Who will be Ireland’s Third Reigning World Champ?
By Joe O’Neill follow Joe on Twitter @j0e_90
Not since the heady days of 1996 has Ireland had three reigning world champions. Back then, in the days of Brit-pop and Eurovision success, Steve Collins, Wayne McCullough and Eamonn Loughran held the WBO super middleweight, WBC bantamweight and WBO welterweight belts respectively. Now, nineteen years later, world champions Carl Frampton (IBF super bantamweight) and Andy Lee (WBO middleweight) have made us dare to dream. With 2015 in its infancy, irish-boxing.com looks at the three boxers currently closest to joining Carl and Andy at boxing’s top table.
Stephen Ormond – Lightweight
‘The Rock’ is Ireland’s best-kept boxing secret having fought here only five times and in his home city of Dublin just thrice. Ormond is ranked #5 by the WBO and holds the WBO European belt. The fast-handed Clondalkinman is believed to be just one fight away from a shot at the organisation’s title. That fight is on February 14th in Wolverhampton against undefeated Manchester southpaw, and former Prizefighter Lightweights champion, Terry Flanagan [26(10)-0].
The fight had originally been scheduled for December 12th but Ormond had to withdraw due to illness. The rangey and awkward Mancunian is not short on confidence going into the Valentine’s Day bout, claiming that “There’ll be no love hearts in my eyes when I’m facing him, just targets set on his chin.” Ormond is similarly confident, asserting that “the only thing his lips will be kissing that day is my fists.”
If Ormond defeats Flanagan he will be put into the mix for the WBO title. The organisation’s current 135lb champion is American Terrence Crawford [25(17)-0] who is commonly viewed as the best in the division. However, Crawford has stated his intention of vacating the title and moving to light welterweight. Turning 32 in April, Ormond knows it’s now or never for his world title ambitions and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Paschal Collins-trained boxer fighting for a world title very soon.
Tyson Fury – Heavyweight
Former Irish Champion Fury is ranked in the Top 5 with all four major sanctioning bodies, including being WBO mandatory challenger. However the division is ruled by Wladimir Klitschko [63(53)-3(3)] who holds the WBO, WBA and IBF belts and already has a defence against an as-of-yet unnamed opponent scheduled for April 25th. Fury’s shot against the reigning champion of nine years is not slated to happen until July.
The Manchester-born man-mountain has opted to stay active in anticipation of this bout and will face tough Romanian Christian Hammer [17(10)-3(2)] in London on February 28th. The German-based 27 year old perhaps represents an unnecessarily tricky stay-busy fight for Fury. However the popular former Irish champion has countered such claims in his typically confident manner saying “I could have taken an easy job at the O2 Arena to keep my position safe for my world title fight against Klitschko, but that’s not what Tyson Fury is about or what the public want to see from someone who has promised from day one to win the world heavyweight title.”
If, as expected, Fury comes through this fight he will represent a different challenge to Klitschko than what the Ukrainian is used to. By July, ‘Dr. Steelhammer’ will have turned 39 and will be in the unfamiliar position of being dwarfed by the 6’9” Irishman who possesses quick hands and good skills. If he were to lose (he would be a big underdog going into the fight), at 26 years old there will be many opportunities for Fury to win titles when Klitschko opts to retire and blow boxing’s marquee division wide open. With odds of 1/3 being offered on him becoming a world champion by 2020 it certainly seems like a matter of when, rather than if, Tyson Fury wins a belt.
Jamie Conlan – Super Flyweight
Older brother to 2012 Olympic bronze medal-winning boxer Michael, pugilistic success is definitely in the Conlan gene pool. The John Breen-trained 115 pounder is a hard-punching, slick fighter who is currently ranked #5 by the WBO. Due to his weight class, ‘The Mexican’ perhaps hasn’t garnered the attention and acclaim that his skill levels deserve. The fact that he has only 13 fights in five years as a professional illustrates the difficulty of carving out a successful career at the lower weights in Europe. Therefore Cyclone Promotions should be commended for helping propel the 28 year old to the brink of a world title shot.
To claim this shot, he must first negotiate the tough challenge of WBO #2 ranked boxer Warlito Parrenas [23(20)-6(4)]. The fight against the 31 year old Filipino knock-out artist is on February 28th on the undercard of Frampton’s first world title defence. Win this and Conlan feels he will be granted a shot at the belt.
Who this fight would be against is unclear. The current WBO champion is Japanese phenom Naoya Inoue [8(7)-0]. The explosive 21 year old, nicknamed ‘The Monster’, was many people’s 2014 fighter of the year having won the WBC light flyweight belt in only his sixth fight before skipping up a division to win the WBO super flyweight title two fights later. The Yokohama prodigy has waxed lyrical about unifying the division and this could pose a roadblock to Conlan’s chances of securing a shot. However, Inoue is still growing into his frame and 2015 could see him move up in weight again. A shot at the vacant title for Conlan on the mooted Frampton-Quigg card could happen.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Ireland will have its third reigning world champion by the end of 2015. This is a stark turnaround to the pessimism which was abound when Bernard Dunne’s promoter, Brian Peters, ended his involvement in the Irish fight scene five years ago. Professional boxing is alive and well on the island and February promises to be a crucial month for Ireland’s three best hopes at claiming another belt.