The 10 best ‘journeymen opponents’ we want to see against Irish boxers in 2017

Early-career opponents are one of the most integral parts of boxing.

For most fighters, their initial run of opposition are essentially brought in to lose.

However, this does not mean that fights have to be one-sided, facile victories. In fact, a competitive away fighter is beneficial to all.

For rising fighters it provides them with a test, an opportunity to grow, and a chance to put their weeks of hard training into practice knowing that, if they do not fight to their best, they could easily lose.

For fans it gives them what they came to the venue for – exciting fights. They don’t care about records like many would have you believe, they are there to see their man in a good fight where he scores a good win. Nobody enjoys a first round stoppage where no clean shots are landed and an opponent cowers to canvas at the first sign of pressure or four scrappy rounds of their man chasing an opponent in Bear Grylls-survivor mode.

There is an overuse of the records argument in boxing at the moment, with some pointing at the poor-looking records of opponents as a reason not to fight them. ‘It’s a lose-lose,’ ‘It looks bad,’ ‘you can’t sell that fight’ and the like are peddled out despite some such opponents being more likely to provide a test and a challenge than some of the journeymen brought in who possess padded, misleading records full of ‘wins,’ usually by KO, that take place behind closed doors in gyms.

Yes these type of journeymen can help a fighter build their record – but if a boxer is not fighting regularly, as the majority in Ireland unfortunately are not, then they need real fights when they do actually step between the ropes. If you’re fighting five or six times a year in the early stages of a career then brilliant, and of course it would be hard to secure that rare breed of game journeyman each time. However, if a fighter is only fighting twice or three times over twelve months, they need real challenges to develop.

Peter McDonagh famously said records are for DJs, and he couldn’t be more right. What is important for boxers is matchmaking and fighting opponents that bring the best out of them, it’s crucial. When it is absent, and when boxers fight near exclusively against negative no-hopers, they will be ill-equipped when they eventually do take a step up in class.

‘Journeyman’ is sometimes viewed as a slur – we view it as a badge of honour, and below are some of the best and most-testing opponents that have caught Irish-Boxing.com’s eye in recent times – and which Irish fighters we’d like to see them in against.

Sergio Abad
Welterweight
Record at start of 2017: 2(1)-7(1)
The long-armed Spaniard gave Crank Whitehouse a massive test back in November. Supremely fit and strong, the busy Iberian made Whitehouse work for every minute of the six rounds and put on a career-best performance. Encouragingly, ‘The Surgeon’ looks set to become a fixture on Red Corner Promotions shows going forward.
A perfect opponent for:
Jay Byrne – A perfect step-up opponent to provide a hard six rounds.
Matt Wilton – A good styles mesh, perhaps similar to the Whitehouse fight, that would lead to a nice mix of boxing and fighting.

sergio abad

Innocent Anyanwu
Lightweight/Light Welterweight
Record at start of 2017: 24(15)-19(4)-3
The 38 year old Nigerian is as tough as old boots. Last Summer ‘Little Big Man’ took on Jake Hanney in Dublin, becoming the first man to take him the distance, buzzing the East Wall talent and taking a round in the process. Durable, fit, and possessing plenty of talent, the former Dutch and BeNeLux super featherweight champion would provide a real test to most. One month following his loss to Hanney, Anyanwu would knock out 14-0 prospect Florin Cardos in England.
A perfect opponent for:
Anthony Upton – With the Uptons easing their way back into things under new trainers Barry Smith and Harry Andrews, Anyanwu would provide the perfect, progressive comeback test
Paul Hyland Jr – The Belfast lightweight has faced many tough journeymen in his career already, and Anyanwu could provide another.

innocent anyanwu

Alec Bazza
Lightweight/Light Welterweight
0-20(3)-2
The only Irish fighter on this list. A more attacking journeyman you could not get. Bazza bolts out of the traps like a hungry greyhound every fight. An exhausting fighter to face, ‘The Belfast Spartan’ swings away for every second of a fight, and has hurt numerous prospects and been on the end of his fair share of questionable decisions. With Alio Wilton looking to run four shows in Belfast this year we may also see Bazza rack up a few wins.
A perfect opponent for:
Sean Creagh – A guaranteed war once Creaghzy Horse – himself also a fight-anyone merchant – returns from injury. With the Dubliner’s manager Leonard Gunning sharing a great relationship with Wilton, the bout is a definite possibility.
Sean Magee – A nice competitive early fight for the Belfast prospect who is set to debut later this year.

bazza

Ivailo Boyanov
Lightweight/Light Welterweight
Record at start of 2017: 3(1)-8(4)-1
The Bulgarian may be most known as the debut opponent of Conor Benn, but he proved his fighting chops against Feargal McCrory back in October. Here at the Europa Hotel he drew the Tyrone boxer into an exciting four round war and won the respect of those in attendance with a gutsy display. One month later he would then stop Scottish prospect Sean Dick in the first.
A perfect opponent for:
Stephen Carroll – Shortty loves a war, but is also a skilled boxer. It would be interesting to see how the Dub would handle Boyanov.
Tony Nellins – A match-up with Boyanov would provide the fight-hungry Belfast slugger with a toe-to-toe battle.

ivailo boyanov

Raphael Castillo
Featherweight/Super Featherweight
Record at start of 2016: 14(6)-29(9)-2
The peroxide-haired Nicaraguan was buzzed early against the big-hitting James Tennyson in November and it looked as though the fight would end in double-quick time. However, the Barcelona-based Castillo would survive and fight back bravely, not looking to spoil and throwing plenty of eye-catching combos that won the respect of those ringside.
A perfect opponent for:
Eric Donovan – Would, right now, provide a step-up for the ambitious and quickly rising Kildare fighter.
Ciaran McVarnock – Would be a toe-to-toe battle and the sort of fight McVarnock wants following a succession of negative opponents.

castillo

Virgile Degonzaga
Lightweight
Record at start of 2017: 11(8)-12(3)-2
The feisty Frenchman certainly made an impression when he faced Paul Hyland Jr back in November 2015. Before the fight Degonzaga raised the temperature with a slit-throat gesture at the weigh-in, before going to war at the Waterfront Hall, momentarily buzzing Hyland in a bout described by Carl Frampton as the best six-rounder he had ever seen.
A perfect opponent for:
Joe Fitzpatrick – It would be a brilliant test for the silkily skilled Belfast man to try keep Degonzaga bay for a full six.
Feargal McCrory – A great style match-up that would lead to guaranteed excitement.

virgile degonzaga

Jordan Ellison
Lightweight
Record at start of 2017: 6(1)-9(1)
The Sunderland youngster provided Jono Carroll with a tough workout and gave Joe Fitzpatrick the fright of his life last Summer, knocking the Belfast starlet down in the second stanza of their four rounder and forcing him to dig very deep to grind out the win in a brilliant learning fight. Ellison would then go on to lose narrowly to a big name in George Jupp in a bout that most, including Jupp, had him winning. A well-schooled amateur who does all the basics right, the 21 year old is not to be underestimated.
A perfect opponent for:
Michael Devine – If Chunky requires a competitive non-title fight, the BBBoC Southern Area champion should look no further.
Jamie Kavanagh – When the Dubliner eventually does return to the ring, Ellison could provide a nice strong test.

jordan ellison

Adam Jones
Middleweight
Record at start of 2017: 6(1)-20(0)-4
The 24 year old is a guaranteed tough fight. The Yorkshire boxer defeated Anto Fitzgerald, shared a round with Luke Keeler when they fought, drew with English champion Lewis Taylor, and knocked down hot prospect Scott Fitzgerald. What is especially telling, especially considering that he is the away fighter, is that just three of his 20 losses have come via points shut-out. The grizzled puncher is a real honest scrapper who will keep coming forward all night
A perfect opponent for:
Alfredo Meli – The Belfast man is looking to get back in the swing of things in 2017 with MGM and a six or eight rounder with Jones would be a great work-out
Craig O’Brien – It would be a good test for the Dubliner to see if he could play matador to the Doncaster bull.

adam jones

Kamil Sokolowski
Heavyweight
Record at start of 2017: 2(0)-8(2)-2
The Plymouth-based Pole definitely looks the part, with a muscular frame rarely seen on a modern heavyweight journeyman and a high level of fitness to match. A strong fighter with a fair amount of ambition, he is well able to outwork any prospect foolish enough to underestimate him. Back in November he went the full eight with Con Sheehan, winning one round and sharing another with the former amateur star. Looking through his record, he has fought exclusively as the away fighter, giving most a tough fight and causing a few upsets.
A perfect opponent for:
Niall Kennedy – Would provide a tough technical fight for any Irish homecoming later this year.
Sean Turner – Would test the Dub’s fitness and allow for comparison with potential Irish title opponent Sheehan.

sokolowski

Zoltan Szabo
Lightweight/Light Welterweight
Record at start of 2017: 14(6)-3(1)
A level above most on the list, the Hungarian caused a huge shock in October with a knockout win over Stephen Ormond, and then gave the Dubliner plenty to think about in a points loss when they rematched in December. ‘The Sticky Man’ is tall, hard to hit clean, and goes to the body brilliantly and the win over Ormond also could see the 22 year old mark him out as a potential gatekeeper for Irish fighters in the vein of Sergey Khomitsky.
A perfect opponent for:
Paul Hyland Jr – A great potential headline fight and a very real step up for Hyland, possibly for a rankings-enhancing belt which would be easily marketed too following the Ormond fights.
Jake Hanney – The Dubliner has also showed he is not adverse to a step up, and a risky bout with Szabo could see the East Wall boxer pole-vault through the ranks.

zoltan szabo

Who would you add to this list?

Photo Credits: The Fighting Irish and Laszlo Geczo Photography

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: [email protected]