There were plenty of songs sang on Saturday night in Belfast and – while that wasn’t one of them – there certainly was a special feeling about the place.
Mick Conlan, seven years since his last bout in Belfast and seven fights into his pro career, was back in the Titanic City for a homecoming extravaganza and a massively enjoyable night of Irish boxing.
Below Irish-Boxing.com takes a look at all aspects of the Summer spectacular.
Nine Irish boxers competed on Saturday night, prospects early on followed by some big undercard fights and then the main man.
Taylor McGoldrick [2(0)-0] finally registered win number two. The Coalisland super middleweight squeaked past an up-for-it Casey Blair and, hopefully, will be back in the ring very soon. A seven-month gap between his first two fights is too much.
Padraig McCrory [4(2)-0] had a very solid win over Harry Matthews, the best name on his record so far. Looked in great shape and it’s all about the 29-year-old keeping busy. Never out of the gym, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue, and a slot on the Carl Frampton Windsor Park undercard would fit – although a quick fight in Britain away from ticket-selling responsibilities is another option.
Gary Cully [5(2)-0] was left disappointed after his fight with Hungarian dangerman Zoltan Szabo [24(10)-12(4)] fell through and he instead had to coast past Nicaraguan spoiler Reynaldo Cajina. The Naas lightweight is a special prospect and some would argue that he is already Ireland’s best lightweight. There’s no point holding him back and the fact that Szabo was the initial opponent shows that his team also believe that. Hopefully Szabo can be enticed over for his next fight – either on the Frampton Windsor Park bill or maybe as a TV fight on one of the upcoming MTK-BoxNation small hall shows.
Ireland’s other potentially world-level young prospect Lewis Crocker [6(6)-0] continues to defy belief. The Sandy Row welter knocked out Adam Grabiec, who went four rounds with noted middleweight puncher Mark Heffron, in the very first round with a delicious left hook to the body. It’s a matter of building the record against durable opponents, as Grabiec was meant to be, and an outing at Windsor Park has to happen. There is no major rush for ‘The Croc’ and recent weigh-ins suggest that it may be light middleweight where he ends up, let him continue racking up the wins and settle into a weight before being pushed into big fights.
The first title fight of the night saw Tyrone McCullagh [11(6)-0] dominate Glasgow’s Joe Ham to win the vacant BBBoC Celtic title. A visit to the canvas in the third – where he was caught clean but unhurt – aside, the Derry super bantamweight dominated with relative ease. Freaky fit with bags of talent and an awkward style, as well as having a punch, McCullagh is a nightmare opponent for most. Not keen on the British title, Commonwealth beltholder Ashley Lane [12(1)-8(4)-2] is the perfect next fight.
Jono Carroll and Deco Geraghty – what can we say that hasn’t been already. Everything about this all-Dublin super featherweight rematch was outstanding – the history, the build-up, the heart of Geraghty, the relentlessness of Carroll, the respect shown afterwards. It was just a fantastic fight, one which delivered on all the hype and then some.
Carroll [16(3)-0] is now in a very, very good position and is conceivably just one win away for a world title shot. An IBF final eliminator with Guillaume Frenois or Devis Boschiero – to face the winner of the vacant title clash between Tevin Farmer and Billy Dib in Sydney next month – is an extremely winnable fight. The former European champions owe some of their reigns to home advantage and, without possessing notable power, neither could keep Carroll off for twelve rounds. Too soon? Probably ever so slightly yes, but the path is opening up and, at 26 years of age, why not?
The Finglas-Dunshaughlin fighter has the tools to be a superstar – exciting style, lovable personality, distinctive look – and should he ever go to the Irish cities on the U.S. East Coast he will go down an absolute storm.
For Geraghty [17(4)-3(2)] it’s a tough defeat to take. As he admitted afterwards, the better man won, and where the inner-city stylist goes now is unsure. A move down to featherweight would make sense and he has more than enough ability to defeat some good names on the road.
Whether the EU silver medallist will want to be seen as an under-the-radar road warrior remains to be seen. Whatever he chooses to do, no one will deny that he showed immense heart on Saturday, being stopped standing in the ninth when many others would have wilted many rounds previous.
Staying on the topic of heart, we come to Tyrone McKenna [16(6)-0-1] who exceeded the expectations of most by running the world title-chasing Jack Catterall very close. However, it was the manner in which he recovered from three heavy knockdowns to the body that really impressed – and won McKenna many new fans as the Odyssey responded to his grit.
Firing back and winning plenty of rounds, the long Lenadoon southpaw proved he is well capable of hanging with and beating the best on the domestic light welterweight scene. Commonwealth champion Glenn Foot [23(7)-3(0)] is a great potential fight and, should Catterall defeat Ohara Davies in a bout which many expect to be next, a clash for McKenna with the mouthy Londoner remains attractive.
It’s rare that a fighter’s stock increases as much in defeat as McKenna’s has but ‘The Mighty Celt’ comes out of Saturday night with his head held even higher than usual. Big fights await.
Finally there is Mick Conlan [8(5)-0] who raised the roof on his entrance with a spine-tingling ringwalk which saw ‘Grace’ fade into ‘Homecoming’. The arrival was spectacular but the bout itself was more of a training exercise.
Dos Santos was game and a test but was dealt with with relative ease by Conlan who, it was very apparent, was practicing things done in the gym with new coach Adam Booth. The featherweight starlet’s power, or lack thereof, was raised by some but the Booth approach will get him far despite this.
Indeed, if and when he does end up facing a relentless pressure fighter that walks through his shots and gets past his footwork, there is a certain sense that Mick has enough grit to go to the trenches – he is a Conlan after all.
The entertainment factor is a pertinent one, while many could appreciate Conlan’s work in the ring, some more casual boxing fans didn’t and the atmosphere did lag a bit toward the mid-section of the fight. Booth is a hard taskmaster and not one for playing to the crowd so this perhaps falls to the event coordinators – something we will discuss below.
The Falls Road fighter wants to fight in Belfast all the time now and hopefully we see him back in the city very soon. Next though, it’s most likely a return to America and it would be good to see the former World Amateur champion move up to ten rounds and go in with a game Mexican. Former titlist Victor Terrazas [38(21)-5(5)-2] perhaps?
There was a great atmosphere which rose to memorable levels at very points throughout and Conlan did bring in a large crowd for his first headline appearance. No official number has been released but the naked eye would suggest around 4,500 in attendance.
The cancellations of Paddy Gallagher v Gary Corcoran, Sean McComb’s professional debut, and Gary Cully v Zoltan Szabo both hurt the overall strength of the show but, as so many strong fights were announced, the card was more than able to absorb this hit
While it was by no means a disastrous – indeed it was very good – and we are perhaps nit-picking here, but there were some issues that seem to be easily remedied that would great help shows in future.
The show’s scheduling, as is almost always the case, was poor. It was well after 11.00pm when Conlan made his walk to the ring which is too late. Agree or disagree, fans in the arena want to go to after-parties and pubs following a show and this is made difficult when it is near midnight when leaving the Odyssey.
By bringing the all-British fight between Lewis Benson and Johnny Coyle forward (or indeed having it as a swing/walk-out), Conlan is on earlier and the atmosphere increases. While boxing fans at home may rejoice with more boxing BT, it did not help the feeling inside the Odyssey and frustrated many in attendance.
The end of the first round in Conlan’s fight saw ‘Sweet Caroline’ wheeled out and, again, like it or loathe it, it got the crowd going. A few more such singalongs in the later rounds could help keep the casual, and indeed the very tired/drunk, fan engaged.
On the topic of scheduling, the off-TV undercard running order beggared belief. Three Irish fighters (McGoldrick, McCrory, and Cully) started us off before fights for England’s Sunny Edwards and Gary Corcoran along with Cuban Neslan Machado. We understand a desire to get fans into the arena early but off-TV is off-TV and there does not seem to be much point having a couple of hundred Irish fans rushing to the arena for 4:30pm, in glorious sunshine while France play Argentina in the World Cup, when there are three overseas fighters that brought no fans who could have easily gone first. Over seven hours in the arena is a very long time for fans and, considering the make-up of the bill, was completely unnecessary.
There are other minor, minor points. Why can’t the mics for the post-fight interviews be hooked up to the arena speakers? Jono Carroll asked the Belfast crowd if they wanted to see him fight for a world title but, sure, no-one could hear him. Announcements of upcoming fights over the tannoy in the concourse area outside seems a no-brainer. Having replays in between rounds flash up on the big screen would be nice too. All three bits are tiny points but would all add a little bit to the atmosphere. The Odyssey has the capability too, previous boxing and MMA shows have implemented these functions.
Ending with the negatives is perhaps unfair. It was a very good card and they are mere suggestions to try make a great bill even better.
Four Irish fighters continued their development, we had an all-Irish fight for the ages, a first title win, and a defeat in which he loser’s stock increased massively.
Most importantly, Conlan has come home and started building real momentum in Belfast while taking a major step-up in the process – and everyone had a great time.