Comeback of the Year – 2016

It may be a cliché, but Irish fighters don’t give up easily, and there have been some brilliant bounce-backs this year.

Boxers have returned from injury, loss, inactivity, and all sorts of disappointment to get back in the ring and do what they do best.

And the nominees are…

Steven Donnelly
The Ballymena welter had his surprise qualification for the Rio Olympics confirmed at the end of last year, but he still had a mountain to climb to prepare for the Games. It was a long road back for Donnelly, who was effectively finished with the sport, but the Ulsterman whipped himself into supreme shape and surprised everyone in Brazil where he was Ireland’s best performing boxer, came so close to medaling, and was a beacon of positivity throughout a bleak Games

Darragh Foley
A badly weight-drained Foley lost his Australian lightweight title to Brandon Ogilvie in March. The Blanchardstown boxer then made the logical move back up to 140lbs, but for his return bout he insisted on facing the only other man to have defeated him – the dangerously tricky Joebert De los Reyes. There was no repeat loss this time round however, with Foley knocking the Filipino out in the sixth to win the WBA Oceania belt, which he has since defended.

Jamesy Gorman
The Belfast veteran returned to the sport at the start of 2016 after almost eight years away. It wasn’t a Rocky story however, as the former Irish title challenger came back to fulfill the honourable role of a durable journeyman. There were no half measures either, with Gorman fighting a grand total of 20 times, including a headline bout in Belfast against Stephen Carroll for the Celtic Nations light welterweight title.

Dennis Hogan
The Kildare light middleweight has not let his first career loss dent his world title hopes. Hurricane Hogan lost to Jack Culcay last December but, after a comeback win in America, he has jumped straight back into title contention with the WBO, winning and defending their Oriental title with two strong displays against Samuel Colomban and Yao Yi Ma. The Kilcullen boxer is now eyeing a first fight in Ireland next year as well as a potential title tilt for the belt which is soon to be vacated by Canelo Alvarez.

Luke Keeler
The Dubliner suffered a damaging rematch loss to Welsh middleweight Tom Doran in April, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and falling to a second-round knockout loss. The Celtic Warriors puncher however refused to dwell on the reversal and went about developing a back-to-basics more rounded style that culminated in him headlining the November Red Corner show in Dublin and scoring a career-best win over another Welshman, Bradley Pryce.

Tony Nellins
‘The Baddest Man in Belfast’ was out of the ring for over five years due to work commitments, but made his triumphant return in November. The all-action light welter, still just 25 years old, fought for the third time as a pro at the Shorts Sports and Social Club, outgunning JP McGuinness over four. A man who so obviously just loves being in the ring, we look forward to seeing Nellins back fighting regularly in the new year as part of Alio Wilton’s plans for a big 2017.

John O’Donnell
After a frustrating, stop-start, period of his career, John O’Donnell caused a minor shock in October when he defeated Tommy Tear to claim the BBBoC Southern Area title. Now 31 years old, the Galway welter is gearing up for one more final charge, and has a confirmed English title fight with Erick Ochieng set for March.

Katie Taylor
2016 didn’t go entirely to plan for Taylor, who lost for the first time in five years. It wasn’t just one loss either, with the Bray legend losing three bouts and coming home from the Rio Olympics empty handed. While she did win World Championships bronze, an amazing achievement, it was still below her usual high standards. The rocky year contributed to Taylor’s choice to move into the pros at the age of 30, and the Wicklow woman has looked phenomenal in her two bouts so far.

Anto Upton
Upton had his duck egg smashed at the end of last year, being downed twice and losing to Joe Hughes in an English light welterweight title fight. The youngest Upton brother however elected not to have a long period of rebuilding and sought to get back into title fights as soon as possible. This happened in July when he took on Luke Paddock for Hughes’s vacated English belt – and brought a halt to a cagey bout in the ninth with a huge knockout.

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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