin O’Donovan were relative unknowns before they traded leather in a last-minute fight last year, but they served up such a contest that they have jumped to bill toppers in just their fourth contests as they rematch in an eagerly anticipated BUI Celtic super featherweight title fight.
With the change in direction, we here at Irish-Boxing.com foresee a host of classics playing out over the coming months and years. We predict all of the six already made will be entertaining in their own right and we assure at least one will go down as classics of some form.
With so many all Irish fights likely to entertain in 2018 we are confident our own personal Top Five All Irish Fights will change before 2019 arrives, so we felt now was as good a time as any to share the five we currently rate highest.
The rules in picking are simple – it has to be a fight between two Irish combatants and you had to be there to witness it live.
Declan Trainor vs Stephen Reynolds
This wasn’t just a small hall classic – it was one of the greatest Irish fights of all time. To say those who left the Devenish on the night of the 14 of September in 2013 felt as privileged as those who left The Point theater five years earlier after Bernard Dunne beat Ricardo Cordoba is only a slight exaggeration.
The few hundred that witnessed this Celtic Clash 1 headline bout hadn’t, like the thousands that packed into the Dublin docklands venue, seen a man realise a World title dream, but they had seen a similar all action awe-inspiring do-or-die blood-and-guts battle.
Unlike some of domestic duels, this one provided little in way of verbal sparring. Both were respectful and matter of fact in the build-up, but the fact there was no needle made what happened in the ring all the more special. There was something wholesome and beyond-samurai honourable about two men going to those depths without being able to draw on a grudge in tough times.
Regardless the fight didn’t really need trash talk it had a ready made narrative. It was the young power punching prospect against the oldest old-school fighter in town.
While Trainor nowhere hit the baddie heights of Ivan Drago there was a real Rocky IV feel to this one. A personal trainer, the Warrenpoint man was going to use all his fitness knowledge to get marginal gains for the fight, while put simply you could imagine former Senior Champion Reynolds running barefoot up mountains and punching trees on the way down as he prepared for the Celtic Nations cruiserweight title fight.
Reynolds was the epitome of no-frills right down to his short simple black shorts, unshaven chest, speckles of grey hair and a face that told a story of countless hard spars while Trainor wore sunglasses at the weigh-in, was cut, slick and handsome. The narrative set itself and people were interested to see how the fight would play out.
However, even the most optimistic optimist couldn’t have predicted how the story would unfold. In a hot, atmospheric, and compact Devenish, Reynolds and Trainor produced more action and drama over five-and-a-half rounds than Bruce Willis managed in all his 47 Die Hard films.
The fight had everything – guts, cuts, knockdowns, heart, skill, and more. The first four rounds were back-and-forth with both shipping big shots and coming back for more.
There was enough in those 12 minutes to make this one a memorable fight, but what happened over the next four-and-a-half made it the best fight this lucky writer has ever seen live.
With the tension and atmosphere starting to smoother the ring the fifth saw ‘The Block’ floor the Ulsterman with a massive right hook. At that point, we looked set for a dramatic ending but it was just chapter one of one of the most dramatic few minutes an Irish ring had seen. Trainor rose to unsteady feet and looked set for the taking. The Sligo man sprinted in Carl Lewis-style to apply the finish, but was caught with a thunderous right hand and hit the deck heavy.
The veteran hardman somehow managed to recover from a shot that looked Carl Froch George Groves II-esqe in weight and miraculously survived the round.
Ironically the round looked to have taken more out of the younger man. Trainor looked done in the corner, blood streaming from his nose as he battled hard to catch his breath.
He somehow managed to get up off the stool for the sixth, but a possessed Reynolds wasn’t long about putting him out of his misery. The Block hunted down his foe in the sixth and forced the referee into a compassionate stoppage amidst scenes of pandemonium.
Unfortunately, that was both fighters third and final fight. Tranior has flirted with comebacks without lacing the gloves up again, while Reynolds never went on to fight for the Irish title, a fight that he always said would have been his last.
Still despite the fact neither had long careers both and their fight will live long in the memory of those that attended.
Willie Casey vs Paul Hyland
This fight was historic before it even started. It was the first ever European title fight to be contested between two Irish men.
The 2010 clash had Brian Peters’s thumbprint all over it and, as a result, was the most high profile fight on this list and, unlike the others it was a clash that garnered mass media attention.
Such was the fuss made from the off that there was always interest, but it wasn’t until a Saturday Night Show appearance that interest piqued.
It was billed as a clash of styles. ‘Big Bang’ Willie Casey had just bullied his way to Prizefighter glory after stepping in as a last-minute replacement for the legendary Wayne McCullough and Paulie Hyland was renowned as the most skillful prospect the country had at the time, the youngest, and most naturally gifted of three accomplished boxing brothers.
However, that contrast was exaggerated in almost cartoon fashion and to those who had never seen pugilists in action live on prime time Saturday night TV.
Once the two fighters sat down on Brendan O’Connor’s couch Ireland sat up and took note. Before a word was said two very different characters were being portrayed. Hyland took the idea he was a stylist to new levels sitting confidently legs crossed, arm draped over the couch in a tailormade suit and a cravat. It was typical of the late great boxing man that was Paddy Hyland – dress to impress. Casey on the other hand was at home in his Ben Sherman jumper but a little more nervous on the couch.
However, once the Limerick man got chatting he began to entertain and even had his opponent to be laughing. Such was the pair’s appearance that when they returned to the show closer to the fight they set a viewing figure record for the show.
However, it was the first installment that set the narrative and from the outside looking in seems to have won the fight for the Phil Sutcliffe trained ‘Big Bang’.
As far as everyone was concerned – and everyone extended beyond the boxing family on this occasion due to the press coverage – this was your classic boxer versus puncher match-up.
It was an angle the press lapped up and one that seemed to upset Team Hyland. The gifted Hyland seemed hurt, surmising the billing suggested he was all skill and no will. That promoted claims Casey wasn’t worthy of the ‘Big Bang’ nickname and the Limerick man could be beaten on the back foot or in a toe-to-toe exchange if needs be.
Both started off respectful in their interviews, but some sly digs started to creep into proceedings and by the time the fight came around there was a degree of tension between the pair that only made the fight more of a must watch.
Hyland’s evasive skills were there for all to see even before the first bell of the manic UL Arena hosted fight night, that saw wins for Martin Rogan and double success for Mike Perez – who fought twice on the card.
The Dubliner had abuse among other things hurled at him as he made way to the squared circle. Casey, on the other hand, climbed through the ropes to a hero’s welcome.
Noise levels were deafening by the time both were announced and the crowd were not left disappointing as an all-action fight ensued.
It was clear the youngest of the Hyland brothers felt he was the bigger puncher of the two and he was more than willing to stand and trade in a bid to prove he could win in a different manner than most were predicting.
That desire to be macho negated the often ridiculous skill levels of the Jobsotwn favourite and allowed Casey to unload and often bully his opponent back the ropes.
There were some great exchanges and each round was close, but Casey began to look the stronger of the two as the fight wore on. By the fourth he was on top and he finally forced the stoppage when pinning his foe back against the ropes and unloading like his life depended on it.
The victory was met with wild home celebrations and, at that point, it looked like a new RTE star was born. Kiko Martinez was in the ring the after the European title was buckled around the Limerick mans waist and it was all set up for a TV broadcast clash up between to hard men.
However, ‘Big Bang’ elected against keeping the European title and went on to challenge one Guillermo Rigondeuax for the WBA interim belt – a fight he lost within a round.
Casey will never admit taking that risk was a mistake and will argue he couldn’t turn down the chance to fight a legend for a strap but, in hindsight, the move may have cost him some major national TV broadcast nights.
Declan Geraghty vs Jono Carroll
The adrenaline drains from your body as quickly as the seats empty. As soon as the main event of an arena or stadium fight night is done there is an instant comedown. The crowd gets smaller and the venue looks big cold and empty, you can hear yourself think again but are too drained to put two thoughts together. The chatter between journalists awaiting the post-fight press conferences is often yawn interrupted. Even the euphoria of a big home victory can’t keep the comedown at bay and the latter has proved the case for every fight this writer have been at bar one.
If that drain can take hold not long after Carl Frampton had beat Scott Quigg live on Sky Box Office, imagine what it could have been like after Matthew Macklin had lost to Jorge Sebastian Heiland, a result that shattered dreams of regular Sky Sports fight nights in Dublin city.
However, just as many carried their dejected emotional baggage out of a venue which brought so many highs in the Bernard Dunne days, Jono O’Carroll and Declan Geraghty set about restoring faith in the future of Irish boxing.
The pair set about serving up an all-Irish classic that at the very least left Irish fight fans clinging to the consolation they may see one more big fight in Dublin in the form of a rematch was inevitable.
Interestingly the bout when first made didn’t look like it would register in terms of prestige an interest. With Ian Tims and Micheal Sweeney set to trade leather on the card and the long and eagerly awaited meeting of Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan and Anthony Fitzgerald leaving Irish fight fans walking in a constant puddle of drool, Geraghty v Carroll was at best an interesting float fight despite the fact a Prizefighter slot was to be gifted to the winner.
It was a two-weight Irish amateur champion against at the time an unknown Irish fighter with just two fights under his belt – indeed, some suggested, by virtue of the fact those bouts were won Down Under that, Carroll was virtually a debutant.
However, within minutes of the press conference finishing, ‘King Kong’ started a media campaign a well funded political party looking to get into power would have been proud of and all but laid the foundations for a career that now sees him ranked #8 in the IBF rankings. Certain catchphrases appeared in every interview ‘he is afraid’ ‘he will run all night’, ‘he hasn’t the balls’, ‘the dancing queen won’t trade and will make it boring’. It was deliberate and smart and a campaign summed up seconds after the weigh-in.
Carroll rushed over to Irish-Boxing.com and demanded we ‘turn the camera back on’. We informed him we had interviewed him less than an hour before ‘I said turn the camera back on’ was the reply. Once the red light was on told how the fight had been reduced to four rounds last-minute and explained how he felt that was proof his opponent was afraid and that he would be the victor. The message was delivered via the medium of this site, but there was only one person Carroll talking to through that lens, Declan Geraghty.
He was questioning the stylist’s manhood knowing that, if ‘Pretty Boy’ tried to reassert it in the fight, his chances of victory were better. The media campaign worked. The former Irish amateur international certainly came to fight leaving the fans and Carroll the real benefactors.
The Sky Sports staff packed away their cameras and the 3Arena staff began the clean up the venue became a small hall. Hundred drifted down from the cheap seats and crammed around ringside creating as intense an atmosphere as when 3,000-plus populated the venue minutes earlier.
Those that stayed were not disappointed. Geraghty granted Carroll’s war wish and tried to exert dominance from the off he winged in big shots with a degree of success. Carroll, however landed a big right hand that stiffened Pretty Boy’s toes never mind his legs.
The EU silver medalist showed his grit, took it, and ended the round swinging. The second and third rounds followed a similar trend both exchanging non-stop blows. A cut opened over Carroll’s eye providing the obligatory blood needed to solidify a classic while to add further drama Paschal Collins, trainer of the Carroll at the time, nearly had a fight of his own with the referee. Geraghty was then dramatically docked a point for use of the elbow in the fourth and then came out flying worried for his unbeaten status and in overexuberance used his head forcing the referee to disqualify him.
Not the ideal ending but what happened before and during made it a quickfire classic and a grudge match we should see one day in the near future.
Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan vs Anthony Fitzgerald
Not the most exciting all-Irish fight of all time. In fact, it was a one-sided, one-round blowout, but the manner in which this grudge was ended will live long in the memory of anyone that watched it ringside or live on Sky.
Spike O’Sullivan versus Anthony Fitzgerald was brewing that long that it was getting close to being overcooked, burnt and, as a result, a scrap people may not have wanted to taste.
However, when Matthew Macklin brought the Sky Sports cameras back to Dublin in 2014 this domestic clash was the perfect chief support.
There was no love ever gained for it to be lost between this pair. For years the had traded vicious verbal blows and for years the middleweight clash was the #1 on list of all-Irish fights fight fans wanted to see.
Two battle-hardened fighters who were more warrior than tactician and had proved their toughness over the years, it was at the very least supposed to be a back-and-forth encounter till the latter rounds. Neither knew where their p’s and q’s were to mind them meaning we were also going to get a bad blood straight talking tension filled build up.
The build-up certainly lived up to its billing if the fight itself went off script. There were verbals galore, bold statements of intent, and even a kiss in a bad blood lead into the fight.
By the time a fight that was over five years in the making came around those present in the 3Arena preemptively moved to the edge of their seats readying themselves for a barn-burning classic.
They got a classic of sorts, but not the kind they were expecting. Spike showed total contempt for the well supported ‘Fitzy’s’ power. It was hands behind the back, chin out and take these bombs.
The Cork man unloaded massive shots from the off and eventually landed one the most devastating uppercuts an Irish ring has seen.
75 seconds in and it was game over. A shot which came from the floor and nearly extended Fitzgerald’s neck to the ceiling was never going to be recovered from.
To his credit, the Dubliner, who went the distance with the likes of Andy Lee and Hassan N’Dam – something Spike was happy to point out afterward – somehow managed to get to his feet. However, he was never going to be allowed fight on and O’Sullivan ended one of the most high-profile Irish grudges of all time on a massive platform and in devastating fashion. Indeed so on fire was the Cork man that mid-celebration he still had the wherewithal to avoid a flying stool.
Willie Mitchell vs Jamie Kennedy
Between them they had a grand total of just one fight. Even Irish boxing diehards such as Steve Wellings will do well to recall either fighter such was their brief spell in the game.
However, Jamie Kennedy’s managed in a one-fight career and Willie Mitchell in a three-bout innings what most fighters dream of but never achieve – being part of a war that left them and the watching crowd gasping for air.
Unlike the previously addressed clashes, there was nothing by way of hype or even build up leading into this one.
The fight played out in May of 2013 and was one of numerous all-Irish fights on the ‘Fearless Card’ a card used to raise funds for the late great battler wee Oscar Knox.
Kevin O’Hara versus Michael Kelly for the Celtic Nations belt took centre stage, whilst Marco McCullough against Noely O’Brien promised to be an entertaining watch, as did the meeting of vocal pair John Hutchinson and Gerard Healy. Even a clash between Phillip Sutcliffe Jr, fighting in just his second bout and debutant Liam Finn got more pre-fight chatter.
That didn’t stop Kennedy and ‘The Sandman’ stealing the show. The pair threw more punches in four rounds than the other fighters managed during the entirety of the card.
Both fighters were hurt at various stages and hung on to recoup on their stools in differing rounds. Kennedy producing the neater work, but Mitchell unloading when he got the chance.
It was blood, guts, will, and thrill from start to finish a pure war of attrition and what was most impressive was the desire of both to stay on their feet.
The fourth and final stanza of Kennedy’s one and only fight and Mitchell’s second and last ever fight was just something special.
Both went for the win and despite looking they had gone 12 hard rounds they emptied the tank and just went for each other.
Most ringside felt a draw would have been a fair result and there were instant calls for a rematch, but Kennedy won the contest by two rounds and – bar one fight on the BIBA circuit – never boxed again.