Tyrone McCullagh showed guile and then guts but has been eliminated from the Golden Contract competition.
The Derry featherweight took on British champion Ryan Walsh at the York Hall in London, live on Sky Sports, losing a unanimous decision.
McCullagh began strongly and was most likely up on the cards but was eventually broken down by Walsh who sent him to the canvas twice – but was unable to take out ‘White Chocolate’ who showed big bravery to reach the final bell.
29-year-old McCullagh was in action mere minutes after friend and stablemate Tyrone McKenna controversially upset Mohamed Mimoune to move into the light welter final.
McCullagh was also faced with a tournament favourite when Walsh used the Golden Ball to pick the Derryman.
Norfolk’s Walsh is something of a domestic king having won a defended the British title six times since 2015 – including stoppage victories over Belfast’s James Tennyson and Marco McCullough in that time. The Lonsdale belt itself wasn’t on the line tonight – and McCullagh would not have wanted it anyway – but it remained a substantial step up for the Irishman.
Moving to featherweight for this tournament, McCullagh cruised past Razaq Najib in the quarters – although did attract criticism from divisive Sky pundit Johnny Nelson for his fighting style.
The awkwardness, however, saw McCullagh edge a cagey first round efore clearly taking the second with straight shots down the pipe.
Pirouetting out of range, McCullagh’s frustrating self-described ‘novice’ style continued to keep Walsh at bay in the third.
It was much closer in the fourth – with Walsh getting incrementally closer – but the cleaner work came from the Irishman.
While it was perhaps a ‘boring’ fight for those with no investment in proceedings, things did actually warm up in the fifth. A pair of right hooks landed by Walsh where his biggest of the night thus far but McCullagh himself was landing more snappy shots than previous as well.
Disaster then struck for McCullagh as the bout entered its second half as a right hook out of a clinch caught him and took away his legs completely. Following a stumble around the ring, the Foylesider found himself flat on his back and seemingly very hurt. However, McCullagh rose and got right back on his bike to clear his head and make it through the round.
Into the seventh, both were landing nice shots in what was a close fight. Walsh was having success in close but, every time the Englishman threatened to take control, McCullagh would pop in some stinging probes of his own.
A big right hand at the start of the eighth followed by a body assault had McCullagh spent and seemingly ready to go but the evasive Ulsterman, Ireland’s fittest fighter, managed to make it out of the round.
There was a spirited fightback from McCullagh in the penultimate stanza, getting back to his boxing and keeping away from the onrushing Walsh. Any chance of a scorecard win, however, was snuffed out when McCullagh was forced to take another count, falling forward to his knees following a salvo from Walsh.
McCullagh would answer the bell from the tenth and managed to grit things out and we went to the judges who confirmed Walsh a unanimous decision winner with scores of 96-92, 97-91, and 97-91.
Irish-Boxing.com scored the bout 95-93 to Walsh
Walsh [26(12)-2(0)-2] will now face the winner of the corresponding semi between Leigh Wood and Jazza Dickens which will take place later tonight. This bout will take place on a to-be-confirmed date this Summer.
McCullagh [14(6)-1(0)] may now return to super bantamweight or could remain at feather. Regardless, his stock has risen following his competitive performance tonight.