Not Done Yet – Dublin Boxing Rages Against the Dying of the Light


By Jonny Stapleton

Dublin boxing sat up and starting talking at its own wake on Saturday night.

The sport outside of Belfast, and particularly in Dublin, has been pronounced dead in recent weeks.

The cancellation of ‘The Beginning’ card set for the National Stadium on July 7th was said to be the final nail and a public mourning process has been on display over the last two weeks.

However, while the sweet science isn’t dancing on the tables and partying big style like the sport in Belfast, it is more on its sick bed than six feet under.

Those laying wreaths at present do make some valid points – promoters are not making money, boxers are not selling enough tickets, costs are increasing massively, and sponsors are not overly keen. Yet, there is an argument that a slight reduction in costs and more all-Irish fights could allow a structure that would provide breathing space for growth.

Things have been so negative over the last few weeks that Kildare native, and one fighter that could inspire the kind of revival that could see RTÉ get back involved, Eric Donovan grabbed the mic after his routine win and let out a battle cry. The punching pundit and a wholesome face of the sport called for continued support and assured fans there is enough talent fighting in Dublin from around the country worthy of hype and backing.

On the face of it, some might say that talk of a demise is a bit dramatic. There have been more shows in recent years than at any stage since the massively-supported ‘Bernard Dunne Era’, there are more fighters turned over than ever before, and the all-Irish fight is as popular as it ever was.

TV has also made a return this year and by all accounts TG4’s Last Man Standing broadcast did higher numbers than Sky’s showing of Kell Brook versus Sergey Rabchenko at the same time.

Granted, the benefits haven’t been seen moving forward and the non-payment of Roy Sheahan may have soured TV’s interest, but the numbers prove boxing on TV can be a success.

Still, going into Saturday’s Boxing Ireland and Tony Davitt fight night, which was sandwiched in between Michael Conlan’s successful Homecoming card and a Carl Frampton stadium show in Belfast, a real negativity polluted the air around the Dublin boxing fraternity.

However, while circumstances outside of the ring may mean Dublin boxing is not in a position to run TV-broadcast arena fight nights, Saturday proved there is enough raw materials for entertaining shows that can play a part in building stars of the future.

If it gets to the stage that boxers have to travel to move to the next level, but emerging talent can grow records and even reach domestic heights in the capital with more shows like the well-matched and entertaining ‘Celtic Clash 6’ bill.

The Good Counsel-hosted show was anything but glitz and glam but there was that beautiful old-school small hall grit to the card.

There is always room for good fights in an intimate atmosphere – and there certainly some good fights on show on Saturday.

Carl McDonald and Colin O’Donovan served up a high octane battle worthy of any TV undercard and the points win for the Tallaght native is one of the best stories of Irish boxing this year.

The Jobstown fighter was distraught after losing to Regan Buckley late last year and suffered a second defeat on the road to Matchroom prospect Jordan Gill.

At that stage, life on the road looked a possibility but the likeable puncher jumped at the chance to fight for a BUI Celtic title. He was initially meant to fight Colin O’Donovan for the super bantamweight crown, but the Cork fight failed to make weight and stablemate Eric Donovan kindly gave up his featherweight title to ensure one of the pair had the chance to become a champ.

The Eddie Hyland-trained fighter stepped up in weight and produced a performance that he and his fans will remember for life. It may not be a World title, but it’s a night that will remain special to McDonald and his team. Having the title remain in play also opens doors for more high profile fights for ‘The Cobra’.

It was also nice to see the family element behind the win. The former Golden Cobra fighter, a club run by the late Paddy Hyland, won his first title with the eldest of the Hyland brothers in his corner and, not only did so in front of his family and friends, but in front of the supporters of his Limerick gym mate Graham McCormack O’Shea, who hung around to support their man’s colleague. Then there was the Hyland brothers’ mother, Dinah, who has moved from supporting her sons in the ring to supporting the fighters her son trained and celebrated like she had just seen a grandson achieve fight success.

It might not seem much or mean a lot on the grander scale, but it highlights what the sport can mean to some and it’s something outside the business side of things that fans can latch onto.

The Victor Rabei v Karl Kelly light welterweight bout was another that entertained too such a degree both were content after the final bell. Rabei took a significant stride forward in a relatively high profile fight and entertained fans in the process.

There is a chance if looked after possible Rabei could become a name. Handsome, confident, slick, smart enough to entertain in and out of the ring – and whose fans have a brilliantly earthy Eastern European-sounding ‘Vic-tor’ chant.

Rabei has developed a reputation and increased his profile on Dublin cards and on Saturday secured a BUI Celtic title that could help him kick on to the next level on what some suggest is a dying Dublin scene.

Warrior Kelly, on the other hand, lost his second successive fight but took solace he was in a bout fight fans will remember and over his first tray of chips in 12 weeks and was excited about the prospect being in future Dublin wars.

The level of ‘journeyman’ was also higher than ever on the Boxing Ireland card, resulting in competitive fights rather than the blow outs that have populated cards over recent years, another thing that will ensure that fans return.

Winning in better tests, aligned with seeing other fighters receive the plaudits for battling in Irish fights, paves the way for relatively fresh punchers looking for derby encounters.

There were step-ups and good wins throughout the bill, with Keane McMahon, John Joyce, and Dylan McDonagh all posting career-best performances and results.

McMahon claimed he is ready for the likes early challenge trend-setter Jay Byrne, Niall O’Connor name-dropped Stephen McAfee and Rabei following his fourth win, McAfee himself has a taste for the higher profile encounter after his back-to-back O’Donovan clashes, and Rabei versus Martin Quinn looks likely down the road.

A scenario that hasn’t presented itself in recent years and is impressive for a period currently being advertised as the worst in recent Irish boxing history.

Granted, considering the stage each is at in their career, it’s no Paul Hyland versus Willie Casey or Anthony Fitzgerald versus Spike O’Sullivan – or even Fitzy against O’Kane – but they are fights that capture public attention and are bouts the current crop can use to grab titles and kick on.

It’s a good bit off the thriving Belfast scene but Saturday and Celtic Clash 6 proved there are things to build on in Dublin.

Promoters may need to come together to make it work financially, but the fighters, the narrative, and the willingness to make it work is there.

Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish)

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