Who is Ireland’s Fighter of the Decade?

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It’s been the best of times and the worst of times.

The last 10 years have had massive highs and massive lows in terms of Irish boxing.

The sport has grown substantially over the last decade with more pro fighters than ever before, more shows, more champions, more major amateur success at all age levels, as well as the unforseen explosion of female boxing.

However, the lack of a pro scene outside of Belfast has proved frustrating, whilst there remains a nasty taste in the mouth from all things Rio.

Regardless there has been more to celebrate than bemoan and, going into the 20s, the positives look to outweigh the negatives.

We here at Irish-boxing.com are going to take a look back at some of the better times over the last decade and having just run our successful Irish-boxing.com yearly awards, we felt we should explore who was the Irish boxer of the decade just gone.

Having won world titles, the likes of TJ Doheny, Andy Lee and Ryan Burnett, who but for injury could have gone on to become a serious greatest of all time Irish contender, would be on any long list of nominees.

Paddy Barnes may too be unfortunate not to be shortlisted and that may have been different if his first Olympic medal wasn’t won in the decade previous. Michael Conlan similarly did enough to make a longer list of nominees considering he won an Olympic medal and became Ireland’s first ever male amateur world champion.

However, just like padding out records we are not fans of padding out nominees and feel it’s a straight shootout between two.

Carl Frampton and Katie Taylor have been, by far, the standout Irish fighters of the last 10 years. Both have enjoyed massive success, broke new ground and contributed massively to the sport on this island as a whole.

Katie Taylor

In a game of Ireland’s Greatest Sportsperson Top Trumps, Katie Taylor is unbeatable in the ‘medals’ category. You’d need an empty restaurant for Taylor to be able to put her medals on the table – and if she is arguably our best sports star of all time there is no doubt she is up there as our greatest boxer and potentially the greatest Irish fighter of the last two decades.

The Bray fighter blazed a trail in the second half of the 00s, but it was only at the turn of the decade that she started to get the recognition she deserved.

Third and fourth World Championship gold medals were banked in 2010 and 2012 before she took over the London Olympics winning a historic gold to the delight of the nation.

Rio didn’t go as planned and there were disappointments in the mid part of the last 10 years, but Taylor has finished the decade in sensational fashion.

Turning pro she has enjoyed the kind of success some International Hall of Famers could only dream of. Within 15 fights, the 33-year-old unified an entire division and became a two weight world champion.

It’s been an accolade-packed decade of monumental wins and achievements.

However, there is so much more to Wicklow inspiration than victories, medals and belts. Taylor has nigh on single gloved handily transformed the sport.

There is no doubt about it female boxing is an Olympic sport because of a fighter, who had to pretend to be a boy to secure fights in her earlier years.

All the successful female fight stories of London and Rio have roots in Taylor’s exceptional talent, her drive and her ability to inspire.

Similarly, Taylor has helped revolutionize female pro boxing. Her technical ability is such that distinctions between male and female boxing are becoming extinct – it’s just boxing. Taylor has not only won titles, but she has topped TV and arena bills, she has generated paydays for her opponents the likes they would never have dreamed of, she has played a major role in creating a market for female boxing and the knock on effects of her success have changed the face of boxing forever.

The fighter who has won five pro world titles, Olympic gold, three world amateur championships and a host of European medals in this decade has also transformed the look of gyms in Ireland and potentially around the world. Irish boxing gyms are no longer male dominated sports hubs. Thousands of young and older females are boxing across the country and it’s gotten to such a point that our best chances of winning Olympic medals in Tokyo 2020 may rest with female pugilists.

Carl Frampton

In 2010 and after seven fights, Frampton was awarded Irish Boxing Prospect of the Year and he has since dominated the decade professionally.

‘The Jackal’ began to amass a big following early on and by the end of 2012 he had won BBBofC Celtic and Commonwealth titles. He was a major part of Paul McCloskey’s Sky Sports broadcast undercards before he became the main man.

A European title fight and victory over one Kiko Martinez certainly helped in that regard. It was at that point in early 2013 that Irish fans began to realize that Frampton was more than prospect and potentially something special.

One of Ireland’s favourite opponents, Martinez was back just over a year later this time as World rather than European champion and Frampton’s talent and popularity meant he became world champion in front of 15,000 fans at a purpose built stadium beside the Titanic Centre.

Just two defenses later and the Belfast fighter was putting his hand up to be counted as a possible great. A massive win over Scott Quigg saw him become the countries first unified champion – and two weight world status followed soon after.

In his first fight as a featherweight, ‘The Jackal’ managed to dethrone a possible Future Hall of Fame fighter in Leo Santa Cruz to bring things to the next level. It was a wonderful rare kind of success. An Irish fighter winning a world title against a known name in a fight that had the worlds attention.

Things haven’t run as smooth since. Defeat in the rematch with the Mexican wasn’t too long followed by a split with Cyclone Promotions and Josh Warrington prevented the popular fighter from regaining world title status last Christmas.

However, there has been a win over Nonito Donaire, a Windsor Park night, and Frampton looks likely to bring world championship boxing back to Belfast in May of 2020. Indeed,the Top Rank fighter could become Ireland’s first three weight champion if he defeats Jamell Herring the Summer coming.

Overall it has been a massively successful innings for Frampton, but similarly to Taylor it’s his impact outside of his own career that makes it that bit more special.

Whilst boxing was struggling post the Bernard Dunne era and during the recession Frampton’s success and popularity kept the sport alive. Big fight nights were rare in the early part of the decade and when they did come to town they were most likely Frampton inspired.

So many fighters got the chance to expose their wares beyond the small hall because of the former two weight world champions pulling power – and fall down trimmings were no longer just scraps.

The now Jamie Moore-trained fighter also helped re open the door to America, showing those across the Atlantic that there was world class talent in Ireland whilst proving the marketability of the Irish fighter stateside, something others have benefited from significantly.

Other fighters emerged as the decade progressed and there is now more than one fighter capable of topping a significant bill in Belfast, but it has to be noted Frampton played a massive part in ensuring that is the case currently.

So, who is Ireland’s Fighter of the Decade?

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Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: editoririshboxing@gmail.com