25 July 2009 – By Mark Doyle
Eddie Hyland claimed the vacant IBF International super-featherweight title with a thrilling unanimous points victory over Oisin Fagan at the National Basketball Arena on Saturday night.
Both men had promised a fight which would serve as a fitting tribute to late Arturo Gatti, and they did not disappoint in that regard, the pair producing a war worthy of comparison with any one of the great man’s three epic encounters with Micky Ward.
Hyland got the nod on all three judges scorecards (118-111, 116-112, 118-110) and there can be no doubt that he had been a worthy winner as he had landed the cleaner shots throughout; Fagan’s badly swollen left eye was evidence of that.
However, the margin of victory was somewhat generous – on two of the cards at least – given that Fagan had taken the fight to Hyland for much of the evening.
The early rounds had been also ridiculously tough to score too, with the momentum constantly switching from one man to the other as the pair stood toe-to-toe in the centre of the ring.
Fagan poured forward right from the off, which was hardly a surprise as Gael Force would be the first to admit that he knows no other way to fight. However, Hyland stood his ground, more than willing to trade with his fellow Dubliner.
The pace in the opening four rounds was unrelenting and the action truly awesome. The question was: could both men sustain it? The answer was: unequivocally, yes.
Fagan, of course, has been in many wars down through the years but there had been some doubt beforehand as to whether Hyland was capable of enduring such a savage test of stamina.
It transpired that he did, and not only that, he also had the intelligence. Hyland never shied away from engaging with Fagan on the inside but he was smart enough to step outside occasionally and use his superior boxing skills to repeatedly beat his 35-year-old opponent to the punch. Hyland was more economical in his work and also far more efficient: he consistently landed the cleaner, heavier punches.
He took control of the contest between rounds five and eight. Fagan kept coming, true warrior that he is, and his superior work-rate probably saw him reduce his deficit on the scorecards.
However, Hyland reasserted his dominance in the tenth and appeared to be on the verge of a stoppage win when he sent Hyland stumbling back on to the ropes with a couple of massive left hands. Fagan was undoubtedly in trouble but he simply would not submit and he responded in the predictable fashion: by fighting back, reclaiming the centre of the ring with a desperate flurry of punches. It was awe-inspiring stuff.
Hyland came out strong at the start of the 11th, perhaps sensing (or maybe just hoping!) that Fagan had nothing left to give, but the reigning Irish super-featherweight champion was unable to finish what he had started in the previous round and the pace dropped.
The pair, though, were merely saving themselves for one last courageous show of intestinal fortitude and the final stanza proved utterly absorbing as a consequence.
With the crowd on their feet and the names of both men ringing around the arena, Hyland and Fagan produced three minutes of beautiful brutality.
Fagan, knowing that he needed a knockout, forced the action and, at one point, after pinning Hyland back up against the ropes, appeared to have his fellow Dubliner in trouble.
However, Hyland, as he had done throughout, had an answer for everything that Fagan asked of him and the pair quickly resumed hostilities in the centre of the ring.
With just under 20 seconds it looked as if the pair had finally run out of gas. Indeed, with both men resting their heads on the other’s shoulder, seemingly no longer having the energy to throw any punches, it appeared as if all they were doing keeping one another up.
However, then the ten-second warning came and the two unloaded on each other once again until the final bell sounded, bringing an end to what must rank as one of the greatest fights in Irish boxing history.
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It was certainly an unforgettable night for the Hyland family, with Eddies younger brothers Patrick and Paulie both triumphing in their respective bouts on the same bill.
Paulie claimed the vacant IBF International Featherweight crown with a commanding points win over Abdu Tebazalwa.
Pajo, as he is known to his supporters, was always in complete control against his Ugandan opponent, boxing effectively behind his jab on his way to a unanimous points win (119-109, 118-110, 118-110).
However, Tebazalwa proved an extremely worthy foe and one could have also easily argued that he was somewhat harshly treated by the judges.
He certainly came to fight and did not seem daunted by the prospect of fighting in enemy territory.
Still, Hyland controlled proceedings throughout and landed a number of massive blows. Credit to Tebazalwa, he absorbed everything that the hometown favourite had to offer, though it has to be said that his gumshield twice rather dubiously ended up on the canvas during spells of intense pressure from Hyland.
Indeed, Tebazalwa looked ready to fall in the 12th until he was afforded some much-needed recovery time to reinsert his mysteriously misplaced mouthpiece.
However, while Tebazalwas tactics might have infuriated Hyland at times it was he who ended the bout with a new title wrapped around his waist and Pajo will now be targeting some of the biggest names in the featherweight division.
The same could also be said of the youngest of the Hylands, Paulie, who showed his fighting spirit in seeing off the challenge of a game Robert Nelson earlier in the evening.
Paulie looked set for an early nights work when he dropped Nelson with two stinging body shots in the opening round of their super-bantamweight clash.
However, while the Irish champion marched forward in search of an early stoppage, Nelson still had enough about him to keep Paulie at bay and see out the round.
Nelson proved a wily and spirited competitor, even managing to shrug off the effects of a nasty cut to his left eye the result of a sharp uppercut to last the scheduled eight rounds.
The referee scored it 80-75 in Paulie’s favour and that the bout went the distance was no bad thing for the talented 24-year-old given that this was his first outing since February.
And any frustration he might have felt must have long since vanished by the time he left the arena in Tallaght with his brothers Eddie and Patrick, two proud new holders of IBF International titles.