The Big Irish Boxing 2017 Review


It has been a frankly unbelievable year for Irish boxing.

2017 has seen numerous world title fights, big away wins, record numbers of new pros, regular cards, a return of TV networks, and countless memorable moments.

Below we take a look through the past twelve months and all the big news stories.

January – Vegas heartbreak for Frampton
With the greatest of respect to Noely Murphy who scored a very good win over Maxito Sainvil, January was all about ‘The Jackal.’ Carl Frampton defended his WBA featherweight title at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in a rematch with Leo Santa Cruz.

The Belfast boxer had won the title the previous Summer in New York, upsetting Santa Cruz, and was the favourite here. However, while an army of fans made the memorable trip over, there was no joy in Sin City for Frampton, who lost to Santa Cruz via majority decision. The Tigers Bay man had been expecting Santa Cruz to want to go to war, even dismissing his opponent’s pledge that he would box as a bluff, but the longer Los Angeles fighter managed to keep on the outside to reclaim the title.

frampton santa cruz

Also in the news in January:
– Tim Ibarra was confirmed as Mick Conlan’s debut opponent – much to his own surprise.
– BBBoC Celtic welterweight champion Paddy Gallagher split with coach John Breen.
It’s A Bout Boxing Ireland enter the promotional scene on this island.
London Olympian Adam Nolan announced his retirement from boxing.
– Katie Taylor saw her proposed fight on the Gennady Golovkin v Danny Jacobs undercard in New York shelved.
Glasnevin BC take an impressive three titles at the revived U22 Championships.

February – National Stadium spectaculars
The Irish first pro show of the year was a gentle introduction, with Paul Hyland Jr stopping Giovanni Gallovich in just 41 seconds, while the second scheduled card was postponed, with headliner Jamie Conlan falling ill.

This left Red Corner to properly kick off pro boxing in 2017 in Ireland, and the Dublin newcomers provided an extremely strong showing with Unfinished Business. Luke Keeler scored a career-best win over England’s Lewis Taylor in the headline fight, while there were step-up wins for Steve Collins Jr, Jay Byrne, and Craig O’Brien – and Noel Murphy’s home debut BUI Celtic title win almost blew the roof off the National Stadium.

Meanwhile, the Irish Elite Senior Championships rolled back around and, for the first time, the men and women’s finals nights were combined for a bumper night and a new era of boxing.

Darren O’Neill, Brendan Irvine, and Kurt Walker all retained their titles. There were first time winners in Martin Keenan, Emmet BrennanBlaine Dobbins, Pat Mongan, Leona Houlihan, Gráinne Walsh, and Kristina O’Hara – while Dean Walsh, Sean McComb, and Kelly Harrington all successfully negotiated weight changes to take their respective top prizes. Dervla Duffy and Joe Ward rounded off the winners on the night.

luke keeler

Also in the news in February:
– An immediate Frampton v Santa Cruz rematch in Belfast ran into difficulties.
Coach Eddie Bolger left the Irish High Performance set-up to become head of the German team.
– Rio Olympic silver medalist and fledgling rival Shakur Stevenson was signed by Top Rank – much to Mick Conlan’s delight.
– Kilbarrack flyweight Lynn Harvey charmed viewers when she appeared on RTÉ’s ‘First Dates Ireland’.

March – New York, New York
The month kicked off with a huge weekend – with Ginley Promotions and Team Alio running two small hall shows in Belfast, while Katie Taylor acted as chief support on the Haye-Bellew pay-per-view undercard, Ray Moylette made his pro debut, and Shortty Carroll defeated the Scottish champion, in Scotland, on short notice.

In the first Irish TV show of the year, Belfast went 2-0 versus Dublin on BoxNation, with Tyrone McKenna outgunning Jake Hanney before James Tennyson stopped Declan Geraghty in the sixth round of a see-saw Irish super featherweight title fight. Headlining the night at the Waterfront Hall was Jamie Conlan – who was involved in another trademark war, climbing off the canvas to edge past Nicaraguan Yader Cardoza.

Andy Lee scored a comeback win, Paul Hyland Jr made a successful Sky debut, Niall Kennedy claimed his first title, and John O’Donnell defended his – but St Patrick’s Weekend was Mick Conlan’s.

The Belfast amateur legend debuted in unprecedented circumstances, headlining and selling out The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. Walked in by UFC superstar Conor McGregor amidst a sensational atmosphere, Conlan duly stopped Tim Ibarra in the third round to begin ‘The Conlan Revolution’.

Ulster middleweights claimed rankings titles the following week. Donegal middleweight Jason Quigley outpointed Glen Tapia in the headline bout of the inaugural Golden Boy on ESPN card in California – however suffered a severe hand injury early in the NABF (WBC) title fight which would end his 2017 – while Conrad Cummings scored a destructive third round stoppage of Gogi Knezevic in Scotland to win the WBO European belt.

conlan arum

Also in the news in March:
Sean Turner links up with trainer Pete Taylor and has an Irish heavyweight title fight with Con Sheehan sanctioned.
– Jay Byrne begins to tread a new path, going the distance with Sky prospect Felix Cash.
– Ireland come home from the European Under-22s in Romania empty-handed.
Katie Taylor dominates recent World title challenger Milena Kovleva.
– Belfast’s Sonny Upton is controversially outpointed by Matty Ryan in their English light middleweight title fight.
Due to some circumstances beyond our control, It’s A Bout Boxing Ireland cancel their inaugural show just days beforehand.

April – Amateur change a Dunne deal
A potential watershed moment in the amateurs. The month began with the IABA having their funding cut in light of a medal-less Rio Olympics and ended with Bernard Dunne being appointed the new High Performance Director. In the actual ring, a massive round-robin took place in Dublin, where among others Sean McComb beat the reigning World Champion and Pat Mongan defeated the infamous Vladimir Nikitin.

On the pro side of things, Kieran Farrell came to Belfast for his first show. Feargal McCrory topped the bill at a packed-out Devenish, and scored a dominant step-up knockout win over Jay Carney – while Commonwealth bronze medalist Sean McGlinchey debuted and instantaneously marked himself out as one to watch.

Meanwhile, across the water in Wembley, Katie Taylor claimed the WBA International title with a bludgeoning win over Nina Meinke on the Joshua v Klitschko undercard. – the world title shot was near.

bernard dunne

Also in the news in April:
– Darragh Foley channels Rocky to pull out a win and defend his WBO Oceania title.
Rio Olympian David Oliver Joyce turns pro, as does Katie Taylor’s Olympic rival Natasha Jonas.
Sean Turner suffers a shock defeat.

May – Celtic Clash Comeback
Civil war rages in the boardrooms of the IABA
, but the boxers themselves continue to excel. Four golds are plundered at the Nicolae Linca, while Kieran Molloy takes silver at the prestigious Feliks Stamm. At home, the National U18s took place, with familiar faces ruling the roost alongside some breakthrough youngsters.

In the pros, Boxing Ireland Promotions and the Celtic Clash series return after years away with a record breaking show. The York Hall is transported to the National Stadium as Eric Donovan tops a bill which features the most ever fights and the most ever debuts in Irish boxing history.

Across the pond, Mick Conlan headlines another Top Rank TV card, this time stopping poor Mexican Alfredo Chanez in the third round at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. Things do not go well over in Britain though, with Phil Sutcliffe Jr and Marco McCullough both being stopped in big fights on BT Sport against Josh Leather and Ryan Walsh respectively.

Eric Donovan fight 4

Also in the news in May:
Tributes pour in for Belfast boxer Caoimhin Agyarko Hynes, who was viciously attacked on a night out.
Another new rival for Katie Taylor joins the pros.
The McGuigans TV mini-series is aired to widespread acclaim, depicting a recently rosey relationship between the Cyclone clan and Carl Frampton…
– The team for the Commonwealth Youth Games is announced – although there is plenty of chopping and changing, with Edgar Vuskans particularly unlucky.

June – Brilliant Burnett becomes Belfast belt-holder
A sensational month for Irish boxing saw a new World Champion crowned. Making his Belfast homecoming, Ryan Burnett dominated (one dodgy scorecard aside) and dethroned Lee Haskins to become IBF bantamweight champion at the SSE Odyssey Arena, dropping the English fighter in the sixth and eleventh rounds.

On the undercard, Luke Watkins knocked out Ian Tims to become Irish cruiserweight champion, while Paul Hyland and James Tennyson scored stoppages of their own to become Belfast stars. Also featuring, although not against Tommy McCarthy, was a slimmed-down Mike Perez who looked like he could be a force at cruiserweight.

We were back in Belfast the next week for BoxNation’s offering, at the Waterfront Hall. Jono Carroll took the spoils in a Fight of the Year with Johnny Quigley, however Steve Ormond was defeated by Craig Evans. Headlining in an early step-up to title level, Paddy Barnes scored a hard-fought win over former world title challenger Silvio Olteanu to claim the WBO European flyweight belt.

The Irish title was back to prominence at the National Stadium to close the month. Luke Keeler edged Darren Cruise for the middleweight title, while Paddy McDonagh was too slick for Stevie Collins Jr and reclaimed the light heavyweight belt on the Red Corner card.

It wasn’t just the pros either, and the Irish men were back among the medals following the Rio Olympic nightmare. Brendan Irvine and Kurt Walker both claimed bronze at the European Championships in Ukraine, while Joe Ward won an amazing THIRD European gold medal.

There was also the small matter of the unbelievable confirmation of a Floyd Mayweather v Conor McGregor fight.

burnett haskins twitter

Also in the news in June:
– With talks for a fight with Lee Selby breaking down, unheralded Mexican Andres Gutierrez is confirmed as the opponent for Carl Frampton’s homecoming.
– Irish trainer Shane McGuigan and former two weight world champ David Haye part company.
Irish boxers claim EIGHT titles at the famous Haringey Box Cup.
– Young Tyrone amateur Tiernan Bradley was brought into the Conor McGregor camp for the Floyd Mayweather fight.
– Darragh Foley defended his WBA Oceania title via fifth round technical split decision against late replacement Jeffrey Arienza.
– Steve Collins and Nigel Benn reveal they are in talks for a third fight, however the BBBoC are not keen for two men in their fifties to get back in the ring.

July – Frampton Fight Farce Following Freak Fall
A bizarre Friday in Belfast saw everything go wrong for Carl Frampton. ‘The Jackal’ missed weight by a full pound for his homecoming fight with Andres Gutierrez, seeing the bout demoted from WBC Eliminator status. Hours later Frampton found himself with no fight at all after Gutierrez suffered a freak injury. The Mexican slipped and fell in the shower leaving himself with severe dental damage and deep cuts on his nose and chin. ‘Jaguarcito’ wanted his teeth pulled so the fight could go ahead, but he was really in no position to fight. As Frampton said himself, “you can’t write things like this.”

The Mayweather-McGregor Press Tour rampages across the globe. McGregor creates the catchphrase of the year with ‘F*ck The Mayweathers,’ while Money May does his homework and develops a love for the word ‘eejit’. From mic cuts to purse bets, and physical contact bans to polar bears, the world goes mad for the freak fight.

In the main actual fight of note during the month, Anto Cacace was narrowly edged out by Martin J Ward in their British and Commonwealth title fight in London. Defending British champion Ward retained his title and added the rainbow belt following a unanimous decision in his favour, with tallies of 115-114, 116-114, and 116-113 – however many (especially in Argentina) felt Cacace did enough to scrape the scrappy bout.

frampton gut h2h

Also in the news in July:
– Led by Daina Moorehouse and Aoibhe Carabine, Ireland claim 2 gold, 1 silver, and 3 bronze at the European Youth and Junior Championships in Sofia.
Colm Murphy and John Moran win bronze, while Anthony Johnston and Kane Tucker win silver at the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas.
Ireland win 3 silver and 7 bronze at the European Schoolboys in Valcea.
– Bernard Dunne confirms Joe Ward as Irish team captain, and that the Moate light heavy will stay amateur for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Dean Gardiner receives surprise qualification for the World Championships.
– Olympic hopeful Gary Cully announces his surprise decision to turn pro.
– Mick Conlan claims pro win number three, stopping Jarrett Owen in the third round on the Manny Pacquiao v Jeff Horn undercard in Brisbane.
– Katie Taylor impressed on her U.S. debut, stopping Jasmine Clarkson at the end of the third round in New York.
– Declan Geraghty bounces back from his Irish title loss to claim a big away win over unbeaten Scot Michael Roberts Jr.
Mike Perez was confirmed as a surprise entrant to the World Boxing Super Series – and was subsequently chosen by WBC champion Mairis Briedis at the draft gala.

August – Major Medals and Mega Money
Michaela Walsh became the first Irishwoman not named Katie Taylor to win a major senior international gold medal
. The Belfast boxer stormed through four fights to top the bantamweight podium at the EU Championships in Cascia, Italy. A great tournament for Ireland, there was also a lightweight silver for Kelly Harrington and a welterweight bronze for Gráinne Walsh.

Despite a huge size advantage, sparring stories and video, a rule exception to allow 8oz gloves, a catchy song, and the collective will of millions of fans, light middleweight debutant Conor McGregor was predictably defeated by five-weight champion Floyd Mayweather at the T-Mobile Arena in Vegas. The Crumlin fighter actually had some success early on – although admittedly it seemed that Mayweather was merely sizing the Dubliner up – however McGregor would quickly run out of steam and was finally stopped standing in the tenth round.

There was also more outside-the-ring drama and, following weeks of rumours, Carl Frampton confirmed his split from Cyclone Promotions and the McGuigan family. Further details were, and remain, thin on the ground. Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn emerged as an early front-runner, however rumours were rife.

iwb

Also in the news in August:
– Top Rank boss Bob Arum confirms that Mick Conlan’s proposed Irish homecoming will not take place in 2017.
In-depth interview with former Frampton trainer Kevin Maree (most read Irish-Boxing interview of 2017).
Stevie Collins Jr parted company with trainer and uncle Paschal Collins to link up with Steven O’Rourke.

September – More history for Joe Ward
Joe Ward underlined his position as one of the greatest sportspeople ever produced by this island by claiming a record third World Championships medal. After coasting to the semis, Ward dug deep to defeat rising Uzbek Bektemir Melikuziev in what was an inspiring performance. The Moate man was finally beaten in the final by long-time rival Julio Cesar La Cruz – however he ran the Cuban, who has since moved up in weight, closer than ever.

The Celtic Clash series began to reintroduce domestic dust-ups, with Regan Buckley and Carl McDonald’s early-career clash capturing the imagination with a heated, pizza-filled build-up. The chief support in Dublin, Buckley won a memorable six-rounder. Headliner Eric Donovan jumped several levels but still dominated veteran Welsh champion Dai Davies. Meanwhile in Belfast, on the second Ginley Promotions bill, Tyrone McCullagh fell victim to frustrating fight week pull-outs and eventually scored a rather facile second round victory over the disqualified Craig Derbyshire.

The make-up of Carl Frampton’s new team was confirmed. The Belfast featherweight relocated to Manchester to train with Jamie Moore at the VIP Gym, took on Irish management outfit Mack The Knife Global as advisors, and linked up with veteran promoter Frank Warren.

The Celtic Warriors were on tour and claimed some big wins in U.S. headline fights. First up was Wexford heavyweight Niall Kennedy who, inspired by his newborn son MJ, claimed a career-changing upset win over New England champ Alexis Santos in Connecticut on a DiBella card. Then Spike O’Sullivan looked better than ever, getting over a scuppered fight with Gabriel Rosado by stopping Nick Quigley inside four rounds in a Golden Boy on ESPN bill in Boston.

Finally there was disappointment for big Mike Perez, who lost out in his world title challenge. The Cork-Cuban travelled to Latvia to take on WBC champ Mairis Briedis in the quarter finals of the World Boxing Super Series. ‘The Rebel’ was unanimously outpointed (116-110, 115-111, 114-112) in a messy, foul-filled fight.

joe ward

Also in the news in September:
Mick Conlan scores a one-punch KO on a big Top Rank card in Tucson, Arizona.
Veteran Peter McDonagh shocks recent British title challenger Shayne Singleton on the Fury-Parker heavyweight world title undercard.
– Monaghan teenager Aaron McKenna turned pro with Golden Boy.
Callum Walsh wins gold and Dean Clancy takes silver at the European Junior Championships in Albena, Bulgaria.
– The Celtic Nations middleweight title fight between Sean McGlinchey and Ger Healy, set for October 6th, was postponed due to McGlinchey contracting a virus.
– Kilbarrack light flyweight Lynn Harvey announces her retirement.
– Amidst controversy, the Irish title status of Paul Hyland Jr v Stephen Ormond is revoked.
Stephen Kavanagh (SK Promotions) announces his arrival on the Irish promotional scene.
– Weeks after Carl Frampton, Conrad Cummings also announces the end of his relationship with Cyclone and the McGuigan family.
– Just months after almost losing his life, Caoimhin Agyarko Hynes returns to the ring.

October – World Champ Rush
There were a number of big wins in October. In Edinburgh, Paddy Gallagher defended his BBBoC Celtic welterweight title against Gary Murray, stopping the brave Scot in the tenth and final round a bruising encounter. Murray suffered a bleed on the brain in the process and required surgery and was induced into a coma afterwards but is now thankfully awake and recovering well.

All the way Down Under, Kildare light middleweight Dennis Hogan moved in line for a WBO title shot with a surprisingly dominant win over Japanese champ Yuki Nonaka in Brisbane, while Darragh Foley also defended his WBA Oceania title via technical decision again against Ryuji Hachimitsu Ikeda.

Closer to home, Craig O’Brien climbed off the floor to win the BUI Celtic light middleweight title against Alain Alfred in Dublin, while Chris Blaney dominated Matiouze Royer to claim the super middleweight equivalent on a Red Corner bill topped by Noely Murphy.

In the first ever unification staged on Irish soil, Ryan Burnett outmuscled Kazakh brawler Zhanat Zhakiyanov in a crunching encounter at the SSE Odyssey Arena to add the WBA belt to his IBF strap, battling through a ruptured neck ligament suffered at the start of the sixth round. Probably the most controversial fight of the year took place on the undercard, with Paul Hyland Jr being adjudged to have beaten Stephen Ormond – a call most disagreed with – while James Tennyson scored a fearsome KO to move closer to an unlikely world title shot.

Katie Taylor them became Ireland’s second reigning world champion and stole the show in the process on the Anthony Joshua v Carlos Takam undercard at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. The Bray lightweight won the vacant WBA lightweight title after an entertaining fire-fight with Argentinian two-weight world champ Anahi Sanchez – who was stripped of the belt the previous day having missed weight. Taylor dropped Sanchez to the body in the second round and won 99-90 on all three cards.

taylor kd

Also in the news in October:
The Kieran Farrell Promotions show in Belfast is cancelled, with unfortunate late pull-outs scuppering the Devenish-hosted bill.
The inaugural SK Promotions show at the Citywest in Dublin is postponed a month.
– Ballyfermot light welterweight Stephen Carroll announces his retirement.
– Following his win over Alexis Santos, Niall Kennedy is rewarded with a promotional contract from Murphys Boxing and sparring with heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua.
Gabriel Dossen and Jordan Myers win bronze at the European Youth Championships in Antalya, Turkey.
Irish boxers won nine medals at the Eindhoven Box Cup.
– Rocky Ros Muc, a documentary on Galway’s WBA light middleweight title challenger Sean Mannion, was long-listed for an Academy Award.

November – Belfast favourites return
The Jackal returned, finally. Carl Frampton was back fighting in Belfast for the first time in 33 months, topping a bill at the SSE Odyssey Arena against former sparring partner Horacio Garcia. The Mexican gave Frampton an unexpectedly tough fight, with the Belfast 30 year old, who suffered a controversial knockdown, being dragged into a war following a dominant start and taking a competitive points decision.

On the undercard, Jamie Conlan kept getting back up, but his world title assault fell short. The Belfast super flyweight was outclassed by IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas, with the Filipino dropping Conlan four times, thrice to the body, and referee Steve Gray eventually intervened in the sixth to protect the brave Irishman from himself. There were better results though for Paddy Barnes and Jono Carroll, who both claimed their second rankings titles via stoppage.

The Ulster Elites returned to their spiritual home at the Ulster Hall for an epic finals night in Belfast. With Commonwealth Games qualification in the balance, there were some huge performances, with Kristina O’Hara, James McGivern, and Steven Donnelly standing out especially. On the same night, SK Promotions ran their first show, a successful and well-matched outing at the Citywest headlined by light welter Sean Creagh.

frampton garcia fight

Also in the news in November:
Caitlin Fryers and Katelynn Phelan win bronze at the World Youth Championships in Guwarthi, India.
– TJ Doheny has his IBF final eliminator versus Evgeny Gradovich in Russia cancelled. A replacement final eliminator versus Mike Tawatchi in Thailand is hastily arranged.
– Derry light middle Connor Coyle outpoints the undefeated Calvin Metcalfe over eight rounds on a PBC card in Florida.
– A Prizefighter-style tournament – ‘Ireland’s Last Man Standing: The Middleweights’ is announced for next March.
Cyclone Promotions opened legal proceedings against Carl Frampton.
– Neil Power announces his entry into the Irish promotional scene and his intention to run a show in Waterford on February 17th.

December – Taylor continues to change the game
Ginley Promotions
 and Boxing Ireland rounded off the year with their third shows – both of which being their best yet. In Belfast, Tyrone McCullagh finally got the big fight he craved and would dominate and stop undefeated German Tom Tran in the fifth round, while Phil Sutcliffe stopped another undefeated German, Andreas Maier, in the third a battle of the KO artists.

In Dublin, a short-notice super featherweight fight between Stephen McAfee and Colin O’Donovan ended up being something special, while Jay Byrne proved that the road less travelled is a viable route – stopping the undefeated Crank Whitehouse in the fourth round of their BUI Celtic welterweight title fight. Now trained by Andy Lee, Eric Donovan headlined for the third time and dominated Juancho Gonzalez.

Mick Conlan returned to the scene of his unprecedented debut, The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, to play chief support to the massive showdown between Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux. On a card topped by two double Olympic gold medalists, Conlan used the opportunity to showcase his talents and gave his most complete performance to date in outclassing tough Argentinian Luis Fernando Molina.

Slightly north the following week in Montreal, a relentless Spike O’Sullivan put on his second successive career-best performance to upset the odds and batter Antoine Douglas into seventh submission, claiming the WBO Inter-Continental title and moving into genuine world title contention in the process.

Sandwiched in between all these, Katie Taylor was drawn into a war and given her toughest test to date, but unanimously defeated game American Jessica McCaskill. The Wicklow woman’s maiden world title defence was the first ever female-headlined card on Sky Sports, and sets the stage for Taylor’s eventual homecoming next April.

In the last major fight of the year, TJ Doheny set up a 2018 fight with IBF super bantamweight champion Ryosuke Iwasa. A late change in country, climate, and opponent was no issue for the Portlaoise fighter who scored a dominant win over Mike Tawatchi in Bangkok.

katie taylor punches jessica mccaskill

Also in the news in December:
– Jason Quigley announced he has swapped trainer Manny Robles’s and California for Dom Ingle and Sheffield.
– Another middleweight, Luke Keeler, moves from Paschal Collins to Pete Taylor in Bray.
The National Senior (Intermediate) Championships conclude in Dublin.
– Joe Ward, Ryan Burnett, and Katie Taylor are nominated for RTÉ Sportsperson of the Year – which is eventually won by footballer James McClean.
After seeing his initial debut date cancelled, Aaron McKenna made his pro bow in Las Vegas and defeated Travis Conley on points.
– Larry Fryers dominates undefeated Puerto Rican Charles Natal on a DiBella card in New York..
– Frank Warren confirms that Carl Frampton will fight four-weight champ Nonito Donaire in Belfast on April 7th.

dpg

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