Middleweight – Big Things on the Horizon

By Joe O’Neill 

Following on from last week’s feature on the numerous talented Irish pros operating in the super featherweight and lightweight divisions, irish-boxing.com now takes a look at the Irish middleweight scene. 160lb is another exciting division with many boxers in and around world level as well as some real quality prospects that will hope to join them in the coming years. Such is the embarrassment of riches Ireland has at the weight, The Sun boxing scribe, Kevin Byrne, has postulated that there is perhaps even more pugilistic talent amongst Irish middleweights than there is in the entire Irish MMA invasion. A bold claim but it is hard to argue against once one considers the depth in the division.

On Top of the World

Sitting proudly beside Carl Frampton as one of Ireland’s two World Champions, Andy Lee is the undisputed top dog on the Irish middleweight scene. The WBO champ is currently recovering from an arm injury suffered in his pulsating draw with former titlist Peter Quillin in April. An Autumn return, hopefully in Ireland, is on the cards for the Limerick man with current mandatory challenger, Billy Joe Saunders, the most likely opponent. If Lee emerges from this bout victorious, a defence against an Irish opponent would be possible in what would be one of the biggest events in Irish boxing history.

Aiming for Andy

Fresh from chopping down the dangerous Melvin Betancourt in Boston last Saturday, Cork’s Gary O’Sullivan is targeting big fights. Spike has said numerous times that he would fight the division’s number one, Gennady Golovkin, and is even willing to travel to GGG’s native Kazakhstan for the fight. If such a fight can’t be made, and it is admittedly unlikely as HBO are pushing for Golovkin to fight Froch, Canelo, or Cotto – a Munster showdown with Limerick’s Lee would be a more-than-adequate alternative. Indeed O’Sullivan’s manager, Ken Casey, is on great terms with Lou DiBella, who represents Lee.

Another Irishman who has earmarked Lee as a potential opponent is Matt Macklin. The Tipperary Tornado is hoping for a fourth world title shot and the Matchroom fighter is hoping to be fast-tracked into a fight with either long-time rival, Lee, or WBA ‘regular’ titleholder, Daniel Jacobs. Another potential alternative for the Birmingham-born man is a money-spinning bout with former Lee conqueror, Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr. – however the likelihood of the Mexican star boiling down to a 164lb catchweight is dubious.

Taking Another Route

While Eamonn O’Kane’s trainer, Paddy Fitzpatrick, has also mentioned the possibility of an Andy Lee, the Derry man has other options in his hunt for a world title. The IBF ranked #7 has been earmarked by Cork’s Gary Hyde, who manages Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam, as a potential opponent for a title defence. First however the Cameroonian must win the vacant belt and there will be a lot of interested onlookers when he faces Canadian knockout artist David Lemieux for the title on June 20th in Montreal. As he showed by bringing Guillermo Rigondeaux to Dublin to face Willie Casey in 2011, Hyde has no problem bringing his fighters to Ireland – and a world title fight towards the end of the year in Belfast or Derry between Hassan and O’Kane is certainly a possibility.

Rising Stars

Ireland is also blessed with a trio of exciting middleweight prospects who will be looking to make an impact in the coming years. Currently living the dream in California with Golden Boy Promotions is Donegal’s Jason Quigley. The 2013 World Championships silver medalist has made an unblemished start to his career as Oscar De La Hoya seeks to build an American fanbase for the marketable Ballybofey man. Quigley’s amateur nemesis, Conrad Cummings, has made a similarly impressive start to life in the paid ranks with Cyclone Promotions. The Tyrone man has stated that he would fight Quigley whenever however it seems unlikely that Golden Boy would be agreeable. A fight which makes more sense for Cummings is Dubliner Luke Keeler – however due to the current frosty relationship between Cyclone and Matchroom (Keeler’s new promoter), this also seems unlikely. The Ballyfermot boxer is currently recovering from the hand injury which curtailed his Prizefighter assault in February and will look to start moving up the ranks again this Summer. The trio seemingly will not face each other for the time being – however, if and when they do eventually meet, they will be massive fights.

Last But Not Least

Finally, Belfast’s Alfredo Meli has gone quietly about his business in recent years and is aiming to add his name to the mix of exciting middleweights on the island. Unfortunately for Fredo, his York Hall fight for the vacant Irish super middleweight title, at a 164lb catchweight, against JJ McDonagh, has been cancelled. Hopefully the bout can be rescheduled for the near future and, if the busy southpaw secures victory against the tough Mullingar man, he could potentially mark himself out as an opponent for Cummings or Keeler – and both hypothetical match-ups would be exciting, non-stop affairs.

What would you like to see happen in Ireland’s exciting middleweight division?

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