Conrad Cummings and Luke Keeler, two Irish middleweights who have promised much, impressed many behind the scenes, but are still to show their true colours on the big stage.
We’ve heard the stories – Barry McGuigan was claiming from day dot that Cummings was turning over elite fighters in sparring while Packy Collins would argue that Keeler was the best of a bevvy of Irish middleweights which also included Jason Quigley.
Come fight night, though, we only ever got glimpses – Cummings destroying Gogi Knezevic, Keeler making a statement versus Gary Boulden.
‘Excuses’ is a dirty word in boxing but there have certainly been, well-founded, reasonable mitigating factors for both – Cummings would detail his confidence issues in the well-received ‘Fight Game: The McGuigans’ documentary series, and would later reveal his frustration at attempts to change his style as well as a lack of activity.
For Keeler, full-time work as an engineer was the issue as well as a long-standing shoulder injury and frequently broken hands.
Add in adverse results for both versus Alfredo Meli, Tom Doran, and Ronnie Mittag – it’s been far from a meteoric rise for either, which will hopefully be kick-started at about 9:00pm tonight.
Under Jamie Moore and Pete Taylor respectively, Cummings and Keeler go into their fight fully fit and with the best camps of their lives behind them.
Tenerife and Marbella were visited, Mt Teide and Mt Istán were scaled, bodies were pushed to the limit, and tonight they will put it all on the line for the WBO European middleweight title at the SSE Odyssey Arena, live on BT Sport.
The fighters themselves are aware that it all comes down to tonight and whether they can finally show what we have been told. The roadblocks are lifted and the path is clear for one – or hopefully even both – to prove their elite-level talents.
“I gave up my job a Christmas to go full time,” says Keeler [13(6)-2(1)-1]. “I have been training twice a day with a smile on my face in the new gym set up. It’s like a weight off my shoulders even down to making weight easy. I know it’s a cliché – people say it all the time – but, honestly, I feel the best I ever have. I am at my best and I am ready.”
“To be honest, I always had a niggling feeling I have never done myself justice. I have shown glimpses of what I can do. I don’t want to make excuses, but because I was doing 50 hours a week in work I wasn’t right physically or mentally.”
“Now I have done it [gone full-time] and it’s like a weight of my shoulders and it has all been set up nice.”
Cummings too is back boxing with a smile on his face and described how “it’s one I can really get my teeth into and I am excited. People ask what I mean when I say that, but I haven’t been this excited in my whole career people will see on Saturday”
“I had a difficult year with one thing or another so I am delighted to be back on the big stage. I have been in camp since January but it’s been smarter work. Jamie and I have gelled very well and he seems to be getting the best out of me. You can see I am relaxed through it all, no pressure. My last two fights, okay, they were on small hall shows and the guys weren’t great but, even that, I was relaxed which I hadn’t been.”
There has been no bad blood in the build-up. Indeed, it’s been quite the opposite. Both are hugely confident, no doubt, however, it is nothing personal.
“I have full respect for Luke as a person and a fighter,” notes Cummings [13(6)-1(0)-1]. “He is going to give it his all as he said he is focused, he quit working and is full time now, but I know what this will do for my career. It will take it to the next level. I should have been there by now. I am looking forward to a good fight. I am focused.”
“He is a good fighter there is no getting away from that,” adds Keeler. “I hope the best Conrad Cummings turns up on the night. I plan on performing to the best of my ability and I plan on winning. I couldn’t pick a better opponent for it and I am just going to take this belt and push on.”
While styles, stage, and preparations mean tonight is primed to be an all-Irish fight for the ages, ‘pushing on’ is at the back of both fighters minds.
A big BT Sport audience, a boost up the WBO rankings, maybe even a deal with Frank Warren, it’s all up for grabs for the winner and both acknowledge that.
“It’s a big fight for me,” states 26-year-old Cummings. “I am relaxed. WBO European title on the line, it’s a chance to break into the top 10 in the world, which would be brilliant for me and I am looking forward to it.”
Keeler, who turned 31 today, has less time left in the sport and is keenly aware that now is his chance.
“It’s a funny game boxing,” he explained. “It is as much a business as anything else.”
“Without jumping the gun, I know I need a few fights to get up there [world level], but I fought Lewis Taylor and he had a close fight with Tommy Langford and Tommy fought a world eliminator. You can be manoeuvred like these British level guys – and I don’t mean to be disrespectful – and all of a sudden your fighting for a world title.”
“Then you see Billy Joe Saunders nearly lost to a guy in that Leisureplex he just wasn’t turned on. Anything can happen in boxing and, hopefully if things are kept in house, I won’t be too far away from a world title after this fight.”