FeaturesHeadline News

Extra Terrestrial – Ray Moylette and TG4 can bring Irish boxing to another planet

In a purely sporting sense, the most important fight for Irish boxing this weekend doesn’t play out tonight in Mayo, live on TG4, nor does it occur in Belfast at the Titanic Exhibition Centre.

No, the biggest fight for Irish boxing this weekend comes in Sheffield on Saturday evening as Jono Carroll faces Frenchman Guillaume Frenois in an IBF super featherweight world title final eliminator.

A fight with champion Tevin Farmer is up for grabs on the DAZN platform in America and the extremely marketable Carroll is sure to be handsomely rewarded – although a win in England tonight over former European champ Frenois will not translate to public adulation or recognition back home.

Carroll is blocked by his management from talking to sections of the Republic of Ireland media and this, no doubt, is a factor in his fight’s relative obscurity but it is not the main one – and not the reason why Assassin’s ‘Homecoming’ card at the Royal Theatre in Castlebar tonight is ‘big news’.

In terms of public recognition from a more casual audience – and even the general sporting audience – Mayo and Ray Moylette v Christian Uruzquieta is where it is all at this weekend.

The fact that Last Man Standing winner Roy Sheahan, who features tonight, is more ‘known’ in Ireland than someone like Carroll just proves the power of terrestrial TV and how potentially important the TG4-broadcast card is for the sport outside of Belfast on this island.

‘King Kong’ Carroll is the ultimate entertainer and quite possibly the most TV-friendly Irish fighters around at present. A straight-talking, hard-fighting, brilliantly bearded and talented showman, the 26-year-old has captivated crowds and won fans every time he has fought.

However – despite the fact the Dubliner is on the verge of a massive world title fight and has entertained on Sky Sports, Sky Box Office, BoxNation, and BT Sport – Sheahan, with one terrestrial TV appearance, is more known to the casual outside of Belfast.

The St Michael’s Athy BC graduate’s appearances on RTÉ-broadcast National Elite finals fight cards may have seen the name sound familiar to some sports fan, but his appearance on TG4 in March saw him transcend further across the great fight-fan/casual-fan border.

It may sound ridiculous considering the minor status of TG4 on the Irish TV landscape but, despite a hype-free and troubled build-up, the Last Man Standing card on the channel back in March eclipsed the big Sky Sports Kell Brook v Sergey Rabchenko show which took place on the same snowy night in terms of viewership figures.

Indeed, Gavan Casey of the42.ie fame notes how their site’s Last Man Standing report garnered an equivalent amount of readers as a 6 Nations Ireland match report.

sheahan knees

It’s the ultimate proof that 15 minutes of terrestrial fame is worth 15 hours of undercard subscription action in terms of domestic profile.

It also makes a joke of suggestions that boxing is no longer a popular sport and one which people do not want to consume.

The TV element to Sheahan’s win awoke the wider media to boxing again and even got global superstar Conor McGregor up off his couch to respond to a tongue-in-cheek call-out from ‘The Joker’.

The lilywhite was deemed worthy enough to secure back page headlines at a time boxing was being lamented on the front of papers. Radio stations were in touch and the 34-year-old was preaching the boxing gospel to the mainstream long after his fight.

There are those who argue the concept driven element of Last Man Standing helped draw in an armchair crowd – and while that certainly may be the case – there is enough evidence to prove that boxing on TV is a success regardless.

You just have to look at the numbers around the world for first hand evidence and, in terms of Ireland, despite suggestions the appetite to consume the sport outside of Belfast is not there, the facts are that when boxing is on the television it has been watched.

Bernard Dunne’s big fights reached Late Late Show figures, while Andy Lee’s appearances and Willie Casey v Paulie Hyland achieved numbers similar to rugby and GAA.

It’s not that boxing hadn’t had a TV audience in recent years, it’s more a case that the audience wasn’t being given boxing to consume.

Granted, the ‘Homecoming’ card may not be as number friendly considering the platform but, if it echoes the Last Man Standing figures, it further proves there is a place on TV for boxing in Ireland. Indeed, with a journey to follow, rather than a once-off tournament night, it can only grow from there.

The Islandeady man and those that fight on his undercard have a chance to cross over and this, for boxing, is a massive opportunity to re-enter the mainstream.

There are those crying for Katie Taylor to come back to Dublin and ‘save’ the sport down South and, of course, it would be a massive occasion for her and any Irish fighters that may feature on the bill.

However, there is no doubt that more people in Ireland will consume the ‘Homecoming’ on TG4 – as well as via MidWest Radio – than would Katie Taylor’s bout on Sky, that’s just how powerful terrestrial TV can be.

Following a big build-up from TG4 and the national media (especially RTÉ and Off The Ball), which didn’t occur for Last Man Standing, an impressive display by Ray Moylette in Castlebar tonight could see him take another massive step toward being a household name and in the process put boxing back on a pedestal.

The uninitiated will have a previously familiar name and a charismatic character whose ‘journey’ they can embark on with and, with three hours of coverage, there are a host of undercard fighters that will get the chance to impress and win fans who it was impossible to reach previously.

It’s not perfect, of course.

It has emerged that the belt on the line between Moylette and Uruzquieta will be the ‘WBC Silver International‘ lightweight title – a less valuable rankings tool than the ‘WBC International’ strap which was initially announced. That said, in terms of the wider public, this is a minor issue and one’s mind is drawn back to the last televised Mayo show where Henry Coyle and Pajo Hyland won WBF belts.

What could be an issue is that the matchmaking for the televised portion of the bill, a strong headliner aside, is undeniably weak. The left hand side of the running order is strong, the strongest in the South since 2014, but there are mismatches which may not play out well on TV.

While it was unable to be secured, an all-Irish fight could have cured these potential woes. The recent troubles in Irish boxing have forced promoters to put on domestic match-ups much earlier and more frequently than ever before and it has provided some brilliant fights.

Such a clash on the undercard would have added the to build-up and, if recent domestic dust-up are to go by, would have provided the most TV-friendly of the undercard fights as well as adding to the tension and atmosphere on the night.

However, while criticism is fine, beggars most definitely can’t be choosers and, for now we are delighted to see boxing back on the box and believe tonight could be the start of a real revival for the sport down South.

Who knows, if Ray Moylette manages to cross over to the extent he becomes a Granny favourite and, if the sho does big numbers, other networks – we’re looking at you, Virgin Media – might want to get involved…


logo may

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 sports for a living for over 20 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