The 13th Round: Belfast Small Hall Madness

Belfast was the place to be last weekend for some of the lifeblood of the pro side of the sport in Ireland.

The Titanic City saw not one but two fights cards over the weekend, bringing some nitty-gritty action to the hungry fans.

Starting off on the Friday there was the inaugural Ginley Promotions bill – ‘Dust Up at the Devenish‘ – at the Devenish Complex on the Finaghy Road.

It was promoter Mark Ginley’s first show, and the ambitious former fighter is eager to learn. The 28 year old was forced to deal with some of the frustrating realities of boxing promotion, seeing two of the seven fights fall through on the morning of the card. Ginley however took these knocks on the chin and the show went on. Indeed he brought some youthful vigour with his presentation and promotion, and the atmosphere on the night was quite impressive.

In terms of the contests themselves it was a bit of a mixed bag, and the show especially suffered from the cancellation of the exciting-looking fight between Sean Turner and Kamil Sokolowski.

The card kicked off with what was the Fight of the Night – a competitive battle between Alfredo Meli and Laszlo Fazekas. The experienced Hungarian is a very game foe and threw plenty, but he was outworked and outskilled by Immaculata southpaw Meli over six. The Belfast fighter is a bit of a curious, almost frustrating, case. He has buckets of skill and is a real throwback sort of fighter with huge potential. However, Meli has an insistence to both continuing with with his full-time job as a mechanic and not even considering a move down to light middleweight. As he is now supported by management goliath MTK, and that he weighed in just four hours before the fight at 162lbs (which is only 8lbs over light middle), both full time boxing and a move to light middleweight seem possible, and would greatly enhance his already-strong title chances. Of course it is far from our place to tell Meli [13(3)-0-1] how to live his life, and indeed there is something quaint about the Ballymurphy man, wearing the same pair of shorts every fight, never studying an opponent, and just exhibiting pure natural talent.

Next up was Stephen Ormond [24(13)-3(1)] and the Dublin lightweight looked sharp – admittedly against an out-of-his-depth opponent who lasted only 48 seconds. Norwin Gallo was never going to pose any resistance to ‘The Rock,’ but the way Ormond put away his Nicaraguan foe was impressive, indeed it was a stoppage that got better and better the more you reflect upon it. A lightning quick pair of left hooks to the body sent Gallo down and out. With champion Terry Flanagan apparently set to move up, and considering Ormond’s links, a WBO lightweight title fight this year does not seem implausible.

Tyrone McCullagh had something of an unfortunate fight. The Derry super bantam looked set to have a test against Michael Barnor but, through footwear or otherwise, was faced with an excessively negative foe who spent the entirety of the bout sliding around the ring and holding. McCullagh [6(4)-0] however kept calm and picked his shots well when possible – and could have had the Ghanaian out in the second were it not for an extended pause to apply bandages to his boots. The talented Foylesider wants to be progressed relatively quickly and is, hopefully, now finished with the negative journeyman stage of his career.

There was an emotional return for Ciaran McVarnock, who faced a tough opponent in Croatian Antonio Horvatic. The New Lodge feather however was dominant, with an aggressive swarming approach over the four rounds that did not give his Balkan foe time to breathe. McVarnock [7(1)-0-1] does not have massive power, but his bodywork will pay dividends once he moves up through the rounds. An exciting fighter to watch, ‘Bunty’ will be a great addition to the Belfast scene this year

Anto Upton headlined the card and while the atmosphere was befitting of a bill-topper, the opponent sadly wasn’t. The youngest of the boxing brothers, in front of a crowd that sang for the entirety of the six rounder, easily outpointed Latvian Zaurs Sadihovs, who barely threw a punch in response. The Belfast light welter’s talent did shine through, and he showed a lovely range of shots at times. With the rust now shook off and a first fight under his belt with new trainer, Upton [14(5)-1(0)] looks set to be moved back into title contention.

As mentioned above, it was a mixed card, with two entertaining bouts, two one-sided ones against negative opponents, and one lovely knockout. Ginley wants to learn from his solid opening offering, and intends for his next card to be headlined by a fifty-fifty clash. This willingness to improve and entertain is extremely encouraging.

On Saturday then there was a four-fight bill at the atmpspheric Shorts Sports and Social Club on the Holywood Road.

The second show of Alio Wilton‘s return to the scene in association with Prospect Boxing, it too was hurt by pull-outs, with Casey Blair and Ryan Peake being forced off, and Alec Bazza and Jamesy Gorman fulfilling their journeyman roles in Scotland the night previously.

A card with some good, some bad, and some great fights, it’s great to have Team Alio back on the scene

Matt Wilton opened the card and, with a frustrating lack of available opponents, he easily dominated Lithuanian journeyman Arvydas Trizno in what was a quiet, going-through-the-motions sort of fight. With Alio Wilton now having plenty of shows lined up, it looks like ‘Speedy’ will finally be moved along up into title contention. Wilton [15(3)-0] is an undoubted talent, and has a style that is conducive to fun fights once he is provided with competitive opponents.

Then we were treated to a small hall Fight of the Year contender from Tony Nellins and Ross Jameson, a bout which was almost worth the price of admission alone. Belfast welter Nellins [3(0)-0-1] is a well-supported crowd pleaser who throws big shots constantly. In Middlesbrough’s Jameson he was presented with an almost perfect dance partner, a game opponent who was up for a war, and we ended up with four thrilling rounds that ended in a 39:39 draw. The result of the fight, at least to those looking on, was almost irrelevant such was the entertainment it provided. Nellins, encouragingly, now wants a rematch with Jameson. Another fight which in time could be built into something special is a clash with another war-monger – Dublin’s Sean Creagh

Luke Wilton [17(7)-5(2)-1] made his return to the ring for one final title charge. In another entertaining fight, he was given a tough test by game English journeyman Brett Fidoe. Wilton was obviously rusty following a year out, but his skill did shine through as the competitive and entertaining contest progressed. The flyweight now wants another rust-shaker before getting into the title mix in what looks to be his final year as a pro. A fight with Paddy Barnes still appeals, although the career-paths no longer match up as well as previously.

Finally, after almost five years out, Ryan Greene made the huge decision back in the ring. In what was a scrappy fight at times, the Lurgan light middleweights talent came through to see him outpoint the crafty Lee Griffiths. However the action almost seems inconsequential here. A fight for Greene to banish the painful demons from his Prizefighter loss to Eamonn O’Kane back in 2012, he did just that. The venue was, by that time, half-empty but there is something almost poetically beautiful about Greene grinding to a win on such an understated stage. Whatever Greene [7(1)-1(1)] decides to do next, he is most definitely a winner.

For pro fans, a four-fight card is probably too short – although admittedly there were eight amateur fights on beforehand which seemed to entertain the punters. There was also an unfortunate mix-up which led to many believing that the Haye-Bellew pay-per-view would be screened live in the venue, but this was not the case.

There’s plenty to build on for Wilton though, with Matt and Luke being able to be progressed up the ranks, Nellins being guaranteed excitement, and his journeymen always providing entertainment when given the chance to fight on home cards.

While small hall shows are rarely perfect, and there is room for improvement, there was plenty of good raw material on show over the weekend that bodes well for future shows from both Ginley and Wilton.

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]