The Newington welterweight brought over 200 people to see his professional debut and the crowd, which drew heavily from the support of Cliftonville FC, created a raucous occasion when O’Neill took to the ring.
— Stephen Sharpe – Boxing Ireland Promotions (@stesharpe1) May 26, 2019
It was party time at the Devenish for what ended up being the chief support bout of ‘Celtic Clash 8’ and O’Neill delighted the crowd with a points win over tough Latvian Kristaps Zulgis.
‘The Operator’ entered the pros with a limited amateur background but was able to keep a lid on his emotions where many others would have fallen prey to the occasion.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t really hear them,” he told Irish-Boxing.com afterwards.
“I had Paddy Gal and Ger McManus in the corner with their experience telling me ‘don’t let the crowd get to you’ and I didn’t.”
“I didn’t try go for the knockout, I just tried to box and I did.”
“Someone said to me upstairs there that people don’t have that sort of support for title fights. I had that in my first fight, that was madness. I’m just so thankful.”
O’Neill couldn’t afford to be dragged into a war, with Zulgis providing a genuine danger on his debut. The London-based fighter upset the 7-1-1 Kurt Grieve as recently as March and the late replacement didn’t come to Belfast to lie down.
“He was tough, he was very tough,” noted O’Neill following the 39-37 four-round win.
“People think that for your debut you’re going to get a plonker and I was meant to fight two plonkers but they didn’t pass their medicals and I had to fight him at the last minute.”
“He was good when he turned it on, he hit me with a couple of bodyshots that were tough. They were nothing like Paddy Gal’s but they were tough!
“I got a tough opponent and I dealt with the crowd. Not many people get debuts like that.”
With a passionate fanbase behind him, O’Neill won’t find it difficult to get onto shows and the Boxing Ireland fighter will be kept busy forward.
However, for now, a rest is the order of the day following an extended camp to get debut ready.
“I’m going to take a week off,” O’Neill outlined.
“I’ve been training since the first of January, twice a day every day. It’ll be a week off and then straight back into it.”