Willo Hayden will do things his own way as he looks to start forging a reputation as a standout prospect with success in Birmingham tonight.
Although known within Irish boxing circles as a talent of note with an entertaining style, the Dublin debutant’s relationship with Conor McGregor has caught the attention of the wider public.
Indeed, the fact the Crumlin teen has regularly sparred the UFC sensation has been something Frank Warren Promotions have used to sell the prospect and it’s something the media have gladly used as a Hayden hook.
The 2016 European Schoolboy medal winner doesn’t mind the McGregor link and does see his fellow Crumlin BC graduate as an inspiration but is adamant he isn’t a McGregor clone.
The fighter, who has been somber and mostly silent in fight week, believes he will begin his own unique journey to stardom on the undercard of Anthony Cacace’s British title defence against Lyon Woodstock tonight.
“Of course, Conor is an inspiration and a role model,” the fighter who won 11 Irish titles across various age groups said.
“He has made mistakes, but to see someone who comes from the same area as me turn into the superstar that he is, shows me that it is possible and that anyone can do it.”
“I don’t want to copy him though because I am my own person and I want to make it in my own way. You couldn’t copy him anyway.”
Hayden’s debut opponent will be 32-year-old Telford veteran Dean Jones. The experienced journeyman has fought 30 times in three years, entirely out of the away corner, winning just once but impressively only being stopped once – a ‘TKO’ loss that came in the sixth and final round versus prospect Dean Dodge due to a cut.
Furthermore, Jones has won at least a share of a round in over half of his bouts, suggesting he brings some aggression to the table (and that some of his losses are dubious).
Perhaps the most encouraging and surprising aspect of Hayden’s debut is that it will take place across six rounds. This despite him still being a teenager and having only started boxing three-minute rounds two years ago.
The fight won’t get TV air time but it’s an encouraging start and shows promoter Frank Warren is keen to get the 19-year-old moving, although he assures the Phil Sutcliff- trained fighter won’t be rushed.
Promoter Frank Warren claims that “he was undoubtedly the finest amateur talent in Irish boxing and I am looking forward to him showcasing his ability on our shows and to a wider audience on BT Sport.”
“We are continually looking to build young stars for the future and I am confident Willo possesses the application and natural ability to reach the very top of the sport. Much the same as with our other exceptional young fighters.”
“Our first job is to get him the experience he needs and he won’t be rushed.”
“We will deliver the right fights for him at the right time and I am sure boxing fans will enjoy watching his development and progression towards title contention.”