Always polite, ever courteous, extremely humble and even sometimes shy. At first glance, Padraig McCrory doesn’t fit the mould of a gladiatorial rebel.
Yet when the first beat of his inspiring Seven Nation Army ringwalk drops at the Falls Park late this Friday night, the downtrodden and working class of world boxing will punch the air in defiance, rejoice and belt out ‘oohhhhhh Pody McCrory’ at the top of their lungs battle cry style.
Although he doesn’t seem to be aware of it ‘The Hammer’ is their Spartacus, their Katniss Everdeen [for younger readers], a real-life Rocky Balboa who has not only defied the odds but the system.
The 35-year-old steps onto a stage usually reserved for boxing royalty to headline outdoors in a purpose-built stadium this weekend – and not only is it another exciting chapter in an amazing boxing fairytale. It’s also a moment that will inspire other fighters outside of the 1%.
Granted, boxers who turn over without huge fanfare have found passage to similar platforms but generally play their parts from the away corner. Working class hero McCrory is the star attraction, the main man and the fighter whose shoulders upon this card rests. McCrory steps into the shoes of one of one of Ireland’s most recognizable sports stars and a name known around the boxing world in Olympic medal winner and amateur World Champion Michael Conlan in Belfast in a number of days.
And while boxing is a sport that is conducive to a rags-to-riches story, it was still never really meant to be this way! Indeed, but for a pint-fueled debate over the level McCrory would be able to compete at, he may never have even returned to the sport.
To prove a point, he ended a years-long sabbatical from the ring and entered the Ulster Championships at a few weeks notice. He won the 2014 version of the tournament beating Sean McGlinchey in the decider.
The former Gleann ABC and Holy Trinity BC amatuer was back on the map but wasn’t afforded the chance to the Commonwealth Games, where a medal can prove massively helpful when turning over.
So with the vest beginning to irritate him but with his love for boxing back, McCrory decided turn over – and did so with little fanfare.
The Belfast boxing hardcore did express a slight degree of excitement, sharing stories of a ‘nice kid’ who carried genuine power. However, the thing was he wasn’t a ‘kid’, ‘The Hammer’ was 28, and had to get his wedding out of the way before he could debut.
Plus at that age, and with no huge amateur success on his cv, or massive promotional clout, he had very little to pay the expensive tolls that cause traffic jams road to stardom.
As a result, it was agreed a good domestic inning would be deemed a success and an Irish title the cherry on a tasty of a not too fancy cake.
The fighter himself admitted he was taking a ‘give it go’ approach to his career and has since said an Irish title was the ‘dream’.
An Irish title is nothing to be sniffed at and there are as many fighters as fondly remembered for being in exciting all-Irish fights as there are pugilists who reached world level. However, comparing where McCrory dreamed of being to where he is just highlights how far he has journeyed.
It’s not quite as simple as the road less travelled making all the difference when it comes to McCrory. There was the big IBO world title win last year but it’s not as if McCrory padded a record before taking an away corner risk and transformed his career with one big win in Germany.
His rags to riches tale has a lot more chapters than that and the formula for his success contains ingredients galore. The first suggestion the Belfast talent could have a career beyond the small hall came straight away. It was clear he knew his way around the ring from fight one but it takes a lot more than that to become a fight success. What really stood out in that early phase was the high regard his fans held him in. There was a genuine sense of love every time he fought and it was apparent his following were ready to go on a McCrory journey regardless of where it ended up.
Here was a genuinely nice guy with the following and the ability to do something.
Ironically, considering the foundations of the Dee Walsh trained fighter’s success are refreshingly in the fact he is a ‘boxing good guy’, it was an in-ring mean streak that started his cross-over transition.
A devastating stoppage of Manny Bique, which became one of former heavyweight champion of the world Lennox Lewis’s favourite one-punch finishes, saw him get noticed beyond the small hall scene, as did a revenge win over McGlinchey.
Even still, and despite forging a name for himself by 2019 after his dramatic BUI Celtic title win – when he stopped Steve Collins Jr in the last round – there was an ‘anything from here is a bonus’ feel in some quarters.
As a result, McCrory still had to graft for it. Starting with Mikey Ellison in 2020 the reigning Irish Boxing Awards Fighter of the Year went on a run of step-up knockout wins that lead him to the IBO title shot. Again, that wasn’t handed to him on a platter but by that stage doing things the hard way was the norm. The Conlan Boxer fighter went to the Lion’s Den and stopped the Lion to claim a profile-boosting belt.
Although that win saw McCrory linked to some big names there were again some who celebrated it like it was the perfect happy ending to a fairytale story.
However, the 35-year-old hasn’t put down the pen and isn’t yet finished writing his story. Another chapter will be written this weekend and it’s one that will be read to the Irish boxers turning over with very little fanfare for years to come.