Eric Donovan could provide the final chapter of Irish boxing’s Kiko Story

Eric Donovan is currently awaiting news of his next outing and, whatever, whenever, and wherever this may be, he hopes that it will put him on a very short path to a fight that would close a very long book.

2007: Silent and stern sitting at a top table not too far from Bernard Dunne, one quick-to-comment Dublin press conference regular caught the determined glare of Kiko Martinez and quickly found the words to surmise the nervousness that had filled most in attendance – ‘that’s bleedin’ Mini Tyson right there’.

The Dublin Destroyer had just brought big time boxing back to Ireland. Fight fans were riding on the crest of boxing tsunami never mind wave as the Neilstown boxer had provided arena fight nights and enticed RTÉ to the domestic fight game.

After a brilliant night against the Brendan Ingle-trained Esham Pickering, Dunne had claimed the European title in front of a sold out Point and brought further big cards to the famous venue in defences against Yersin Zhailauov and Reidar Walstad which both played out on the national airwaves.

The good times were not back, they were here for the first time and those enjoying them were more than aware that the new found positive state of affairs relied heavily Dunne’s continued success.

Hence that real air of worry when the EU champion and Dunne’s mandatory rode into town with a deep ‘I mean business’ stare that would have looked at home in a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western – and with the dark stubble to match.

Some tried to reassure with the ‘but who has he fought?’ retort when the fact the Spaniard, whose real ring moniker was ‘La Sensacion’, had knocked out 13 of his 16 previous foes – with all of those stoppages coming before four rounds had passed – was raised. 

However, despite most holding hope and praying Dunne would out-skill the banger, there was a sense one way or the other that ‘bleedin’ Mini Tyson’, who was flanked at the presser by Belfast manager Pat Magee, was going to be a massive storyline in the Bernard Dunne career. 

dunne

And so it turned out that way, although it made for quick reading. The Alicante native turned out Dunne’s lights and turned a raucous Point into a mourge in just 86 seconds.

It looked a ‘that’s all she wrote’ moment. Martinez would ride off into the sunset with his title only to be seen again on Reeling in the Years.

Yet August 25th 2007 wasn’t to be an Irish cameo for the knockout specialist and one of Spain’s greatest ever fighters.

The reigning European champion would not only develop a relationship with the Irish fight fan, but would play an important part in the history of the sport here. Now Eric Donovan is praying there could be another Irish chapter in what would be an amazing Martinez book.

After the Dunne reverse, the fighter that looked indestructible in Dublin was set to fight Wayne McCullough in Belfast only to miss weight and was then outpointed by The Boxing Bin Man Rendall Munroe and lost his title.

He was back fighting on Irish cards in 2008, twice trading leather at the National Stadium before another reverse to the then Frank Maloney-promoted Munroe.

After another defeat, this time to Takalani Ndlovu in a world title eliminator in South Africa and a quick Spanish rebuild, ‘Mini Tyson’ was back in Dublin in a European title fight.

Much to the delight of Irish fight fans, the hard hitting, humble, even shy, previously promotionaly hard-done-by young fighter won back the blue belt beating  Arsen Martirosyan in September of 2010.

The man first seen three years earlier on these shores then played another major role in Irish boxing history. Possibly the most respected, even loved, away fighter to fight on these shores vacated the strap so we could have the first ever all Irish European title fight.

The now 32 year old, stepped aside so Paul Hyland and Willie Casey could give us a memorable night in Limerick. The winner, which turned out to be ‘Big Bang’ Casey, was to defend against Kiko, who by now was on first name terms with Irish fight fans, live on RTÉ.

However, the Limerick fighter felt a chance to fight Gullerimo Rigondeaux was too good to turn down and the Limerick-Alicante scrap never materialised.

The fighter who has shown ping pong ball bouncebackability looked set to wave goodbye to Irish fights for good now, yet he had more significant roles to play in a somewhat gritty Irish boxing script.

Martinez won the belt for a third time when stopping Jason Booth in early 2011 and, with Carl Frampton now emerging as a genuine name and talent, the pair became linked.

A back and forth between the teams and, at times, even the fighters played out in front of the press and by late 2012 the pair had agreed to fight. It was perfect, the man who destroyed Dunne against Ireland’s rising star.

Martinez’s previous, his familiarity with the Irish fight fan and the fact he had the European title made him an opponent who played a big part in a breakthrough night for Frampton at the Odyssey.

Come February 2013, Kiko Martinez was the conduit Frampton ran through to become a star name. The Belfast fighter, who would keep big time Irish boxing alight through darker times, became a bill-topping European champion who was in the world title conversation with a win over a man who had once severely dented Dunne’s career.

Surely, surely, surely, this was the final chapter for the Spaniard never mind the final Irish story to relay about him, but amazingly not so.

The fighter, who cried post-fight when talking to Irish press after a Belfast small hall win ahead of his clash with Frampton, signed with middleweight world champion Sergio Martinez and went on the most sensational of runs to bank real success and by all accounts money for the first time in his career.

The little powerhouse somehow got a shot a IBF world champion and genuine Frampton target Jhonathan Romero and became the world champ in fitting knockout fashion.

He then defended the title with two impressive knockout wins over Jeffrey Matheubela and Hosumi Hasegawa and low and behold was back in the Irish spot light again as a rematch with Frampton was made.

In September of 2014, Martinez was back in Ireland, back in Belfast, and back in the ring with Frampton.

This time Martinez entered the ring in a purpose built stadium on the Titanic Slipway with the IBF title paraded proudly by his entourage.

Carl Frampton Vs Kiko Martinez1

Again the Spanish slugger was a vital character in another Irish fighting storyline.

A points win – during which Martinez’s earned massive respect for biting down on his gumshield when a stoppage looked inevitable to fight back despite being well down on the scorecards – for Frampton paved the way for the Belfast fighter to cement his status as one of our greatest by unifying and moving up in weight to become a two weight world champ.

Not only has the ‘bleedin Mini Tyson’ entertained Irish fights, he probably has been the most respected and even influential away fighter to trade leather in Ireland. He has been a pivotal player in our recent history and if Eric Donovan has his way there could be one final chapter to the sensational  La Sensacion Irish story.

The Kildare feather has European aspirations and Martinez is once again the man with the belt having dethroned countryman Marc Vidal late last year.  A fight between the pair is Lilywhite Lightning’s dream, but while some might suggest it’s pipe one as things stand, the name the champion has is Ireland might provide some hope.

Donovan is yet to be ranked in the EBU European Top 15 or indeed the EBU EU Top 25 and that is somethings his team need to try and amend via good matchmaking in 2019.

Then, considering he is the final stages of his career and is on the lookout for a third shot at a world title, Martinez won’t come cheap. In that regard Boxing Ireland would most likely have to move their man into mandatory position or pray the Spaniard’s promoters want a ‘handy’ voluntary at home and offer the chance to Donovan.

It’s a long shot and the former world champ would have to keep winning without moving up in level, but there could be one more option.

Another punt, and not just a fanciful suggestion, is that the European title is a belt and Kiko Martinez is a name that would constitute a TV fight.

Donovan is well-known and respected among Irish sports fans – more so for his punditry than his fighting at present – and boxing is in the midst of a mini resurgence down South.

TG4 aired two bills last year and are said to be interested in doing more in 2019, eir Sport have invested heavily in boxing, Virgin Media are looking to expand their sporting output, while Donovan has featured plenty on RTÉ and if anyone outside of Mick Conlan is to bring them back to boxing it is the Athy veteran.

A lot of boxes need to be ticked but it’s a fight which, on the most basic of levels, makes sense for 2019.dpg

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Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: editoririshboxing@gmail.com