Reasons to be Cheerful – Promoter explains Spanish switch and positive 2021 plans

Boxing will be back in Dublin soon, promises promoter Leonard Gunning, but Spain away days are also here to stay.

Today Boxing Ireland Promotions confirmed Celtic Clash 11 for the Pabellón Príncipe de Asturias in the Spanish city of Murcia and a team of Irish punchers will fly out to Alicante for the December 20th fight night.

The Sunday show, which will play out in front of a socially-distanced local audience, is the only way the Boxing Ireland stable can continue to build their careers from the ‘home’ corner and the Sligo fightmaker is envisioning a multi-faceted future.

In both Britain and Ireland, 2020 has been an unmitigated disaster in terms of small hall boxing.

The UK has put a kibosh on all small hall shows since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, putting on hold Boxing Ireland’s continued Belfast expansion.

The Devenish in West Belfast

While numerous fighters have already been building in Poland and Spain – including four this weekend – the promotional outfit comprised of Gunning, Dennis Morrison, and Stephen Sharpe, had been ready to celebrate a breakthrough regarding Boxing Union of Ireland-sanctioned shows. Unfortunately, this too has now been paused due to the Republic’s slow slide back into Lockdown.

Gunning is remaining positive though regarding his stable’s prospects and explained to Irish-Boxing.com how “obviously, as everyone knows, it’s been a really tough year in 2020 because all shows have been cancelled or postponed due to the COVID pandemic.”

“However, we have been relatively lucky that we managed to get most of our guys out on Celtic Clash 10 in February. We would have been in a much worse position if we had pencilled the show in for March or April – most promoters don’t really like putting on shows in January or February. So that took a little bit of the pressure off us because we knew that our guys had been active, with a show in late 2019 and another in early 2020.”

“However, as time went on through the Lockdown, lots of our guys started getting itchy knuckles and we wanted to get them out again.”

While shows are non-existent in Ireland at present, there still has been a steady stream of fighters in action, and one of the most notable and celebrated bouts was Katelynn Phelan’s stunning stoppage of Jessica Schadko in Germany last month.

Phelan TKO6 Schadko

While this opportunity was grasped by Boxing Ireland’s new jewel, these calculated risks don’t fit everyone and the outfit have been looking to, somehow, put on their own show.

Gunning outlines how “most of the fighters on our roster have been made various offers for fights, mainly abroad and at short notice, which didn’t suit us, didn’t suit the boxers, and didn’t suit the plan that we have for each of our fighters.”

“So, since the late Summer, myself, Stephen, and Dennis, have been working, trying to find a way to put on a show in Ireland without having a crowd there. As everyone knows, small hall boxing needs a crowd because we don’t have the television revenue or the sponsorship that a big promoter like Matchroom, Frank Warren, or Golden Boy, would receive.”

“Everything we pay for, is paid by punters coming through the door. The conundrum was, how do we pay for a show whilst having no revenue? We knew that a show in Belfast under the auspices of the British Boxing Board of Control was out of the question because they weren’t even looking at shows being allowed in Belfast until 2021 and that they had a requirement for everyone that attends the show to quarantine and be tested. The financial implication of that was too onerous.”

Belfast, now off-limits, had been the location for the last three Celtic Clash instalments and had become the focus of Boxing Ireland’s attention as shows in the 26 counties dried up

However, major talks with the Boxing Union of Ireland in recent weeks had proved fruitful and an unlikely return of boxing in the capital became a possibility.

Gunning tells how “we were in discussions with the Boxing Union of Ireland to put a show on, behind closed doors, in Dublin. We had a number of meeting and discussions with members of the BUI and they were all very productive.”

“We both were very malleable in trying to get shows going again south of the border. Everyone on all sides took steps to make sure that as much was done as possible to try and get a show on in Dublin,” he adds before the catch.

“However, with the current government restrictions, it just was impossible to be able to get opponents in to Dublin without having to quarantine them prior and post-fight – which fighters didn’t generally want to do. We’re going to have to park that until the restrictions come down and the requirement for testing is done away with.”

It is hoped to have BUI shows in early 2021

A stronger relationship with the BUI has been built but, for now, it’s to Spain – and the trips could continue into 2021 in tandem with Irish shows.

Gunning details how “we had to look further afield and use some of the contacts that we’ve built up over the years in Europe.”

“We hope we don’t have to always be coming back to Spain but we hope that it can be a regular outlet for some of our fighters maybe once or twice a year to get experience with fighting away from home and against good opponents.”

“We’ve been working with our matchmaker in Spain, Ricky Pow, to put a show on in Spain. Ricky is a well-known guy in Ireland having fought here as a pro and having brought in a number of opponents for our last few shows. He’s a guy that we’ve built up a good relationship with and trust.”

“He’s been trying to pull together a show in Alicante for the past month or so for us and we finally got through all the red tape from the local town hall and got an absolute fantastic venue in Murcia,” adds the London-based promoter before noting the positives of the card.

“It’s a fantastic basketball arena which is usually packed with thousands of adoring fans – however, on this occasion, we won’t be able to get the same crowd into it as normal due to social distancing. The good news is, we have a fantastic venue, we have a great show, and we will be able to get some fans, maybe a couple of hundred, in to the arena as long as they are socially distanced and wearing masks.”

“It’s been really tough for Ricky and I to get this one across the line because we didn’t have to go to a really small venue where we could get nobody in. We wanted something befitting of the first Celtic Clash overseas. I think with this venue, this card, and the undercard that we’re going to have, I think people will be very excited.”

“The best news of all is that it will be streamed live on pay-per-view on fite.tv so all of the fighters’s fans back in Ireland will be able to catch the fights on a good-quality platform at a reasonable price.”

There is a limit to the number of fighters the local authorities will allow so Boxing Ireland have had to choose those with the preparations and the financial means to be able to box in just over five weeks time.

“As you would expect,” continues Gunning, “there has been a clamour to gain one of the five slots on the show within the team. We have five fighters no confirmed on the show and we are currently matching them. We are hoping to get some good tests and a step up for a number of guys on the show.”

“A number of our stable have been working really hard during to lockdown to improve their skills, get their weight down, working on different tactics, and those guys are going to be rewarded with a slot on Celtic Clash 11.”

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie