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Returning Kenny Okungbowa vows to take the Irish heavyweight crown from Kirill Afanasev

Kenny Okungbowa is back and ready to take the throne as Ireland’s top heavyweight ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

With Darren O’Neill having stepped away, Dubliner Kirill Afanasev won the Elite 91kg title in February and has impressed on multiple trips abroad with the Irish team in the months since.

Okungbowa was a late withdrawal from the tournament earlier this year and finally made his return to the ring last weekend.

Here, on the St Catherine’s Charity Show for Crumlin Hospital, the Athlone big man defeat Under-22 and Intermediate champion Kevin Sheehy – who finished runner-up to Afanasev in the Elites.


A contest with a bit of needle, Okungbowa declared himself the best heavyweight in the country afterwards while Limerick youngster Sheehy promised revenge.

“It’s good to be back,” Okungbowa told Irish-Boxing.com afterwards.

“I missed the Seniors due to personal issues. I’m trying to get a bit off ring rust off, that was my first time back in the ring fit in a year and a half.”

“The man I got in the ring with was the man I was meant to have in the Seniors and me pulling out meant he went forward. I can say to myself I know that if I as there he wouldn’t have gone forward, it would have been me going forward. ”

“I look forward to getting back in the mix again”

Irish runner-up three times in the past eight years, Okungbowa is confident of making the breakthrough at the 2019 Seniors next February.

The World University Championships bronze medallist is emboldened by his record versus new champion Afanasev having defeated the Smithfield Russian last Autumn at the Eindhoven Box Cup.

Okungbowa was carrying a hand injury into that bout and feels that it will be an even more decisive win if and when they meet again.

“I know myself when I’m in top shape at 91kgs that I can do what it takes to beat him [Afanasev],” he stated.

“I’ve beat him before – I’m not going to say that boxers don’t improve – but when I beat him before I wasn’t at my best, I was lackadaisy.”

“If I can do that when I’m lackadaisy, what can and I do when I’m in tip-top shape and fully focused to take someone’s head clean off in the ring?”

Doing things decisively is on Okungbowa’s mind. The Nigeria-born Athlone fighter has been hurt before on the cards and does not want to leave anything to chance.

The 29-year-old outlined how “I don’t think I’ll let it go to a decision because of the politics in boxing – some people are picked before the championship starts. If a referee lets me box and the judges give me a shot, no politics, I’ll let my hands do the talking.”

“Sometimes you can beat the man but you can’t beat the name, I wouldn’t be the only one to see that.”

“I’ll be there, in shape, and I won’t need to say anything.”

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


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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