It was a battle of West Belfast in the city’s SSE Odyssey Arena and McKenna emerged victorious, setting a high pace and outlasting his local rival, dropping Upton in the penultimate round en-route to a points win.
Upton had stepped in at four weeks notice to replace Phil Sutcliffe Jr and showed some very nice skills but the relentless McKenna was just too much in the end.
McKenna started slightly the stronger with sharp southpaw lefts. The switch-hitting Upton started to come into things as the round progressed before forcing a pause with a cheeky low blow.
‘The Mighty Celt’ pushed the pace in the second, much the busier but it was Upton landing the more eye-catching shots off the backfoot.
A competitive third saw both land with flashes of quality, long lefts from McKenna and heavy hooks from Upton who also found a home for a beautiful screw uppercut.
Upton jolted the jaw of McKenna upstairs early in the fourth but the Lenadoon fighter walked through it. Upton followed this up with more big shots but McKenna then finished the stronger.
A cagey fifth sprung into life when an Upton left hook caught an off-balance McKenna and made the 28-year-old stumble across the ring.
There were fireworks at the start of the sixth, McKenna remaining the busier and right which jarred Upton who was still dangerous with his counters.
The 26-year-old replacement’s pace began to slow somewhat in the seventh and McKenna had a very strong round – although shipped a warning counter right in the closing seconds.
A tide had seemingly turned and the difference in work-rates was becoming stark and McKenna’s left hand was landing with increasing regularity.
The ninth began with a bang, with Upton suffering a delayed reaction knockdown in the opening seconds, clashing heads, shipping a hook to the body and then successive clean shots upstairs. In obvious discomfort, Upton rose and weathered the storm of McKenna, who was now sporting a cut to the side of his right eye. It was a huge comeback for Upton who fired in numerous counters but the 10-8 round looked like it may prove crucial going into the final stanza.
The brave Upton looked somewhat spent in the final round – bar one short purple patch – and McKenna kept up the pace to round out what looked to be a close but clear win.
Going to the referee’s card this proved to be the case, with Marcus McDonnell scoring the bout 98-92 in favour of Tyrone McKenna – a correct verdict although perhaps slightly wide.
The win sees McKenna improve his undefeated record to 16(6)-0-1, while Upton falls to 17(6)-2(0) following a game and skilled performance which will win him many fans.