16 July 2008 – by Mark Doyle
It seems that reports of Wayne McCulloughs retirement were greatly exaggerated.
On June 20, in the exotic surroundings of the Caymans Island, McCullough quit on his stool after six rounds of his bout with Juan Ruiz for the vacant NABF featherweight title.
For a fighter known for tireless work-rate and relentless pressure, it felt like the end. After three years of inactivity following his second defeat by Oscar Larios, suspected that he could no longer compete at the highest level.
He told the crowd as much afterwards informing the surprisingly large British and Irish contingent in attendance testament to his enduring popularity as a fighter and a man that they had probably just watched him in action for the last time.
Unsurprisingly, as soon as McCullough’s words hit the internet, the plaudits and the tributes came flooding in.
A former WBC bantamweight champion who had gone toe-to-toe with some of the finest fighters of his generation, McCullough had earned the respect of thousands of fight fans for his exploits in the ring.
Perhaps even more admirably, he earned the respect of many more for the way in which he conducted himself out of it. McCullough is, and always has been, a warm, courteous and good-humoured character.
However, amidst all the ensuing sentimentality and nostalgia (McCullough jokingly admits he felt as if some journalists wrote as if he was dead!), the fact that he had not actually confirmed his retirement was conveniently overlooked.
As a result, he is more than a little keen to set the record straight.
That fight in the Cayman Islands was the first time that anyones ever handed me a mic after a fight, he explains in an exclusive interview with irish-boxing.com.
It was real heat of the moment stuff. I told the crowd: Im sorry about tonight but I didnt feel good. I was winning the fight but things werent clicking. The three years off had probably hurt me. This could be my last fight.
I didnt stand there and say, Im 100 percent retired. But the next day in the media they were saying, McCulloughs retired and it went from there.
And I just thought, I have to have time to take to my wife and my daughter and reevaluate things and then see what happens. But I havent made that decision yet. No matter what I do, I need to have time to think things through.
Ive always said that when I say Im retired, I want to stay retired. I dont want to be someone who comes back out of retirement. Thats why I want to make sure first.”
Many are hoping that McCullough does, indeed, follow through on his initial gut feeling that it is time to retire. As with any fighter who has been involved in so many brutal wars, there are fears that by continuing he could risk doing himself permanent damage.
However, McCullough is almost a special case given that he has gone into the trenches with men of the calibre of Erik Morales, Naseem Hamed, Scott Harrison and Larios.
But while he can understand the concern many people have for his welfare, and also appreciate it, he does not want to be pushed into retirement. Indeed, he is conscious of the fact that some people want the decision taken out of his hands.
Most of the reports about my retirement were fine – nobody said anything nasty – but one reporter wrote that my wife should know when its time for me to quit, he explains.
But I make my own decisions and I talk to my wife and my daughter before I make them. Im not just going to go on and just keep fighting and end up punch drunk. So I dont like it when people start bringing my wife and my daughter into it.
While his wife and daughter are the most significant factors in McCullough’s thinking, the Northern Irishman also intends to listen to the fans.
He was devastated by the collapse of last years proposed bout with Kiko Martinez at Belfast it would have been his first fight on home soil in five years and the temptation to bow out with a fight or perhaps even two fights in Ireland remains as strong as ever.
Certainly, he feels that after nearly a decade of frustration outside of the ring he still has something left to offer.
After my first loss, to Daniel Zaragoza in 1997, I had 15 months out of the ring, and then I had the brain scan issue with the British Boxing Board of Control for almost three years,” he points out.
“And then I had a long lay-off between Hamed and Morales. And then after Harrison I had another long absence. Then, I had three years after Larios.
“So, Ive been a pro for 15 years but if you take those breaks into account Ive had about seven years of inactivity.
He continues, revisiting the Ruiz defeat: And you cant take three years off and just jump in there and think youre a world-beater.
“You need one or two fights to get your timing back, and then take a bigger fight.
“But even if I do decide to retire, Ive always said that Id like to have two more fights, in Belfast and Dublin, and not for the money but for the fans.
“I’d like to go back and say, thanks for your support. Im not going to fight a world-beater but I would like to get back to Ireland and show the fans how grateful I am for backing me all these years.
“Even in that fight in the Cayman Islands I was taken aback by the fans who came out to support me.
I havent fought in Belfast in six years and Dublin since 1996 – its ridiculous.
“That last fight in Dublin would have been my second defence of my WBC title so its been way too long.
“But I never thought that 12 years later Id still be talking about fighting; they cant get rid of me!