Show of the Year – 2016

It was a quiet year for Irish boxing with just six professional shows taking place on the island over the twelve months.

Thankfully next year’s schedule looks to be a lot busier, but there was still plenty of entertainment to be had on the relatively rare shows of 2016.

Which card was the best?

Elimination – MHD Promotions – February 6th
We started the year in Belfast in the Grand Ballroom at the Europa Hotel for a seven-fight card. There was a rocky enough start as Joe Fitzpatrick stopped the dismal Ruslans Berdimuradovs with his first punch of note, but the card would kick into gear afterwards. Tyrone McCullagh made his Irish debut in front of an electric atmosphere, stopping Antons Zacests, while Paul Hyland Jr engaged in a trademark war with Jacek Wylezol. Feargal McCrory showed he was going to provide us with many fan-friendly fights with an entertaining four-round battle with Peter Mellar. Chief support James Tennyson warmed up for his British title shot with a one-round demolition of the seldom-stopped Antonio Horvatic. The headline bout saw a loss for the home fighter as Belfast’s James Fryers lost his British super featherweight title eliminator with Maxi Hughes, being outpointed after a tactical ten rounds by the slippery Englishman.

The Future – FS Promotions – June 25th
Pro boxing made its return to the National Stadium in Dublin during the Summer with an epic twelve-fight show. The card saw three debuts with former amateur stand-out Eric Donovan outpointing Damian Lawniczak, while Jay Byrne and headliner Chris Blaney scored second round stoppages of Gabor Abrus and David Bauza respectively. Luton-Wexford lightweight Michael Devine made his Irish debut, outpointing Vitalijs Usovs in an entertaining scrap, while Irish title rival Paul Hyland Jr blew away Laszlo Fekete. Jake Hanney made his return from Australia with a points win over high-level journeyman Innocent Anyanwu and, along with Bernard Roe who outpointed Marcin Cybulski, was particularly impressive. Alan Donnellan was back in the ring for a points triumph over Gabor Zsalek, while his MHD stablemate Darren Cruise looked better than ever against Ferenc Katona. Tyrone McCullagh had an awkward time with Aleksandrs Birkenbergs, while potential future opponents Shortty Carroll and Sean Creagh also grabbed wins against Tamas Laska and Gyula Tallosi.

Another Level – MHD Promotions – October 8th
It was back to the Europa Hotel, this time in the Exhibition Centre, in the Autumn for a card that almost fell apart at the last minute. Intended headline opponent Felix Lora made a mess of his visa and was unable to travel, but the show was saved as Nelson Altamirano stepped in to face Paul Hyland Jr. Giving up a disadvantage in weight, Hyland scored a points win after an entertaining eight rounds. On the undercard there was a second win for Jay Byrne who went the distance with tricky journeyman Liam Griffiths while fellow Dubliner Ian Tims looked surprisingly sharp against Remigijius Ziausys. The well-supported Feargal McCrory scored a points win in the fight of the night against Ivailo Boyanov and the similarly-backed Tyrone McCullagh grabbed a step-up stoppage against Edwin Tellez. Entertaining Scottish super feather Ronnie Clark entered the Irish scene with a points win over Reynaldo Cajina and, finally, Dublin debutant Carl McDonald claimed an emotional first win over Kamil Jaworek.

Homecoming – Queensberry Boxing – November 5th
Boxnation moved to Belfast and the Titanic Exhibition Centre for a bumper card that saw the debut of Olympic hero Paddy Barnes – who scored a bizarre opening win over Stefan Slavchev after being lifted up over his shoulder in the fourth. Steven Ward also made his pro bow and had a composed points win over Merjidin Yuseinov. Gary Sweeney scored a stunning stoppage on his Irish debut against Jarek Prusak, while Con Sheehan outpointed Kamil Sokolowski over eight in his first Irish outing. James Tennyson and Declan Geraghty warmed up for their Irish title clash with a points triumph over Rafael Castillo and a 30 second demolition off Khvicha Gigolashvili respectively. Sean Turner made a step up to outpoint Ivica Perkovic, while Stephen Ormond bounced back from a shock defeat with a retirement win over Daniel Bazo. Phil Sutcliffe Jr scored a potentially break-out points win over Chris Jenkins in the highest stakes bout of the night. In what was the highest-profile all-Irish clash of the year, Sean Creagh was forced into a fourth round retirement against a sensational Tyrone McKenna who took home the BUI Celtic belt. At the top of the bill Jamie Conlan eased past David Koos, while Marco McCullough recovered from being hurt himself to pummel Luis Lugo into a fourth round retirement in the final fight.

Inception – Red Corner Promotions – November 5th
Making their promotional debut, Red Corner put on an exciting, competitive card in the home of Irish boxing. Joe Fitzpatrick scored win number six against Gyula Tallosi, while Connor Coyle made his Irish bow with a points triumph over Santos Medrano. Navan’s Chris Blaney grabbed a huge KO against Gabor Zsalek and Niall Kennedy recovered from a dubious knockdown to batter Gheorghe Danut into submission Gerard Whitehouse won a six-round Fight of the Year contender against Sergio Abad, while Eric Donovan looked absolutely sensational stopping Krzysztof Rogowski in two. There was disappointment for Lynn Harvey who was outpointed by Mary Romero – although her display of guts against her much larger opponent was something to behold. In the headline bout Luke Keeler made his return from the Tom Doran loss with an assured eight-round win over Bradley Pryce, downing the Welshman in the eighth.

We’re Back – Team Alio and Prospect Boxing – November 26th
Alio Wilton made his return to the scene with some small hall madness at the Shorts Sports and Social Centre in Belfast. Matthew Wilton opened the show with an impressive win over Kevin McCauley before Tony Nellins returned to the ring after over five years to outpoint JP McGuinness in an entertaining brawl. The big fight of the night was a Celtic Nations title clash between Shortty Carroll and journeyman-turned-home favourite Jamesy Gorman. A competitive and entertaining contest, Carroll took a 78:76 decision in what was his first real step-up. Closing the show was Bangor journeyman Casey Blair who scored a rare win over poor Persian Alireza Alimohammadi.

Honourable mentions: Away from the pros, there were plenty of high-quality amateur events around the island, including the Celtic Box Cup in Dungarvan, the Monkstown Box Cup, and the Esker All-Female Box Cup – the largest competition of its kind in Europe.

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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