Things don’t often go to plan in boxing, and there have been plenty of big shocks this year in Irish boxing. Some good, some not so good, the surprise element to the sport is one of the many reasons we all love the sweet science.
Our award for Shock of the Year is named after the Clones Colossus Kevin McBride, who upset the odds to send a faded Mike Tyson into retirement back in 2005.
And the nominees are…
No medals at the Rio Olympics
They were the golden generation, but the eight-strong Irish team came away from the Rio Games with no medals, despite many predicting at least three. Katie Taylor lost a third bout of the year, a weight-drained Paddy Barnes was a shadow of his best, Michael O’Reilly failed a drugs test, while Mick Conlan and Joe Ward fell afoul of judges and referees respectively. The knives were out as Ireland failed to medal at a major international tournament for the first time since 2007 – although many would argue that it was more a series of unfortunate events. Regardless of the root cause, no one predicted how much of a disaster Rio would turn out to be.
Zoltan Szabo KO5 Stephen Ormond
Stephen Ormond disappointingly missed weight for his IBF lightweight title eliminator with Alejandro Luna during the Summer, and had looked to rebuild under MGM. First up for ‘The Rock’ was a six-round bout in Scotland against Hungarian Zoltan Szabo. Ormond was expected to blow the Central European out of the water, and would admit afterwards that he underestimated Szabo and had come in out of shape, but he was downed from a counter hook in the opening round. The tenacious Clondalkin man would fight back and regain control of the bout, but disaster struck in the fifth when he was hit by the perfect liver shot on put out for the count. Ormond did secure a rematch, and outpointed Szabo over eight at the start of this month.
JJ McDonagh KO1 Jake Ball
Now for a good one. Mullingar’s JJ McDonagh was dragged up in weight for a short-notice fight with big-punching Matchroom hot prospect Jake Ball in November. The Irish super middleweight champion was not given a hope and was 10/1 with the bookies beforehand. McDonagh, who admitted that he would not have had sufficient stamina to last the distance, would nevertheless rip up the script and slugged his way to a shock first round win. The midlander was tagged early, but landed a huge shot on Ball, sending him across the ring and then forcing him over the top rope. Ball survived the count but was then knocked near unconscious by a sensational hook.
Katie Taylor loses first fight in five years
Going into this year, Katie Taylor had not lost since 2011, winning 62 on the spin. Even at that, her loss to Bulgarian Denitsa Eliseeva in 2011 was viewed a disgusting robbery. In April, Taylor was looking to confirm her qualification for the Rio Games at the qualifier in Turkey. Initially standing in her way was Yana Alekseevna, whom had given the Bray boxer a scare at the European Games last year. In a cagey bout, the Azeri took the opening round and managed to defeat a chasing Taylor on the cards (37:39 x3)
Photographer Ilyas Gun’s snap of the moment the result was read out speaks more than words ever could.
Joe Smith Jr KO1 Andrzej Fonfara
Irish-American light heavyweight Joe Smith Jr had an upset-filled 2016, and scored an underdog win against the legendary Bernard Hopkins at the weekend. However, it is his win over the Polish Prince in June that was the most shocking. A double-digit outsider, Smith flattened the world title-chasing Fonfara at the UIC Pavilion in his adopted home city of Chicago in front of a partisan home crowd. The PBC bout was meant to be a showcase for Fonfara, but ‘The Irish Bomber’ – a fulltime construction worker – had other ideas.
Ronny Mittag SD10 Conrad Cummings
Tyrone middleweight Cummings was looking to move to the next level in November, and took on experienced German Mittag for the IBF Inter-Continental belt. While it was a competitive bout at the Wembley Arena, the near unanimous opinion was that Cummings took a relatively close, but clear, decision. However, two of the judges disagreed, and a battered-looking Mittag was handed a win on the cards (96:94 x2, 94:96). Cummings is currently aiming to secure a rematch and settle the score.
Mick Conlan robbed in Rio
While the Olympics as a whole is nominated, we felt the Conlan fiasco was deserving of its own recognition. The Games were not going to plan for Ireland, and all eyes were focused on the Belfast bantamweight, the last remaining Irish fighter. Conlan cruised through his opening bout to set up a bronze medal-deciding fight with Russian Vladimir Nikitin. The reigning World Amateur champion seemingly won the first round at a canter, only to see it awarded to his Russian. A change of tactics ensued, and Conlan would level the scores following a one-sided demolition in the second round. A closer third rounded out the bout, and all three judges did the unthinkable, awarding the bout to Nikitin (29:28 x3).