A fight for the ages

31 January 2009 – By Padraig Hoare

When the jaws were picked off the floor and the roof came back down from its lift off, it was clear to all inside the Citywest Hotel that something truly extraordinary had taken place. Friday, January 30 will be marked as one of the greatest nights in the hallowed history of Irish boxing.

It is rare, but some nights we get lucky in the sport we love – there are nights when the planets in our solar system line up, the stars are all synchronised, and there is magic in the air. You can do only one thing – thank God that you were there.

On Friday night, Robbie Long and Anthony Fitzgerald went to places where no man should have to go. The middleweights went through six rounds of the most brutal, most frenzied, most breathtaking action that this country has ever seen in a boxing ring. It made this reporter realise why he loves and loathes the magnificent sport of boxing in equal measure. The courage and indefatigable spirit of two warriors was a joy to behold – but the violence was so stark, it was utterly compelling. It was the embodiment of catharsis – I wanted to look away but was so mesmerised that I could not do so.

Long emerged victorious to preserve the 0 in his record but there was no loser in this fight. Fitzgerald dropped to 1-1, but gained far more in the long term.

Robbie Long and Anthony Fitzgerald made Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns look like they were handing out flowers.

It could have been so different. For the first three minutes, Fitzgerald handed Long a sustained beat down. Long was eating the left jab as Fitzgerald demonstrated why trainer Phil Sutcliffe rates him so highly. Time after time he penetrated Longs defence with the textbook jab followed up with the right cross. Long looked like he had been spit out by a concrete mixer by the end of the round. It would not have been churlish to score the round 10-8 in favour of Fitzgerald, such was the dominance.

Longs trainer Paddy Hyland must be one of the best communicators and motivators in the boxing game if the second round was anything to go by. Long was transformed into a man possessed. Fitzgerald was still more composed than his opponent, landing the cleaner shots, but Long was no longer retreating. A few tussles on the ropes had the crowd in a frenzy – both sets of supporters from Tallaght and Crumlin knew something incredible was unfolding before their eyes.

Phil Sutcliffe in Fitzgeralds corner thought his man had landed enough cleaner shots to win the round but the busier, come forward work from Long probably sneaked it.

The third round was a war. Fitzgerald used his jab well at the beginning but Long caught him with a beautiful left hook. Undeterred, Fitzgerald landed flush with a left-right combination. It was back and forwards – Long had Fitzgerald pinned and hurt on the ropes before Fitzgerald turned it round to hurt Long. Both men indulged in a little showboating to try and psyche the other, but both were in a world of pain. Long sneaked the round with the better shots.

Already a classic, it was the fight of the year by the end of the fourth. There were shades of Macklin-Moore or Gatti-Ward as the two men slugged amid deafening roars from their respective fans. It is humbling to think these men sacrificed their bodies and minds for the benefit of the hundreds in attendance – no man, woman or child will ever forget what these two ultimate warriors did in the fourth round.

Long again took the fourth before Fitzgerald rallied with a superb three minutes in the fifth. Clearly exhausted, Fitzgerald summoned the courage and conviction that mere mortals can only dream about.

The sixth round sealed the result as Long, bloodied and bruised in every conceivable place, put his opponent on the back foot to take the round. The long embrace by the two men at the final bell said it all. Neither man will perhaps ever win a world title, but for raw courage and bravery, they have no equals.

Long took the fight 58-56. It emerged after that Long had cracked a rib in the third, while Fitzgerald could barely get up off his stool at the start of the fifth. The Tallaght club man moves to 3-0 while Fitzgerald is now 1-1. Fitzgerald, as magnanimous in defeat as he was courageous in battle, said he had no complaints and said he was beaten by the better man.

Promoters Don OLeary and Phil Sutcliffe expressed what everyone in attendance was thinking in calling for a rematch.

Speaking exclusively to irish-boxing.com, Paddy Hyland could not contain his elation at the manner of his mans victory.

We prepared for a six-round fight. We knew that Fitzgerald was ready for a war and would come out like so for the first three rounds. I knew it would go the six rounds and Robbie would prevail.

Robbie packed in the sport in 2003. He came back to me last June weighing 15 and a half stone. He said he wasnt interested in fighting at the heavier weight classes and wanted to get down to middle. He worked incredibly hard, he was 11 stone 11 for his first fight in September and 11 stone 7 for his second in October. What he did tonight was fantastic and I am so proud of him.

There is already talk of a rematch but we will do that when there is more to gain out of it down the line. The lads need a long rest after a fight like that. A rematch will make sense in the future, not right away.

Don OLeary gathered his breath to talk to irish-boxing.com about DolPhils next promotion. As if one classic was not enough, there is talk of another potential fight of the year next time out.

John Waldron and Jamie Power is in the pipeline. That would be a marvellous scrap between two of Irelands most exciting crowd pleasers. Phil and myself are delighted with the support we got tonight – the crowd was electric. Well do the next show in Dublin, hopefully before Easter.

The lasting legacy of the greatest fight in recent times was apparent a mere five minutes after the show ended. More than a dozen children adorned the ring, their little bodies bobbing and weaving, their hands moving around with the speed of a humming bird. Make no mistake about it, what Robbie Long and Anthony Fitzgerald did for Irish boxing will not just go into the history books, but will have inspired the next generation of Irish children, themselves eager to reach the dazzling heights of January 30, 2009.

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