The Shankill super featherweight defeated former Spanish and EU champion Ruddy Encarnacion, live on BoxNation, at the Titanic Exhibition Centre where he was had to come through the fire and then some.
The former British and Commonwealth title challenger had cruised through the early rounds before a crazy second half to the bout, with the pair trading knockdowns and McCullough at times looking out on his feet.
The 28-year-old, however, made it through impressively, picking up the IBO International title in the process.
McCullough made a sharp start, boxing patiently and cautiously with the counter left hook working well as Encarnacion, a former sparring partner of Carl Frampton, trudged forward.
The early pattern of the fight saw McCullough look to be the matador to Encarnacion’s Spanish bull and he began to bring in counter rights in the second. A wild winging bodyshot from the Dominican-born fighter, however, got through as something of a warning sign for the Irishman.
It was a scrappier affair in the third, with Encarnacion continuing to constantly be on the front foot, but all the quality work was coming from McCullough.
Putting in a controlled performance, McCullough forced Encarnacion to stumble back with a stabbing straight shot to the body in the fourth and he followed this up with a jarring cross to the jaw.
Sensing he needed to step up a gear, Encarnacion began the fifth very aggressively. McCullough was picking nice single shots in return but the veteran Spaniard looked to be starting to drag him into a war.
McCullough’s footwork was working well as the bout entered its second half as 39-year-old Encarnacion continued, somehow, to press. The visitor’s chance came in the final minute following a clash of head, with McCullough then being pressed to the ropes and getting stunned by a hailstorm of shots from Encarnacion.
The drama of the sixth led into a much scrappier seventh, with the pair wrestling on the ropes before the final minute of the stanza exploded. A beautiful clean left hook from McCullough was followed by a huge overhand right from Encarnacion caught the Shankill boxer square on and elicited gasped from the crowd in attendance.
McCullough stemmed the flow in the eighth with a left hook catching Encarnacion off balance. The Madrid-based man touched down momentarily and, to his disgust, was forced to take a potentially crucial count.
Encarnacion roared back in the penultimate round, a round of the year contender, with a cuffing right hand sending McCullough down. The Ulsterman rose unsteadily and looked to hold, hanging on. Encarnacion then landed two huge, clean, illegal, shots as the pair broke. McCullough was out on his feet completely, but roused the crowd with a succession of big shots on the onrushing Encarnacion.
McCullough looked to have found his feet again at the start of the tenth round and, in a stunning turnaround, landed clean shot after clean shot as Encarnacion rumbled forward to the bell.
Going to the cards, McCullough was confirmed a 95-93, 96-92, 97-91 winner and he now improves his record to 21(11)-4(3). The gallant Encarnacion drops to 39(18)-27(5)-4