Luke Keeler edged a back-and-forth battle with Darren Cruise tonight to claim the vacant Irish middleweight title.
The headline fight of the Red Corner ‘For Honour and Pride’ card, the counties of Dublin and Roscommon collided, with Keeler winning by just one point following ten close rounds.
As warring chants of ‘Keeler’ and ‘Cruiser’ rang around the National Stadium, it was a cagey start. Cruise landed the first shot of note, a counter left hook and, while Keeler was the busier throughout, another counter left from the Rossie on the bell may have snuck him the round.
The jab of Keeler started to assert itself in the second, before another well timed counter left hook from Cruise. This seemed to spring the Dubliner into action and the pair began to trade, with Keeler getting the better of the exchanges.
Keeler seemed to be hitting his stride in the third, and sunk in two meaty bodyshots before an overhand right from Cruise.
One flurry from Cruise aside, the fourth was a Keeler round with ‘Cool Hand’ again doing good work to the body and seemingly buzzing Cruise following a sharp combination. There was worry however for the Ballyfermot man, as a small cut surfaced on the inside of his left brow.
A better fifth from the Roscommon fighter saw him force Keeler to the ropes early and land a particularly nasty looking skimming body shot. Keeler responded, but the better work in this stanza was coming from Cruise, who landed a big overhand counter right.
Cruise made a good start to the sixth before Keeler began to re-establish a rhythm. Castlerea’s Cruise fought back with two big counter rights before being wobbled by a big shot from Keeler – who then attacked the body with vigour to put a stamp on the round.
A big backhand right from Cruise followed by a nice hook to the body signalled the start of the seventh before Keeler upped the output. The Celtic Warriors man was then given a warning for a shot that strayed low. Cruise did not seek time to recover, and came firing back, landing straight shots to good effect and a big overhand on the bell.
Becoming a trend, Cruise got the better of the opening stages in the eighth, landing with the crisper punches. The jab of the Connacht man was an especially potent weapon here and he remained the aggressor throughout, with the one-two working to good effect.
Yet another strong start from Cruise in the ninth saw Keeler knocked back for the first time, however the 30 year old Dub bossed the remainder off the jab, with a nice sharp finish.
The pair went to war at the start of the final round, with Keeler landing the cleaner blows. The round would quieten before Cruise came back with a big straight right and the pair circled until the bell.
Going to referee David Irvine’s card following a hard bout to score, with many swing rounds, Keeler was awarded the win on a scoreline of 96:95.
The Irish-Boxing.com scorecard read 96:94 in favour of Keeler.
The narrow win sees Keeler improve to 13(5)-2(1), while Cruise drops to 7(1)-6(0) following another one-point Irish title defea.
The win, Keeler’s first Irish title amateur or pro, will now hopefully boost the Irishman’s rankings with the EBU – where he is placed 12th in Europe and 9th in the EU.
Photo Credit: Laszlo Geczo Photography