8 February 2009 – By Cormac Campbell
Stephen Haughian emerged as the new welterweight champion of Ireland after a pulsating three round battle with Corkman Billy Walsh in Craigavon on Saturday night.
Fighting in front of a passionate home crowd, Haughian weathered the anticipated early storm that saw the rugged champion push forward throwing powerful looking hooks to head and body. Despite the pressure, the 24-year-old appeared in constant control as he timed Walshs rushes to counter with a variety of clean straight shots and hooks.
Boxing for a time with his back to the ropes, Haughian also displayed impressive defensive capabilities, as he covered up and countered impressively.
By the midway point of the second round it was clear that the frightening pace at which the fight was being contested would be unsustainable. And given Haughians 12-year age advantage, one suspected that it would be he who would persevere. By the end of the round, claret had started flowing from the nose of the muscle-bound champion as Haughian began to impose himself in the centre of the ring.
In a bid to slow the challenger down, Walsh turned body hunter in the third. Targeting the younger mans ribs ultimately yielded a warning from referee Emile Tiedt, as more than a few shots slipped under the belt.
Haughian (now 17-1) was beginning to dominate and a nasty looking cut to Walshs left ear prompted many in attendance calling for the bout to be stopped immediately. In spite of these pleas, the action continued and Haughian piled on the pressure. Eventually, at 2.22 of the third round Tiedt stepped in to end proceedings. Cue rapturous celebrations.
Haughian now looks forward to a Celtic title shot against Scotsman Craig Dixon more than likely as chief support on the undercard of Paul McCloskeys first British light-welterweight title defence some time in March.
On an action packed undercard Andrew Murray returned to the ring to extend his unbeaten ledger to 14-0 with a textbook performance of boxing vs Torquay based Iranian Ali Wyatt.
The Cavan native returns to the ring on the undercard of Bernard Dunnes WBA title fight with Ricardo Cordoba at the O2 on March 21. Promoter Brian Peters has promised a major announcement regarding Murrays opponent in the next fortnight with the long-term plan being an assault on the European lightweight crown.
Looking bigger and stronger than Wyatt, Murray took the centre of the ring and quickly found his timing and range.
The boxing lesson continued as Murray went through the repertoire of skills that has convinced many insiders to regard him as Irish boxings next big thing.
A nasty cut appeared on the bridge of Wyatts nose in the third (Murray said after the contest that he was unsure if the cut was caused by a punch or a clash of heads).
Sensing an early stoppage, the John Breen trained stylist upped the pace and by 2.09 of the round referee David Irving stepped in to save Wyatt from any further punishment.
The fight of the night was undoubtedly Kevin OHaras war with Silence Saheed. Normally a super-featherweight, OHara came to the ring as a welterweight, and early on it looked as if the added weight would prove detrimental.
A heavy right hand from the heavily-muscled Saheed sent the Belfastman to the canvas but rather than cover up, the former Immaculata star came straight back. OHaras left hooks were beginning to find their mark and more importantly steady the legs of Saheed. In the second, it appeared that it was only the ropes that were holding Saheed up as OHara trapped him in a corner.
In the third the pace took its toll on Saheed. Dropped heavily, he returned to his feet only to face a swarming assault. The contest was quickly stopped. However, much to the bemusement of OHara and the crowd, Saheed attempted to start the fight again before realising that it was in fact over.
OHara now promises a return to a more realistic weight, with former foe Eddie Hyland in his sights.
After three years outside the ring Michael Kelly looked a different beast on his return against game Latvian Juris Ivanovs.
Putting together slick and powerful combinations to both body and head, the former soldier showed the class that yielded National Senior and World Military titles in the amateurs.
With aspirations of a slot on the undercard of Dunne-Cordoba, lightweight Kelly can target fights with the likes of Oisin Fagan and Andrew Murray.
Stay tuned to irish-boxing.com this week for interviews from Craigavon where we caught up with Paddy Barnes, Martin Rogan, Andrew Murray, Kevin OHara and new Irish welterweight champion Stephen Haughian.