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The 13th Round: Reflections on the biggest day of 2016 for boxing in Ireland

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We’re one week on from the biggest day of Irish boxing this year.

Two shows in the one night as Red Corner Promotions ran their first card, Inception, at the National Stadium, while the Boxnation cameras came to Belfast and the Titanic Exhibition Centre for Homecoming.

While it was frustrating for many boxing fans to be forced to choose, it was great to see so many Irish boxers in action, with 21 in total trading leather.

With a week having passed, and with this weekend being a quiet one (bar Dennis Hogan), Irish-Boxing.com reflect on the madness that was November 5th.

We’ll start off with Dublin and a strong opening offering from Red Corner Promotions. The young debut promoters were forced to overcome some bumps in their preparations with Steve Collins Jr, Darren Mangan, Ruairi Dalton, Bernard Roe, and Feargal McCrory all being forced off the card for a variety of reasons – but ‘Inception’ was still an enjoyable, competitive, and much-appreciated night of boxing in Dublin. Between Red Corner, FS Promotions, Alio Wilton/Prospect Boxing, MHD Promotions, Tony Davitt, and Leonard Gunning, it looks like the Irish boxing will be well looked after on the small-to-medium side of things in 2017

Kicking off the show at the National Stadium was Belfast lightweight Joe Fitzpatrick [6(4)-0]. A late-notice addition to the bill, and therefore understandably lacking sharpness, it was not vintage stuff from the Divis southpaw against Gyula Tallosi. Nevertheless there was some flashes of class throughout the four rounds from the Commonwealth Games silver medalist, and Fitzpatrick now looks set to step up, with two six rounders in the next three months. The 21 year old wants to be fast-tracked, even claiming that he will fight his own stablemates for the Irish title. More realistically though would be for Fitzpatrick to fight for the BUI Celtic Warrior belt next summer – perhaps against Feargal McCrory – which would be the perfect first headline show for the popular youngster.

Next up was Balbriggan’s Crank Whitehouse [5(1)-0] who gave us another Fight of the Year contender against Spaniard Sergio Abad. Stepping up to six rounds for the first time, and fighting for the first time in a year, the Dublin welterweight was forced to scrap for every inch against a massively game opponent. Still just 21 years old, the Fingal fighter showed some lovely boxing skills in the fight, great conditioning, and plenty of the toe-to-toe ferocity which saw him win Round of the Year in 2015. While he looked better than ever, a reoccurring hand injury flared up and will put Whitehouse back on the sidelines again. A return in Spring 2017 is on the cards and we will also hopefully see him headline a long-mooted show at the City North Hotel at some stage next year.

Niall Kennedy [7(4)-0] was in an odd contest. Carrying an injury into the bout and receiving a dubious ‘knockdown’ in the opening round, the Gorey Garda fought back to claim a fifth round stoppage win against a weak but wild opponent in Gheorghe Danut. While it was good for the Wexford heavyweight to get some action in Ireland, his immediate plans lie Stateside, with Massachusetts and New England titles in the pipeline. Both may lack prestige over here, but are in fact reputable titles and a huge achievement should he claim them.

Connor Coyle [2(1)-0] made his Irish debut on the card. Against a negative opponent in Santos Medrano, the Derry man boxed to a comfortable win. Coyle is thought highly of by Florida trainer Jim McLoughlin, and the former coach of Winky Wright is one whose opinion should be highly regarded. The Foyleside light middleweight will now return to the Sunshine State for the time being to continue building and hopes to be in a much bigger fight when he eventually returns to Ireland.

Navan super middle Chris Blaney [4(2)-0] was very impressive as he continues to keep up his encouraging level of activity. The Ginger Ninja showed some lovely head movement against Gabor Zsalek but the one time where he was clipped saw him kick on and quickly knock out his Hungarian opponent with a real classy finish. Quite fleshy at super middle, Blaney is aiming to move to middleweight for his next bout, a six rounder, and he will be a force to be reckoned with.

Sadly there was a defeat for Lynn Harvey [1(1)-1(0)]. The Kilbarrack puncher lost out to Mary Romero over six, but not for lack of trying. Massively outsized, Harvey poured forward throughout the bout but her seek-and-destroy tactics could not cause the desired effect on the much physically stronger Spaniard who always held the upper hand. Always well-supported and valiant in defeat, The Hunter will most likely move down to light flyweight where she will be better for the experience.

Performance of the night undoubtedly goes to Eric Donovan [2(1)-0] who was stunning in his defeat of rugged Pole Krzysztof Rogowski. Adjusting better to the pro game than most could have imagined, Lilywhite Lightning stopped Rogowski in two with some lengthy, and insanely accurate, combinations. It was a wow-inducing performance from the 31 year old Kildare man which suggested that his Irish and European title dreams are more than attainable should he get the breaks he needs.

Headliner Luke Keeler [11(5)-2(1)] claimed the biggest win of his career against Welshman Bradley Pryce. Going back to the less aggressive style which he began his career with, the Dubliner comfortably out-skilled his opponent from the Valleys over eight, while still showing his fearful punching power with a heavy second round knockdown. The likable Crumlin boxer has all the attributes and then some to be the face of boxing in the capital and, if Red Corner’s planned expansion plays out, expect to see this next year.

In Belfast, Frank Warren put on one of the biggest cards of Irish interest in recent memory. Up until fight week, the promotion of the relatively short-notice bill left a lot to be desired, but tickets were still sold in their droves as the Belfast public came out in force for one of Queensberry’s biggest (attendance-wise) cards of the year. Like the Red Corner show, ‘Homecoming’ had more than its fair share of bumps. While it was still, by far, the highest quality card on the island this year, it could have been so much bigger. For example, had an opponent been secured for Jamie Conlan’s Commonwealth title defence, had circumstances allowed Paddy Barnes to debut against a stronger opponent, had Michael Roberts Jr not pulled out of his fight against Marco McCullough, had a big name been secured for Con Sheehan, had Lewis Crocker made his debut – we would have been looking at an almost historic card. Thankfully, the bill was still a roaring success and we are not left with a ‘what if?’ scenario. Boxnation will be back next year and, now with their BT Sport backing, it will be even bigger.

Gary Sweeney [3(3)-0] kicked the show off at the Titanic Exhibition Centre and showed any of the Irish early birds in attendance what they have been missing. A ferocious display, the Ballinrobe cruiser downed the dangerous Jarek Prusak thrice in the opening round, the second of which being an absolute beauty of a downward arcing punch to the point of the chin. A huge attacking talent with a wide array of shots and some real power, a durable opponent is needed to bring the talented youngster some rounds.

Against his toughest opponent yet, Sean Turner [9(6)-0] scored a comfortable six-round win over Ivica Perkovic. While he by no means struggled, boxing well throughout and showing great skills, the fight could be a sign that ‘Big Sexy’ needs to become just ‘Sexy’ and try his damnedest to shed the near four stone to get down to cruiserweight. The Dubliner is relatively short in height, and bigger and better men tha Perkovic could prove difficult for Turner due purely to size alone. The move would be a tough ask for Turner who is one of many in a modern heavyweight division dominated by giants that would benefit from something like a 225lbs super cruiserweight division – although more weight classes is perhaps the last thing boxing needs.

James Tennyson [17(13)-2(2)] got back to winning ways and returned to super featherweight with a four-round triumph over Nicaraguan Rafael Castillo. It was a good run-out for the Belfast man who showed a nice range of shots against a game opponent. A cut sustained will prove to be a blessing as it has forced the postponement of his Scotland-hosted December 3rd Irish title fight with Declan Geraghty. The battle for the belt will now most likely take place Boxnation’s return to the Titanic City next February. One of the best Irish title match-ups of recent memory, the fight deserves to play out in Ireland.

Tennyson’s opponent Geraghty [14(4)-1(0)] was a man in a hurry on Saturday. The Dubliner blew Khvicha Gigolashvili away in 33 seconds. A man who has done his fair share of sparring with Conor McGregor, there was an element of ‘Mystic Dec’ with Geraghty predicting a stoppage win beforehand. More accustomed to fighting on the back foot, the slick southpaw showed that he has the ability to punish fighters when given the opportunity. Indeed both Tennyson and Geraghty proved that their upcoming clash is not as simple as a huge puncher versus a skilled boxer.

Stephen Ormond [22(12)-3(1)] bounced back from his shock loss last month with a one-sided victory against Daniel Bazo. The Czech welter retired after three rounds to hand ‘The Rock’ the win in a fight where no real conclusions can be drawn. 33 year old Ormond is in action again next month in Scotland as he begins his move back down to lightweight for one final push for World honours.

Tipperary heavyweight Con Sheehan [4(1)-0] was brought eight by the very game Kamil Sokolowski in what was his Irish debut. While he didn’t have it all his own way, Sheehan showed a refreshing range of skills for a big man and is in good hands with Peter Fury. Some may point at the lack of knockout power shown by the Clonmel man thus far, but the former Elite amateur still possesses an exciting style and is certainly no jab-and-grab merchant.

There was a comfortable debut for Steven Ward [1(0)-0] against the hugely negative Merdjidin Yuseinov. ‘The Quiet Man’ brought a loud following but refused to be sucked into recklessly chasing a stoppage, instead boxing well against an awkward foe. Had the bout been scheduled for six, Ward would have most likely claimed the stoppage. A nice addition to a thin Irish light heavyweight division, the 26 year old has the capability, backing, and support, to reach the top of the UK scene in the near future.

Arguably the biggest all-Irish clash of 2016, Tyrone McKenna [12(4)-0-1] and Sean Creagh [4(2)-1(1)] went to war for the Celtic Warrior title. A high-profile clash and an aggressive opponent gave McKenna the chance for a statement-making performance and ‘The Mighty Celt’ looked razor-sharp throughout with a real snap to his punches that had not been seen on these shores beforehand. His belt-winning display automatically makes McKenna the #1 light welter on the island with the BUI – and Phil Sutcliffe is not happy with that. A second consecutive all-Irish fight now seems on the cards for the Belfast man who has announced himself as a real player on the 140lbs scene. Loser on the night, Creagh is a winner career-wise and will be well looked after by the Irish boxing family following his gallant display. ‘Creaghzy Horse’ has won himself a lot of supporters and will have more big fights after this. An exciting fight which both fighters will benefit from in the long run, Irish boxing needs more of these type of match-ups.

Phil Sutcliffe Jr [12(7)-1(0)] finally got the big win on his record that he has long searched for, with a points triumph over Welshman Chris Jenkins. The biggest non-title Irish v British fight in recent memory, Crumlin’s Sutcliffe showed he belongs at that level while still having plenty of room to improve. A great start and a brave finish bookended some lairy middle rounds for ‘Succo.’ Next up for the Dubliner has to be an Irish title fight with Tyrone McKenna in February – and the winner could take on Chris Jenkins, who hurt his hand on Saturday, in the Summer. It does need to be noted that Hugh Russell Jr’s 98:93 scorecard was laughably wide. Indeed when Sutcliffe traveled to Hamburg to face Anthony Yight, where he lost a close majority decision, the infamous German judges gave him a fairer shake than what was afforded to Jenkins in Belfast. The scoreline does not paint Irish officiating in a good light.

Probably the best atmosphere for a professional debut in Ireland ever, Paddy Barnes [1(0)-0] made his paid bow in front of a huge support and a chorus of ‘Olé, Olé, Olé.’ A far from perfect build up meant that the Belfast flyweight debuted over six against journeyman opposition. Stefan Slavchev ensured that we could not see much from Barnes, although there were some lightning assaults to the body, before the bout descended into farce as the Bulgarian did his best Patrick Swayze impression and lifted Barnes up over his shoulder. While the disqualification ending was unsatisfactory for Barnes, in a horribly modern way it provided the 29 year old with more attention and coverage than his inevitable points wins ever would. Barnes will return on the February Belfast Boxnation card, although he wouldn’t say no to an appearance on the Frampton-Santa Cruz rematch undercard in Vegas on January 28th. The Ardoyne puncher stressed that he wants to be fast tracked and dismissed the possibility of a bout with Luke Wilton [16(7)-5(1)-1], so there are massive hopes for a big opponent next.

Original headliner Jamie Conlan [18(11)-0] got the rounds in with David Koos. In a way the eight-round points win was anti-climactic, but for Conlan, who was a major factor behind Boxnation’s return to his home city, it was a special night. ‘The Mexican’ showed off his under-rated skills well against his over-matched Hungarian foe, but a solid Commonwealth title defence in February would be highly desirable ahead of his already-secured WBO super flyweight World title final eliminator.

Last but not least there was Marco McCullough [16(10)-3(2)# who scored a fourth round stoppage of Luis Lugo to claim the WBO Inter-Continental belt. Still a work in progress under new coach Charlie Toland, McCullough looked impressive in parts, balancing his aggression with some nice boxing skills. However, there still is an air of fragility about the Shankill featherweight who has been hurt in five of his last nine bouts – although he recovered well on Saturday after being buzzed in the second. For McCullough, his target is a Commonwealth title rematch with Isaac Lowe and this seems a more than attainable goal for 2016.

One final thought regarding the night was the level of opposition. While there was, and always is, a few dodgy imports, there were plenty of game challengers who we would love to see on these shores again. Specifically, Sergio Abad, Kamil Sokolowsic, Ivica Perkovic, and Raphael Castillo

All-in-all a great night’s boxing, and we are massively excited to see Red Corner and Queensberry’s plans for 2017.

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