Skills, Guts, but no Glory – Eric Donovan knocked out by Zelfa Barrett at Fight Camp

Eric Donovan has been knocked out in his Essex chance but certainly made an impression.

The Athy southpaw was stopped in the eighth round by English starlet Zelfa Barrett but not after giving the Manchester super featherweight a real test.

Donovan was gunning for the IBF Inter-Continental title in the chief support bout of the third edition of Matchroom Fight Camp and was most likely winning at half-way but it would all go wrong.

The Irish featherweight champion had charmed the pants off promoter Eddie Hearn throughout fight week and was putting on a highly skilful display initially and showed plenty of grit when it all started going wrong.

It was not enough, however, and the bout was stopped after three knockdowns – although ‘Lilywhite Lightning’ will surely get more chances following his display.

BUI Celtic champion, Irish champion, TG4 headliner, and media darling, the 35-year-old had seemingly topped out on what was achievable in Ireland and looked to make the next step in England tonight.

It was Donovan’s first fight under the MHD banner, with Mark Dunlop’s link to Hearn securing him an away corner chance up in weight. Always ready, Donovan noted how he came into camp fit and into fight night in the best shape of his career.

The winning personality exhibited during fight week and talk of his impeccable amateur pedigree saw the European and EU bronze medallist’s bout become viewed as the match-up of the night – which, for boxing fans, it was.

However, there were no illusions, Donovan was being brought in to lose against Barrett – who was making his Matchroom debut having spent the past few years under Frank Warren. With Queensberry, he had won and defended the Commonwealth title against Leon Woodstock and Jordan McCorry respectively having previously defeated Chris Conwell for the English belt.

Nestled between these triumphs, though, was a shock defeat to southpaw Scot Ronnie Clark back in 2018 where he was dropped and lost a majority decision to another MHD underdog.

In terms of parallels, Donovan, like Clark, was causing Barrett big problems early but it all unravelled in the second half.

There had been faint question-marks over Barrett’s ability to make the weight under IBF conditions – which include a fight morning 10lbs rehydration limit – with the Mancunian having lost to Clark in his only previous experience of these rules.

However, it was Donovan who weighed in heavier this morning and Barrett certainly did not seem drained or fatigued, coming on strong to force the stoppage in the eighth of ten scheduled rounds.

Walking to the ring to (Something Inside) So Strong, Donovan cut a relaxed figure as he strolled through the drizzle and he made a good start in a cagey opener, picking his shots well.

Barrett, though, did not look too bothered as he probed the body through to round two and started to put more sting in his swinging shots. Donovan was able to evade these initial forays and landed a heavy straight left of his own along with some sharp short counters.

Barrett landed his first combination of note at the start of the third as Donovan’s concentration lapsed. Caught again later in the round, the lilywhite responded by rushing and cornering Barrett, landing flurries.

The fourth saw the pair trade bodyshots, with Donovan’s workrate encouraging – although a pair of left hooks late on from the Englishman were cause for concern.

Into the fifth, Donovan’s shots upstairs were landing cleanly but the Barrett bodywork and his increase in pace looked to be making a dent in the Irishman. That is, until, Donovan sensationally buzzed the ‘Brown Flash’ with a straight left hand. Barrett did come back into the round well, though, digging in big shots as the bout lay evenly poised going into the second half.

4-1 up on Matt Macklin’s card, Donovan put his shots together with real swagger in an exciting sixth as Barrett threw every shot with bad intentions. The Kildare fighter looked momentarily in trouble after being caught by a cuffing shot that turned him around but he was able to grit it out and responded with some clean combination punching.

Cagier to start in the seventh, disaster struck when a huge left hook sent Donovan down. Rising to his feet extremely unsteadily, Donavan withstood a prolonged bludgeoning until the closing seconds when he was sent down again.

Emerging in the eighth, Donovan attempted to land sharp counters inside the assault of Barrett but it was all over when he was sent down for a third time, heavily, by an enormous left hook and Howard Foster dispensed with the count and waved off the fight.

Disappointed but not disgraced in the slightest, Donovan drops to 12(7)-1(1) while a relieved Barrett improves to 24(15)-1(0).

The IBF Inter-Continental trinket should provide Barrett with a Top 15 ranking in the governing body’s next update. The current champion, and long-term target, is American JoJo Diaz.

For Donovan, he will lick his wounds but will likely be seen again on Matchroom cards in the near future.

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