Mark Dunlop told Eric Donovan this moment would come when they first met back in March.
The manager who took the reins from Boxing Ireland assured the Irish featherweight champion he would secure him a breakthrough shot – but warned he didn’t have the luxury of being picky.
Donovan’s reaction that day suggested he would fight whoever it took to prove himself – and the Belfast-based manager now knows for sure he need not have worried about the Kildare fighter being finicky.
The 35-year-old appeared ready to take on any feather or super feather that would allow him to show the wider public his capabilities and proved as much when the chance to fight Commonwealth 130lbs champion Zelfa Barrett presented itself.
“When I said there is a strong chance I can get the Barrett fight he said ‘yes’ straight away. I didn’t have to do any coaxing or persuading,” Dunlop told Irish-boxing.com.
“Eric is dedicated, fit and watches his weight, so I knew I could take a later-notice fight with him. It was something we discussed when I first talked to him.”
“He was clear he wanted a chance to prove himself. I told him I’d do all I could to get him that chance, but we both knew it wouldn’t come on his terms.”
The terms certainly are not made to suit the five-time National Senior champ. Donovan moves up in weight to take on a fighter Matchroom have signed as one for the future on a show at the promotional company’s headquarters.
It’s a scenario Dunlop has seen before – it went his way in the case of James Tennyson versus Martin J Ward, but went against him when Tommy McCarthy fought Richard Riakporhe and Paul Hyland Jnr lost to Lewis Ritson.
Still, he believes fighters should test themselves and attempt to progress their careers, particularly in the case of an Irish climate that isn’t always conducive to progression.
The manager and promoter, hoping to persuade Sky to return to Belfast this year, also believes time will recall the risk-takers more fondly than any risk-averse undefeated fighter.
“If you don’t have a go you never know how good you are or what you could have done,” he explained.
“That’s it put plain and simple for Eric, that is the scenario he is faced with.”
“If you don’t take a chance, you are not going anywhere. It’s three judges and a ref, you’re not going to get this fight in Ireland or the National Stadium. That’s the sad reality, it’s not going to happen, so you have to take the chance. Eric is aware of that and is more than happy to take the risk. I’m confident he can take the chance.”
“Many of them talk a good fight then, when it comes to it, haven’t got the balls. People with Eric’s attitude will have great careers even if they don’t win every time. They will be remembered for the fights they were in and their balls to take a risk. Do you want to be remembered for fights or for a padded record?”
Donovan could have found an easier way to introduce himself to the wider boxing public than a Barrett fight and has admitted as much.
Yet while Dunlop has highlighted the risk element, he is adamant he is not sending in a lamb to be slaughtered by Eddie Hearn’s next big thing.
“At the end of the day, Eric is 35, he has a wealth of experience. Barrett only has 20 amateur fights, he won half, lost half, but he has the pro experience – so, for me, that makes it 50-50 fight,” he muses before bursting any ‘last chance saloon’ myths.
“He has nothing to lose, he is stepping up a division, he has experience, if he is good enough he do it. If it turns out Barrett was too big for him then you’re still featherweight champ of Ireland and you’ve just co-main-evented a big show.
“I don’t send them in for a pay-day, money isn’t the important thing to me. I want Eric to win a belt, do something people will remember. He doesn’t need motivation, if he didn’t take it now he could be sitting there for another year waiting.”