When Eddie Hearn confirmed that he was to run a show in Dublin in November 2015 those well-versed in Irish boxing knew that a Sky Sports undercard had the potential to make stars.
Fans were delighted when two long-anticipated all-Irish clashes were confirmed for the bill – the middleweight grudge match between Spike O’Sullivan and a cruiserweight rematch between Ian Tims and Michael Sweeney.
These match-ups, and Macklin’s clash with Jorge Sebastian Heiland, unsurprisingly grabbed all the headlines. However, there was an all-Irish fight that threatened to slip under the radar that would eventually provided the same volume of headlines over the years as a smartly marketed PPV card.
When Hearn confirmed that super featherweights Declan Geraghty and Jono Carroll would fight on the card people went into first-day Arsene Wenger mode and asked ‘Jono who’?
Geraghty’s amateur past and his progress in the pro ranks meant he was more than just the A-side. Indeed, the slick EU silver medallist was deemed by some as the man to finally fill a Bernard Dunne-sized hole in Dublin.
As a result, on the day of the announcement, most dismissed the fight as a routine win for the more known fighter of the two.
However, two months, a whole lot of trash talk, and one brilliant fight later, and things had changed to such a degree that we had one of the biggest recent domestic rivalries on our hands.
Over the last three-and-half years the seed planted back in 2014 has been fed and watered to such a degree it’s blossomed into a massive grudge – to such a degree so that many view it as the fight of the night on a sensational Michael Conlan Homecoming card this Saturday night at the SSE Odyssey Arena.
That rivalry owes everything to the fact Carroll upset the odds in the first encounter and the manner in which he achieved it is not just fascinating, but mind-bogglingly Machiavellian.
Here at Irish-boxing.com we take a look back at how it was achieved.
How Jono Carroll came from nowhere to beat Declan Geraghty
As already stated, it may seem crazy to some now, but when people first started to digest the news the ‘Return of the Mack’ would have a third domestic dust-up, most assumed Declan Geraghty, a man earmarked to be a stand-out Irish operator was being handed a dressed-up handy win.
Carroll was unbeaten, but both his victories were spaced out and had played out in Australia. The pair’s amateur credentials were not comparable either and some fans felt ‘Pretty Boy’ was being handed a small step up – facing a come-forward, game opponent, but one that would be easily outclassed.
However, ‘King Kong’, who was then part of the Celtic Warrior stable, beat his chest to such a degree in a short build-up that fans started to pay attention. By the time fight week had arrived, what was initially seen as a non-event had become an eagerly anticipated clash.
It initially looked as if Carroll was making the most of his time in the spotlight in a bid to make sure he wasn’t cast back into his opponent’s shadow after what was scheduled to be a six-round clash.
If the event was a PPV headline you’d suggest the fighter, who was just back from Down Under, was doing his best to up the buys and remain relevant following his inevitable loss.
However, it soon became obvious that the bearded buzzsaw had genuine belief and was embarking on a campaign of Fergie-style mind games. Carroll was heaping pressure on ‘the star’ whilst trying to level things up by angering Geraghty and making sure it wasn’t a pure skill versus will affair.
Carroll wasn’t long about declaring he had taken a massive opportunity rather than a pay day. Straight after the top table to announce the show he set about letting people know he was returning home to win. Right from his first interview he set in motion a chain of events that would see him go from nobody to Prizefighter winner in a matter of weeks.
There is no questioning stylist Geraghty’s record but Carroll wasn’t shy or retiring at the press conference or in what was possibly his first interview as a pro.
The Finglas-Dunshaughlin fighter explained he returned from Australia to get the sparring he needed to make world level, promised world title success down the road, and was hopping with excitement that the fight was made.
The then Paschal Collins-trained fighter was complementary to his Return of the Mack foe but did used the platform to ask the ‘can Declan Geraghty fight’ question – something he would do constantly as he set out about turning an under-the-radar contest into one that would be awarded Irish Fight of the Year for 2014.
Geraghty wasn’t at the first press conference but, speaking from training camp from Spain, he seemed to pick up on Carroll’s ‘fight’ questions and indicated he was ready to ditch his boxing approach and go to war.
‘Pretty Boy’, as per usual, expressed confidence in his own ability and told fight fans he was ready to extend his unbeaten record. Interestingly he rarely mentioned Carroll by name and talked as if another routine win lay ahead.
At that stage, hype started to build despite a short lead-up to the fight and, with more media attention, ‘King Kong’ increased his efforts to get under his scheduled foe’s skin.
Suggesting Geraghty had all the pressure, the profile, and the pipes, Carroll went into promotion overdrive. He jokingly bemoaned the fact his name wasn’t on the Return of the Mack poster and that he was introduced by Hearn as ‘Jonjo Carroll’, and vowed to ensure he was spoken about post a fight that initially was meant to be a relatively insignificant undercard clash.
The now IBF Intern-Continental champ laughed at Geraghty’s ‘toe to toe’ claims and questioned his fellow Dubs’ heart every time a dictaphone, mic, or camera was in range.
Geraghty continued to play it cool and was adamant the Carroll talk hadn’t any negative impact him as the fight approached but, similar to the laid-back and confident manner he brings to the ring, the two-weight National Elite champion did throw a few verbal counterpunches.
The former International took time to highlight the differences in their respective amateur CV’s, claiming he would knock out Carroll’s Australian opponents with his hands tied behind his back and stating his Return of the Mack opponent would provide the perfect platform for him to display his skill sets.
The former Crumlin amateur also reiterated his willingness to go to war and suggested Carroll would know the true meaning of ‘be careful what you wish for’ come final bell time.
While ‘Spike’ versus ‘Fitzy’ and ‘The Tank versus ‘The Storm’ were blood and thunder in their build up – bar the few sly jibes from Cork middleweight O’Sullivan – the perceived lesser of the domestic dalliances was developing a real mind games element to it.
Carroll was buoyant, bouncing, he told media he had nothing to lose everything to gain and he was going to rob Geraghty’s ‘one to watch out for’ tag. He also relayed sparring stories that had him ‘beating up’ his rival as teenagers as the build up to the fight reached fever pitch.
At this stage there was real excitement about the Dublin derby and with fight week upon us it seemed that all the talking was done and all that was left was to sit back and take in a clash which had become a real added bonus to the card.
However, it was becoming clear Carroll had made love to the Blarney Stone never mind kissed it and had more say, coming out with the interview that most likely prompted Geraghty to ditch his skill set in a bid to prove he had balls.
Carroll demanded to talk to the press following the weight-in and let it be known he now had proof Geraghty was afraid.
The boxer, who would go on to win Prizefighter a month later, was disgusted a fight scheduled for six was reduced to four rounds but delighted with the chance to use it as a stick to beat the his opponent with.
Again he suggested Geraghty was glitz over guts, style over substance, and flair over fight. He pointed out the reduction of rounds made it easier for the stylish puncher to run ‘like an Olympic sprinter’ for the entire fight. He took it as clarification Geraghty was nervous and, when he asked Irish-Boxing.com to interview him, he wasn’t making sure fight fans knew the score, rather he was talking straight to ‘Pretty Boy’.
Some argue that this chiding, especially, was the final straw and drew Geraghty into a war – suiting the ring-rusty and inexperienced Carroll who had only just kicked a debilitating marijuana habit.
Geraghty has since admitted he was somewhat naive before and during that fight and he certainly seemed to bite. The High Performance graduate was going to show people he balls to go with moves which are ballet-like at times.
He will argue that, even with those tactics employed, he was ahead on the scorecards 30-28 before his disqualification – although a point deduction meant a draw was perhaps the likeliest outcome before the ejection – but his desire to trade created a scenario where that DQ was possible.
Fuelled by the antics of Carroll in the build up, Geraghty went go toe-to-toe with his Dublin rival, opting to show he could mix it and could take a punch but there was a bad blood and somewhat ill-tempered nature to the scrap as a result.
Referee David Irvine was obviously impressed with a fighter, who for that fight had Seamus Macklin in his corner but is now trained by his father Declan Geraghty Snr, as he had him two rounds up going into the last.
However, the man in the middle wasn’t too happy with that rough house nature of the exciting scrap and Geraghty was eventually disqualified for use of the head, which he claimed was in response to holding, in the last round – the incident coming seconds after having a point docked for an elbow.
It was the perfect vindication for Carroll’s pre-fight tactics. He almost hypnotised Geraghty into fighting a fight that would suit him and ensured the more skillful man performed in such a manner that it gave him a chance to register a career-changing win.
The pair have been linked ever since and have had numerous spats but will get the chance to settle their differences on a sensational Michael Conlan Homecoming undercard.
With the fight just days away, it’s hard to know if Carroll has gotten under Geraghty’s skin again – and whether he even wants to.
Carroll no longer feels he has to ‘drag’ Geraghty down to a scrap. The 26-year-old has improved massively since the first encounter and seems confident he has the tools to beat his old rival regardless of what approach is taken.
Indeed, some suggest that tables have turned somewhat. Geraghty has been sending the barbs, belittling Carroll’s skill and perhaps inviting his rival into a more technical bout. The 28-year-old has matured since the loss – and subsequent defeat to James Tennyson – and no longer will be worried about proving he can fight.
We certainly have come a long way.
While Geraghty argues his career-best win over John Quigley trumps Carroll’s victory over the same opponent, he does come into the bout as the B-side and will walk in second and as a challenger.
Carroll, who Frank Warren and Queensberry rate highly, will be putting his IBF Inter-Continental title and #8 ranking on the line.
That said, while Carroll seems to be the consensus favourite amongst Irish fans, Geraghty is slightly favoured to win by the bookies.
As we approach the business end of fight week there are sure to be more twists and turns.
The verbal barbs in the build-up have been more nuanced but arguably sharper and with face-to-faces to come on Thursday and Friday there will no doubt be another few pages to add to the latest chapter of Irish boxing’s greatest modern rivalry.
Then Saturday, fight night, a night which in one sense has sneaked up on us and in another seems like it has been forever out of reach.
Three-and-a-half years on from a four-round swing bout was turned into something special, the two Dublin lads finally meet in the ring once again in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers.
Much has been said, more has been written, it all now goes on the line once again.