Kevin Fennessy is delighted he didn’t force Ireland’s ‘best ever male professional boxer’ into retirement before he even ditched the vest.
Speaking during the lead-up to his historic bout with Jamel Herring, Carl Frampton revealed he came close to calling it a day when he was beaten by the former Clonmel BC amateur in the semi-final of the 2008 Seniors.
‘The Jackal’, who could become Ireland’s first-ever three-weight champion on February 27, wasn’t disrespecting Fennessey’s abilities, rather revealing, that was the point he released corners couldn’t be cut if he was to win a coveted Senior title and be a success thereafter.
The Belfast star said he was so distraught after that defeat he was close to calling it a day, only for his then-girlfriend and now wife, Christine, to talk him back of the retirement ledge.
Fennessy was unaware he was so close to halting the journey of a fighter, that went on to win European and world titles, carried the sport in Ireland for the best part of the last decade, and has a possible Hall of Fame place and Greatest Irish fighter status in his future.
Speaking to Irish-boxing.com the Tipp native admitted he was glad that Frampton fought on, even if it was to his detriment the following Seniors.
“I never knew that until I heard it last week but I’m glad he stuck with it,” said Fennessy.
“He is Ireland’s best ever male professional boxer now and more than likely will become three-weight world champion. Phenomenal.”
“I’m delighted he done so well and he has paved the way for the next crop of Irish professionals. He was suited to the pro game ever since he was a teenager. I’m sure he’s made a right few bob as well.”
Reflecting on the fight that may have sent Frampton in a less lucrative direction, Fennessy recalls he went into it confident and fuelled with ambition.
“My memory is not as good as it used to be! But I think maybe the first year it was Olympic year and the winner of the Seniors would get to go to the qualifiers so I had ambitions of my own like any young lad.
“I had been beaten in the previous two Senior finals to Davey Oliver and Ryan Lindberg. Both boys had beaten Carl in recent years so I knew if I boxed the right fight I’d have a chance,” he adds before going into more detail.
“I remember going 2-1 down in the first round but I was after boxing really well so confidence was high. My father told me in the corner he’d up the pace in the second round but if he did just to move and let him come. And that’s all I did really.”
“I got up on the toes and boxed. I won the second round 5-0 I think, and I suppose that was enough. I just boxed clever the last two rounds and won by a few points in the end.”
That defeat forced now 33-year-old Frampton to take a serious look at himself. After electing against calling it a day he employed some critical thinking to the situation.
Frampton surmised his prep wasn’t right and decided to train full time for the 2009 edition.
Fennessy suggests the changes reaped real reward, as he reveals he faced a much-improved fighter when they drew each other a year later.
“The fight the year after Carl was much better than he had ever been before. He jumped on me in the first round and the scores flew up – 6-0 if I remember correctly. My corner threw in the towel halfway through the second round in a protest over the scoring of the fight.
“I was well beaten that day, no excuses, and the scores wouldn’t have made any difference. Carl was far superior. He went on to beat Davey Oliver the following day in a cracker and I think that’s where his career really kicked off.”
Holding a win over one of Ireland’s greatest should prove a real source of pride for the Clonmel man, but he has more than one positive memory from his career.
“Sure look of course it’s great to look back on any win really in the Stadium. At the time it didn’t seem like a big deal but I have great memories over the years from the National Stadium,” he adds humbly.
Fennessey was more than part of what some more nostalgic fight fans reflect on as a golden era, indeed he was a name at a time it seemed the top 5-10 fighters in each weight were relatively well known.
As he continues to open up the domestic elite level regular and Irish International reflects on that period and his amateur innings fondly – and is more than content with what he achieved.
“I am happy that I did the best I could at the time. Looking back I would have changed a few things around nutrition and strength training and bought into it a bit more, but I was so used to doing it my way that I was afraid to change. I would also improve my lifestyle.
“But sure look I was just delighted to share a ring with so many Irish greats over the years Paddy Barnes, TJ Doheny, Carl, Eric Donovan, Adam Nolan, John Joe Joyce, Ryan Lindberg, Jamie Conlan, Ross Hickey, and more. I suppose I always had the belief that I could match anyone on technical ability.
“The toughest opponent I ever faced was Davey Oliver Joyce he just had my number each time,” he adds before dropping some impressive world-level names he fought.
“I was also lucky enough to share the ring with World champions and Olympic Gold medallists throughout my career, Cuban Rosniel Iglesias, Mongolia’s Badar-Uugan Enkhbatyn, and Bulgarian Detelin Dalakliev.”
“I won national titles the whole way up, a few multi nations gold medals, and boxed for Ireland on over 50 occasions.”
The possibility of adding to his list of boxing accolades by turning pro was something Fennessy never even considered.
“No no, never even considered professional,” he quips before suggesting he was more built for life in the vest.
“I just didn’t have the style for pro boxing. I was a technical boxer and more suited to the two-minute rounds. I loved amateur boxing and the skill involved.”
For one who didn’t go pro Fennessy wasn’t seen around the National Stadium too often in the latter half of his 20’s and retired earlier than most.
“I began to put other things in front of boxing,” he explains.
“I had never done that in the years previous. The desire just wasn’t there anymore and I couldn’t perform to my best. For boxers to succeed at the highest level they have to have no outside distractions. Luckily I went back to educate myself – something I had neglected when I was boxing – and got a degree in Business studies,” he adds before revealing he is putting that degree and his boxing past to good use.
“I am currently working as a Financial Advisor with Doddl.ie. A great company to be employed with. I am lucky that all the skills I have learned as a high-performance athlete are transferrable into the work environment.”
When asked about his proudest moment, Fennessey can’t single out one. The Tipperary man is a club man and is just proud to have done his town and club proud.
“The proudest moments I ever had were representing my own club Clonmel Boxing club. I think my greatest achievements were always in the club signet.
“I can’t thank the club coaches enough for what they have done for me over the years. I could never repay them. Martin Fennessy, Robert Scanlon, John Mackey, and Bobby Galvin, I owe a lot to them.
“The boxers that came after me reached an even higher level again, the likes of Dean Gardiner and Con Sheehan, I’m blessed I got share the club with them boys over the years.”
“We had a great team of boxers over the years and always got the best from each other. Looking at the crop of young boxers we have now I think the club will go through another purple patch in the years to come.”