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Da Crook Cooke ready to steal the show in Belfast

Conor Cooke is back in the sport of boxing and is already turning heads.

A former underage amateur star, circumstances conspired to turn the Antrim Town cruiserweight the way of kickboxing and mixed martial arts but he made his return to the Sweet Science during the summer and will box in Belfast this Saturday night. Following a stunning second round debut knockout in Dublin in July, Cooke is now slated to fight on the ‘Back in Belfast’ card at the Shorts Sports and Recreation Club on the Holywood Road where he will look to continue making big impressions.

‘Da Crook’ stole the show on his debut and will be looking to do the same this weekend. In his first outing, a huge uppercut sent Poland’s Pawel Kucharski down and out as Cooke underlined his potential in pro boxing after so long away and silenced many doubters and nay-sayers.

Looking back on a whirlwind first fight, Cooke admits that “I wasn’t nervous, but I really felt pressure. It was like all eyes on me feeling. Everyone wanted to know how I would get on and how would I make the transition from MMA back to boxing. I felt pressure that way more than nerves. That win gives me confidence. I did question myself going into the fight. I was thinking how am I going to cope and handle it. I haven’t fought in a couple of years. I was wondering if I could handle the lights and pressure, but I felt relaxed and confident in there. To be honest, I don’t throw many upper cuts, but I heard Dee [Walsh, coach] in my corner calling for it and auto pilot I threw it and it landed lovely,”

It was the culmination of a long process for Cooke who had spent over a year making the transition to boxing, navigating a change of sports and a mountain of politics. It was all worth it, however, as the Antrim man made his return to his first love and he explained how “in camp and training I feel like a duck returning to water. I feel like I was born to do boxing I should never have left, but I am back now. When I was 16 I boxed for Ireland in the Four Nations and then the club closed down and I had nowhere to train. I found myself kickboxing for 10 years and I always said I’d go back boxing when the time was right. I met Dee and them and it feels right now. I retired from MMA and I am going to give boxing a crack before I get too old.”

Looking ahead to his fight with Poland’s Pawel Srykowski this Saturday, Cooke is adamant that he will register win number two before moving on to big domestic fights in the very near future. The 31-year-old outlined how “I’m more than confident I’m going to win by another devastating knockout. You can expect my best, 100%, losing is not an option for me. I’m planning on going in there, getting that win but looking good doing it.”

“I just want to keep busy for now and then look at an Irish title. I feel I have a lot to show and I have potential. I have the right people around me now and I believe I can do well in the game. This time next year I would like to see myself as an Irish champion. I set that goal way back when I decided to box again – that from my first pro fight I’d like to fight for the Irish title within 12 months. If I keep working hard there’s no reason why this can’t happen. My aim is to go as far as I possibly can. I know time is against me so I’m hoping to be as active and as successful as possible within the next five to seven years. I would love to provide for my family and live a comfortable life through boxing. Anything is possible with a vision and hard work.”

The Luke Wilton headlined card also features a full undercard alongside Cooke. Making their professional debuts are teenage Larne super featherweight Kelvin McDonald and Belfast super flyweight Cathy McAleer, the first Northern Irish female pro in almost 20 years, and there are further appearances from Lenadoon cruiserweight Tommy McCarthy, Belfast welterweight Tony Nellins, and Scottish cruiserweight David Jamieson.

Limited tickets for the night remain, are priced at £30 (unreserved) and £40 (ringside), and are available from all the boxers involved. Conor Cooke can be contracted through his social media or by ringing him at 07793508948.

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