Burning Brightly

07 November 2008 – by Mark Doyle

He boasts an unbeaten record of 9-0. He trains at the Wild Card Gym in California under the tutelage of the legendary Freddie Roach. He has sparred with Amir Khan and Manny Pacquiao in recent weeks and counts the latter as a friend.

HE is Dean Byrne and HE sometimes cannot quite believe how he has gone from Irish amateur star to a genuine light-welterweight prospect in the space of two short years.

Its incredible the way things are working out for me, the Dubliner tells irish-boxing.com from his base on the west coast of America.

Every day I come to the gym I thank God that Im here, doing my thing. And Im just going to keep training harder and harder and hopefully itll work out. If you put in the effort, it should anyway.

Certainly effort has taken him a long way already. But then again desire and bravery have also played their part.

Byrne was a talented amateur and twice travelled to Australia with the Irish team, the second time as captain.

Impressed by how fervent the support was for Irish kids Down Under, Byrne concluded that Australia would be a good place for him to begin his professional career.

It proved an inspired choice. Stepping up in class at a pace some would describe as risky and others might term downright reckless, Byrne jumped straight into six-rounders.

However, his bold approach paid off and how. In his fourth professional outing he claimed the vacant New South Wales State title. In his very next bout, in March 2007, he dethroned Chris McCullen as Australian light-welterweight champion with a comprehensive unanimous points win.

One defence later and the ever-ambitious Byrne again decided that it was time to step up in class.

After winning the national title I felt that I needed to go on to bigger and better things. So, to improve and gain more experience, I thought the States would be a better base for me.

I spoke to Steve Collins brother, Pascal, and he hooked me up with Freddie because Steve had worked with Freddie before. Pascal initially said for me to go over to Boston, but also said that Freddie was in the Wildcard in California. So I came over to California, spoke to Freddie and told him that I was in Australia and that I was 6-0, but that I needed to improve on my boxing skills for the pro game.

I told him that Pascal had sent me over. So, Freddie told me, come in and train and Ill have a look at you.

So, I came in and on the first day of training he had me sparring with Michael Katsidis, a former world lightweight champion! But I sparred well and Freddie says, right, well keep you here with us for a while.

What again shines through with Byrne is the lack of fear. Having to impress one of the greatest trainers of the past two decades is daunting enough, but having to do so when a former world champion is in the other corner must be downright terrifying, no?

To be honest, I wasnt really nervous because I knew myself that I was talented and I just wanted a chance to prove it. I wanted to show someone that I was worth taking on and that I could move to another level, he explains, without exhibiting even a trace of arrogance.

And its been going great. The last week Ive been sparring with Amir Khan, and thats been a great experience for me because hes so fast. But his team also said that I was the best sparring partner hes had in two years.

I sparred with Manny Pacquiao for the Juan Manuel Marquez fight and Ill be sparring with him again soon enough for the De La Hoya fight.

Since linking up with Roach, who can count Oscar de la Hoya, Bernard Hopkins and James Toney amongst his former pupils, Byrne has, unsurprisingly, improved immeasurably. He has, wisely, dropped back down to six-rounders but has claimed two knockouts in his last three fights, something he attributes directly to Roach.

As for Roach himself, the three-time trainer of the year has been thrilled with Byrnes progression but, interestingly, believes that the Irishman, despite the devil-may-care attitude he has hitherto exhibited in the management of his career to date, lacks confidence.

Deans doing great. Weve had him for three fights and hes 9-0 now and hes sparring with Manny and Amir, helping them get ready for their fights, so were really happy with him, he tells irish-boxing.com.

He holds his own with both guys. Hes a very capable fighter and has had no problems at all with either guy. Hes a good puncher but hes only learning now to really sit down on his shots and hes really starting to hit hard now.

He doesnt quite have the confidence he should have yet but he is getting better.

In his last fight, he knocked his opponent four times before stopping him in the second so hes really starting to let his shots go. And hes really starting to make these guys respect him and his power.

Hes still very young so we dont want to push him too hard, too soon.

However, Byrne is typically looking ahead to more high-profile outings and, it seems, Pacquiao looks set to play a big part in that.

I get on very well with Manny. I run with him every morning and eat with him every afternoon.

I just spoke to Freddie so were waiting to hear back from my promoter about getting on the John Duddy undercard on November 21 in New York. So, hopefully, if that cards not full up, Ill get on that.

But if I dont, Manny said hell try to get me on his show on December 6 [against De La Hoya]. Were just waiting to hear about an opponent and if theres space.

And even if there is isnt, Manny said, if I cant get you on this, Ill get you another fight, no worries, because hes starting to promote shows himself.

Given the circles in which Byrne is now mixing and also taking his reluctance to stand still into account, the obvious danger is that he could start getting ahead of himself. However, he insists that there is no chance of him cutting corners as he seeks out the quickest possible route to the top.

Im taking it one step at a time anyway because every fight feels like a world title fight to me, thats how I treat each and every one. I train hard and I dont take anything for granted, he explains.

The harder you train, the easier the fight becomes. Ive never had an easy fight but Ive sometimes made it look easy because Ive put so much effort in beforehand in training. Thats the key, thats what it all about: training hard and hoping thats enough to win the fight.

You always hope that you can go to another level, though. And Ive proven that I can move up levels. I took a ten-rounder in only my fifth professional fight. I mean, I could have been getting ahead of myself there but I came through it, so now I know I can do it, make these leaps. Im back doing six-rounders now but at least I know I can do a ten-rounder.

I still need to build up my experience, obviously, but Freddies been unbelievable with me. Ive started knocking guys out since Ive come here and thats down to him.

The stuff Im learning on the pads with Freddie, Im taking that into the ring now. Ive improved so much. Its really working. Everythings going right for me at the moment and I just hope it continues and that I can go a long way in this game.

With the wily Roach in his corner, he has every chance of doing so.

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