In 2016 many Irish boxers went above and beyond what was expected of them in the ring at all levels. Some claimed shock wins, some showed their skills, some showed a level of dominance that nobody predicted – and all of them stood up and were counted.
This award is named in honour of The Pocket Rocket Wayne McCullough who upset defending WBC bantamweight champion Yasuei Yakushiji with a dominant display in Japan in 1995 – and to this day remains the only British or Irish fighter to win a world title in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Matthew Macklin (v Brian Rose)
By no means the best performance of Macklin’s career – indeed he retired afterwards knowing that he could no longer mix it at the top level – but it was something of a glorious last stand from the two-time European champion. The Birmingham-born middleweight started well but seemed to tire and allowed Rose to come on strong. Perhaps knowing that it would be his final fight, Macklin finished like a train, and his performance in the twelfth, on reflection, is one of the gutsiest rounds by an Irish fighter in recent memory.
Jason Quigley (v James De La Rosa)
The Donegal middleweight jumped several levels to face De La Rosa on the Canelo-Khan undercard in May. De La Rosa has a win over Alfredo Angulo on his record, but was taken apart over ten rounds by Quigley, who won a cumulative 30 rounds to 0 on the three cards. De La Rosa would further prove his credentials in his next bout, giving former world title challenger Curtis Stevens a tough fight, and it would certainly suggest that Quigley has the potential to be knocking on the door of World titles by this time next year.
Tommy McCarthy (v Jon-Lewis Dickinson)
The Belfast cruiser took a huge step up in class to face the former British champion and outright Lonsdale belt holder in Glasgow. Beforehand the clash was viewed as a pick’em and Dickinson had spoken of winning and moving onto a potential fight with Tony Bellew (should Bellew win the WBC cruiserweight title the following night, which he did). However, McCarthy showed maturity beyond his years to control most of the fight, downing Dickinson in the sixth, en-route to a comfortable points win.
Carl Frampton (v Leo Santa Cruz)
While it has been said numerous times in the aftermath that it was not a perfect performance from Frampton that night in New York – and that he has another level to go to for the rematch – it was still the best ‘The Jackal’ has ever looked. Written off by most US pundits ahead of his featherweight debut, the Belfast man hurt Santa Cruz and raced to an early lead. While the Mexican-American came on strong, Frampton did enough to stem the flow and take a deserved win that saw him become a two-weight world champion and enter the pound-for-pound Top 10.
Steven Donnelly (v Tuvshinbat Byamba)
The Ballymena welter put on a fine performance against the Mongolian slugger in the Last 16 at the Rio Olympics. Fighting an experienced and decorated opponent, Donnelly picked his shots perfectly, circling the ring and switch-hitting with great effect. On the few occasions when he was drawn into a fire fight with the Asian, Donnelly showed he was perfectly capable of mixing in, and took a deserved win, his second of the Games.
Mick Conlan (v Vladimir Nikitin)
Lost in the controversy that surrounded the result and the fall-out, Mick Conlan’s Olympic bantamweight quarter final was the best the Belfast man has ever looked. Conlan showed supreme back-foot skills in the first, then destructive attacking prowess in the second and third. On paper it was a statement win that should have sent shockwaves throughout the rest of the field, although we all know it didn’t play out that way…
Ryan Burnett (v Ryan Farrag)
Since he signed with Matchroom, Eddie Hearn spoke of giving Ryan Burnett a test to rouse a sparkling performance from him after a string of easy wins. This test came in Liverpool against home favourite Ryan Farrag, and Burnett showed a bit of everything, boxing well and proving that he is more than capable of fighting on the inside. After twelve rounds of exciting action that ignited a buzz about Burnett among the casual fan, the Belfast bantamweight retained his British title via a wide unanimous decision.
Tyrone McKenna (v Sean Creagh)
Slick southpaw McKenna showed what he is capable of when he gets regular fights and opponents who come to win when he took on Sean Creagh in Belfast. The local light welter shone in front of the Boxnation cameras, showing a level of sharpness and shot selection that was previously unseen en-route to a destructive fifth round retirement win that marked him out as a potential player on the packed domestic 140lbs scene.
Eric Donovan (v Krzysztof Rogowski)
Everyone knew Eric Donovan had buckets of talent, but with turning pro in his 30s there was understandable skepticism about his chances in the pro game. These fears were blown out of the water with his second fight in Dublin in November where Lilywhite Lightning stopped durable Pole Rogowski like few others ever had. The Kildare fighter stopped his opponent in the second with some of the classiest combinations ever thrown by a pro boxer at the National Stadium.
Luke Keeler (v Bradley Pryce)
Following his knockout loss to Tom Doran, Keeler pledged to rebuild his style and return to his roots as a more patient, skills-based fighter. This transition went smoother than even Keeler could have hoped himself, and the Dublin middleweight scored a dominant win on his return against Pryce at the National Stadium, flooring the Welshman in the second en-route to a wide win on the cards after eight rounds.
Shortty Carroll (v Jamesy Gorman)
The Dublin light welter took a step up in his fifth fight to take on journeyman-turned-home favourite Jamesy Gorman in Belfast. While his first few fights were brawls, Carroll boxed well in the eight rounder at the Shorts Sports and Social Club and did not wilt under the constant pressure that came from the grizzled veteran, eventually taking a deserved 78:76 win on the card.
Katie Taylor (v Karina Kopinska)
The Wicklow super featherweight made an almost seamless transition to the pros at the Wembley Arena in November. Granted the opposition was overmatched (although still a stong debut opponent compared to others), but Taylor looked sensational from the off, showing some ferocious body attacks and awe-inspiring compination punching en-route to a third round stoppage win that made many undecideds and nay-sayers sit up and take notice.