Savouring the little things – Our 8 best Irish boxing tidbits from 2016

It’s not just the big wins, the titles, and the knockouts which make following Irish boxing a joy. In fact, sometimes it’s the small things, the underappreciated or perhaps even insignificant moments that stick out in the memory.

Over the past year there have been plenty of these sort of moments which have been ingrained in this writer’s memory.

So, as something of a Christmas special, here are the small things, our best tidbits, of a crazy 2016 for Irish boxing

Teenage Kicks for Tyrone McCullagh
After two fights in England, Tyrone McCulagh made his Irish debut at the Europa Hotel in February, scoring a first round knockout of Bence Sipos. While ‘White Chocolate’ is a huge fan of The Saturdays, the Derry boxer chose something a little bit closer to home for his ringwalk in Belfast. McCullagh entered to Teenage Kicks by ‘The Undertones’ – a personal favourite of this writer – allowing for something of a singalong for his large and loud travelling support in one of the highlights of the night. Having a signature ringwalk song is a relatively rare thing but McCullagh may be on to a winner, using the punk anthem again in his next fight in Belfast, and generating a similarly fantastic atmosphere.

Watch Tyrone McCullaghs ringwalk v Bence Sipos below (includes a brilliantly intimidating stare at his opponent once McCullagh enters the ring):

Carl Frampton’s reaction to victory over Scott Quigg
‘The Jackal’ defeated his long-time rival in a much-hyped Sky pay-per-view showdown at the Manchester Arena. The build-up was unprecedented but the fight itself failed to catch fire, with Frampton dominating the early rounds with little effort before withstanding a late charge from Quigg. When the time came for the scorecards there was incredulity as the first card read 115-113 in favour of Quigg. This was then ruled out by a 116-112 score for Frampton and, as we awaited the decisive third tally, the Belfast man raised his arm in anticipation before being given the split-decision win. There were no mad celebrations from Frampton however, who greeted the victory with a knowing, almost solemn look. It was an ultimate gesture of superiority, he ‘knew’ that he would win the fight which was five years in the making, the verdict was something he had anticipated with certainty, it was almost routine.

Watch Frampton’s reaction to the result below (Skip to 5:50):

James McGivern wows the National Stadium hardcores
Ireland took on a Russian select in a test international at the National Stadium in a pre-Olympic send off in July. It was a fairly poorly-attended event, but the small band of knowledgeable fans that showed up were witness to a beautiful performance from Belfast bantam James McGivern. The St George’s teen was only added to the team that very afternoon and had not boxed since his controversial defeat at the European Youths the previous month, but he dazzled against Senior Russian fighter Roman Podoprigora. While a glove was barely laid on McGivern throughout the whole bout, there was one particular highlight in the opening round when the come-forward Russian seemed to have cornered the Antrim boxer – only for McGivern to manouever his way out and unleash a volley of shots in a move that elicited a wonderfully polite applause from the National Stadium regulars.

Watch James McGivern’s silky skills below (skip to 3:05):

Do you know what Buckfast is?
During the media duties ahead of his WBA featherweight title fight with Leo Santa Cruz, Carl Frampton had one corker of a line. Asked how his fans will manage to stay up until 4AM (Irish time) to watch the New York-hosted fight, ‘The Jackal’ told Elie Seckbach: “Coff.. well I was going to say coffee, but they’ll all be on the booze. Do you know what Bucfast is? They’ll have some of that and they’ll be alright.” A hilarious line which showed you can take the boy out of Belfast etc etc.

However, it wasn’t just a funny answer, and David Mohan of the Belfast Media Group would later note how, from that moment on, he was utterly convinced that Frampton would defeat the Mexican-American champ. He points out how Frampton’s relaxed and cheerful pre-fight demeanor gave a glimpse into his level of confidence and how at ease he was with the big stage – and it certainly showed on the big night

Pajo Hyland’s Last Stand
On reflection, Pajo Hyland’s fight with Josh Warrington was never going to end well. While the relentless Hyland from the Javier Fortuna fight in 2012 would have stood a great chance, by July 2016 he was dead at the weight and getting on in years. The Tallaght boxer was unable to cope with the sharp Leeds fighter and succumbed to a ninth round stoppage after a fairly one-sided bout. Nevertheless, while the finish probably couldn’t be described as going out in a blaze of glory, Hyland certainly didn’t go quietly into the night. Down for a second time early in the ninth, and perhaps knowing his career was coming to a close, the Dubliner refused to be counted out and refused to try merely survive. Instead, he came out swinging, looking for that one punch in a brave last stand before being put down again by the fresh Englishman and seeing the bout waved off.

Watch Pajo Hyland go out punching below (skip to 34:00):

The Great Irish Champion
Michael Buffer is still probably viewed by the casual fan as ‘the voice of boxing,’ but big time fight fans will almost unanimously point to Jimmy Lennon Jr as being the top MC in the sport at the moment. A seemingly more adaptable and organic announcer, Lennon showed this when calling the result of Carl Frampton’s win over Leo Santa Cruz in New York. The perfect pause, the addition of ‘the great Irish champion’ line, it was a near-cinematic climax to the clash and Lennon helped ensure that the epic fight has a fitting ‘moment’ that will be continually called upon in the years to come.

Moro the same for Michael Nevin
The Portlaoise boxer is one of the most successful Irish underage fighters of all time, taking European gold at Schoolboys, Junior, and Youth level. 2016 however did not begin brilliantly for Nevin, as he suffered a loss in the first of two U-18 National Championships, being defeated by Brett McGinty and missing the chance to defend his European Youth title. The Laois teen would move up to 75kg for the second U-18 Championships in August and duly strolled to top prize. There was no outpouring of delight when he defeated Jason Clancy however, with Nevin barely even raising a smile at the verdict. That’s the sort of person Nevin is – and I mean it as the greatest of compliments – he is a pure medal machine. He doesn’t particularly celebrate winning because winning is what he expects of himself. An intensely dedicated fighter, in his head the win was just another day at the office – and his ‘reward’ for himself? A Moro chocolate bar and an immediate return to training for the World Youth Championships (where he would claim a bronze medal).

michael nevin

The pick of the bunch from Katie Taylor’s sensational debut
Everyone knew beforehand that Katie Taylor was special. However, due to the relative invisibility of much of her fights, as well as the cagier nature of top-level amateur bouts, we had not really seen the Wicklow woman in full full attacking flow. That changed on her pro debut against Karina Kopinska, with Taylor leathering her Polish foe from the off and having a particular focus on bodyshots. One particular moment in the second round however had Irish-Boxing.com and the fans at the Wembley Arena completely awestruck. Taylor whipped in yet another left hook to the body that forced Kopinska to drop her hands and allowing the Bray super featherweight land another left hook upstairs. It was either brilliant instincts or a premeditated combo from Taylor – regardless, it was pure class from the future pro world champion.

Watch Taylor’s beautifull combination below (skip to 4:50):

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