AND THE NEW: Eric Donovan edges Khalil El Hadri to win EU Title

Eric Donovan is the new European Union super featherweight champion following a thriller tonight in Belfast.

The Kildare southpaw edged French star Khalil El Hadri at the Europa Hotel, live on TG4.

Hurt early, Donovan fought through and managed to establish his boxing in the second half to win just enough rounds to edge ‘EHK’.

A former National Elite champion in the amateurs and seen as the golden boy of French boxing when turning pro, El Hadri’s career took a turn last year when he lost his French title to brawler Anthony Riviere. Rebuilding over the last few months, the Parisian came to Belfast looking to reignite his career.

Donovan, meanwhile, has had a career that has taken many turns. A five-time Irish Elite champion and EU and European bronze medallist, the Kildare super featherweight turned pro late. Following Celtic and Irish title wins, Donovan lost to big names in Zelfa Barrett and Robeisy Ramirez and readjusted to tonight’s fight.

A favourite in a big fight for the first time in a long while, Donovan started well but it was far from easy.

Extremely cagey to start, Donovan perhaps edged the opener with some raids although El Hadri looked rather comfortable.

Opening up in the second, El Hadri targetted the Donovan midriff with some heavy shots before a response in the closing moments from the Irishman who tagged the visitor sharply.

Donovan showed his hand-speed at the start of the third, sending volleys of shots the way of El Hadri. Getting into a groove, the southpaw left of Donovan was finding a regular home on the chin of El Hadri in what was a decisive round for the lilywhite.

El Hadri came roaring back in the fourth, stunning Donovan with an incisive counter but the Kildare lefty responded with flurries of shots. With the Frenchman on the front foot, Donovan looked to counter but was caught square by El Hadri and sent slumping into the ropes where he took a perhaps harsh count which changed the complexion of the bout.

It was tight in round five but Donovan was being made to work very hard just to keep his head above water as El Hadri probed with pointed shots.

Cut in the sixth, Donovan continued to land left hands but the punch of the round was a short right counter from El Hadri that staggered the home favourite.

Much quieter in the seventh, the quick hands and combinations of Donovan probably banked him the 10-9 in what looked to be a razor-close fight.

Increasingly gruelling in the eighth, Donovan continued to land combinations but with little weight – while El Hadri began to find his range with hurtful shots.

A brilliant round nine for Donovan saw him fight back through a strong El Hadri start and he stopped the Frenchman in his tracks for the first time with a sustained barrage of punches.

Responding viciously, El Hadri came out firing in the tenth and had Donovan hurt early. Battering the Athy man from rope to rope, Donovan did well to hand in, never mind come firing back as he did. Bloodied badly and on wobbly legs, Donovan saw out the round but still had a long way to go.

Both exhausted after their exploits in the tenth, round eleven was cagey and perhaps edged by the fight management of Donovan who finished the stronger.

On a knife-edge in the final stanza, El Hadri was the aggressor as both celebrated at the bell but we went to the cards with no certainty whatsoever.

The cards themselves were delayed and read out confusingly but, most importantly, Donovan was confirmed the winner and crowned the new European Union super featherweight champion.

The result sees Donovan improve his record to 16(8)-2(2) while the impressive and disappointed El Hadri drops to 13(7)-2(0)

A career goal achieved, Donovan will now, no doubt, look towards the winner of the upcoming vacant European title fight between Spaniard Juan Felix Gomez and Romania’s Catalin Ionescu. First, though, he will look forward to the birth of his child with wife Laura Cusack next month.

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