Bringing it back to Belfast

Ally McKenzie (@AllyMcKenzie91) is the man behind the camera with Sideline Films. Over the years he has produced numerous works with Irish fighters – perhaps the most notable being the stunning ‘When Boxing Ends‘ episode of True North along with his ongoing ‘Fights That Defined Me‘ podcast series. A long-time collaborator and friend of, this is his first written work.

2nd March 2019

Tommy McCarthy sat quietly in the tiny locker room, head slumped between his legs, the only sound that could be heard were distant echoes of celebration stinging harder than any of the shots he had taken. Dreams of illuminating his career on the Sky Sports stage gave way to a dim reality; not only had he fallen short, but he had been knocked out and his team knew they were no longer in control of their own destiny. If he was to continue, or rather, if he was to be successful, they were going to have to roll the dice.

The man who was now managing his career had a plan.

It had only been four months since Mark Dunlop had signed the big cruiserweight but he had already matched him in two contests, (as many as he had had in the previous two years) and under his guidance had secured the ill-fated fight with the bruising Richard Riakporhe for the WBA Inter-Continental title, thanks to his working relationship with Matchroom Boxing.

Dunlop’s journey in professional boxing started ten years earlier. Moving back to Belfast from Jersey, he signed and guided a heavy-handed 17-year-old from Poleglass. As the knockouts built up on small halls shows and leisure centres, word got out about this Baby-Faced Assassin he had on his hands and Dunlop’s standing in the business began to grow.

James Tennyson was Dunlop’s first fighter but soon the stable would grow. Adding talent from across Ireland, he would put on regular shows in Belfast. When the city became the destination for Ryan Burnett’s world title fights, it was Dunlop and his stable that Eddie Hearn turned to in order to populate the undercard.

His fighters stood up to the test and impressed regularly under the watchful eye of Hearn, leading to opportunities for titles on major Sky Sports bills. It was Tennyson who shone brightly and, after he recovered from a knockdown to shock Martin J Ward, he booked a spot in the away corner at the Boston Garden and a chance to take Tevin Farmer’s IBF super featherweight belt.

While Tennyson came up short that night, Dunlop had already planned a route for his charge to get back in the world frame with a move up to lightweight. The experience he had gone through with Tennyson benefitted the rest of Dunlop’s stable. Firmly believing that you only saw the best of a fighter once they had tasted defeat, the manager was confident that McCarthy had learned a valuable lesson at the hands of Riakporhe and that this time there would be no question over his dedication or desire.

A conversation was had, a plot laid out, and a fight was arranged for McCarthy as soon as 50 days after his defeat. This confidence building knockout win over a journeyman was the first in a short string of successes that were put together and soon the Lenadoon cruiserweight was back in contention and was ready to head to the lions’ den. McCarthy travelled to Italy where he would snatch the WBC International strap away from Fabio Turchi and would later add the European title to his collection. The faith Dunlop had placed in his fighter had been justified.

With Paul Hyland Jr scheduled to fight for the British title, Eric Donovan in a position to challenge for the EU title, McCarthy and Tennyson knocking on the door of world titles and having recently signed exciting prospect Conor Quinn and former professional rugby player, Nick Campbell, the Dunlop stable runs deep with talent.

Carl Frampton’s dazzling days of sold-out arenas and stadiums in Belfast are seemingly all but done and, after Burnett’s career was tragically cut short, the Titanic City has missed some of the shows that have been taken for granted in recent years. Alas, the promise of electrifying nights doesn’t seem too far off thanks to McCarthy, Tennyson, and the man guiding their careers.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on, Boxing News,, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: