The Lenadoon light welterweight claimed a unanimous decision points win over Dubliner Darragh Foley in the chief support bout of the #MTKFightNight at the Ulster Hall to cement his status as the self-styled ‘King of Ireland’.
Considering the two fighters’ approaches, a bloody war was anticipated and while there was more action than your average fight, it was the skills and tactics of McKenna that made the difference and helped him pick up the biggest win of his career.
He was made to work, and work hard, by a gritty opponent, but McKenna left wearing the WBC International title and could soon find himself in a very interesting position.
Foley, for most, was last seen losing an awkward fight to top prospect Akeem Ennis Brown in December. There were two wins over journeymen opposition in his adopted Australian home but he returned to competitive action here
McKenna on the other hand had already ‘bounced back’ from his loss to Jack Catterall almost a year ago with a narrow win over Lewis Benson in November and was looking to claim a FOURTH win over Irish opposition following victories over Sean Creagh, Jake Hanney, and Anto Upton.
While Foley exuded an almost eerie level of confidence throughout fight week, it was McKenna who entered his home ring as a 1/2 favourite with the bookies
McKenna, enjoying his usual substantial size advantage, was able to land quick hands on the stooping Foley in the opener, with the Blanch boxer looking to land swinging overhand lefts and gradually establishing his range.
The trading began in the second and Foley looked to have McKenna slightly bothered before the Belfast boxer responded with bodyshots that sucked the wind out of ‘Super’s’ sails temporarily – although he did then hit back himself with the most eye-catching punch of the round in the closing exchanges. As expected, an early cut opened up, with first blood coming from the outside of McKenna’s right brow.
The battle lines had been drawn and the toe-to-toe trading continued into the third, with McKenna the aggressor but Foley landing plenty of his own slashing shots which sent sweat spraying across the canvas. The closing minute saw the pattern swap, with McKenna standing off and landing well when taking his time, but the onrushing Foley was having some messy joy.
The straighter puncher, McKenna tried to take control at the start of the fourth and was landing the far higher number of shots but the physical Foley was making him work hard and doing damage with every clipping shot that hit home.
Head clashes were a worry, with both southpaws being frequently cut in past fights- indeed Foley was forced to take a draw versus Chris Jenkins last summer for this reason – but we made it into the fifth. While he was outlanding Foley, McKenna looked to be feeling the pace more as the visitor drove him to the ropes. Foley himself, however, was becoming ragged too and found himself in a spot of bother when an evaded wild swing left him briefly caught in the neutral corner.
Going into the second half of the contest, ‘The Mighty Celt’ began to trickle from both sides of his face – this time a nastier nick around the outside of his left eyelid which became quite messy as the sixth progressed. The Foley corner weren’t happy with McKenna’s holding but it was the Bondai boxer who received a stern warning from referee Victor Loughlin for hitting after the break.
The superior skills of McKenna probably provided the edge again in the eighth, another competitive round which followed the story of the fight thus far and one suspected that Foley would need a big finish.
Momentarily orthodox in the eighth, the Dubliner pushed and pushed, at one stage leaning on the ropes to goad McKenna into attacking. The Belfast boxer though was managing the fight well and scored a debated knockdown when he caught a lunging – and probably already slipping Foley – with a short, innocuous uppercut which forced a count.
Needing a knockout, Foley did land a big swinging hook at the start of the penultimate round but the jaw of McKenna, already proved in the Catterall war, held firm. The Oliver Plunkett’s graduate continued to box cutely while a tired Foley bravely battled on, still landing the occasional big shot but no longer seemingly denting McKenna like previously.
Relentless, Foley forced McKenna back throughout the final stanza but the breakthrough never came and he seemed to acknowledge defeat at the final bell following a round which had the historic Hall on its feet.
Going to the cards McKenna was indeed confirmed the winner with a 97-93 scorecard alongside a pair of 98-91s.
He now improves to 19(6)-1(0)-1, while the ever-entertaining Foley drops to 17(9)-4(0)-1.
The win also sees McKenna pick up the WBC International title and, most likely, a spot in the organisation’s Top 15. The current champion is Top Rank’s José Ramirez who, operating outside the ongoing World Boxing Super Series, looks to unify versus WBO champ Maurice Hooker next month in Texas.
The World next? It’s certainly what he’ll be targeting. How high his ceiling is remains to be seen, but McKenna has certainly proved himself as the man in Ireland.