Frontline Diary: Benbecula to Belfast

John A. MacDonald
26/11/2015 4:36pm

If I were to say Cyclone Promotions to you, there is a very real chance your mind would instantly jump to Carl Frampton. It’s understandable as the promotional outfit have played pivotal roles in securing ‘The Jackal’ his world title shot against IBF super bantamweight champion - Kiko Martinez, having his first defence against Chris Avalos broadcast on terrestrial television, teaming up with influential advisor Al Haymon to allow Frampton to make his U.S debut and - along with Matchroom Sport - they finalised a unification with domestic rival Scott Quigg. Fighter and promoter have become synonymous with each other.

However, Barry McGuigan and his family seem determined to ensure that promotionally they are far more than a one-man-band. They have a growing stable of – predominantly Northern Irish – fighters and are staging good events. Currently, small-hall shows are more competitive than ever. Gone are the cards comprised of local lad against Eastern European journeyman, rinse and repeat eight times. These events only really attracted the friends and family of those in the “home” corner and while ticket sellers will always be the life-blood of the circuit, evenly matched contests will attract boxing fans rather than just supporters of a particular fighter.

Last month, Cyclone Promotions staged a show at the Meadowbank Sports Centre, Edinburgh. This was a homecoming for – 2014 Commonwealth Games Gold medallist – Josh Taylor, having made his professional debut in Texas on the undercard of Frampton v Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. Whilst the card featured Scottish talent against journeymen, it also featured two interesting contests: Anthony Cacace took on Ronnie Clark and Taylor faced Adam Mate who brought with him a (17-5, 10 KOs) ledger and was a former WBO European title challenger.

As it turned out - despite his record – Mate simply wasn’t in the Scotsman’s league as referee John Latham stopped the contest in the first round with the Hungarian having been on the canvas twice. If Taylor-Mate was somewhat underwhelming then Cacace-Clark made up for it in an enthralling, back-and-forth contest with ‘The Apache’ becoming the first man to stop the teak-tough, Clark. Actually, can Scotsmen be teak-tough or is the term reserved for Ghanaians? Perhaps a durable fighter from north of the border should be described as Begbie tough – after Robert Carlyle’s psychotic character in Trainspotting. Worth a thought, at least.

Sadly I was unable to attend that event, so I when I heard that Cyclone were staging a card in Belfast last Friday (November 20), I decided to make the pilgrimage.

The main event between undefeated middleweights Conrad Cummings and Alfredo Meli had the potential to be something special. I live in the Western Isles of Scotland – if you are unsure as to where that is, next time the forecast is on look out for the cluster of islands to the top left of the map. They will be under a rain cloud graphic. It’s a beautiful place to live; it’s quiet and idyllic but it means nothing is particularly accessible. The first logistical challenge is getting to mainland U.K – a mythical land where you do not need to pay a surcharge for delivery. This meant leaving from Benbecula airport – an airport like no other. There are only two check-in desks, one departure lounge and no shops. This was leg one of a five day journey that would take me from: Benbecula to Glasgow, Glasgow to Belfast, Belfast to Manchester, Manchester to Glasgow and finally Glasgow to Benbecula. The detour via the north west of England was to see Anthony Crolla claim the WBA lightweight title, in one of the feel-good moments of the year. At this stage it’s worth acknowledging – ring announcer – Craig Stephen as he probably wracked up more air miles than I did. He was in Manchester for the Crolla-Perez weigh-in, then in Belfast for Cummings-Meli before returning to Manchester to say the phrase the thousands in attendance wanted to hear: “And the new.” A man – deservedly – in demand.

On Friday I made my way to the Waterfront Hall in Belfast city centre. It’s a tremendous venue with a layout you’d associated more with a night at the opera rather than the boxing. The old cliché of “There isn’t a bad seat in the house” is applicable here as with their tiered layout; every vantage point appears to have a good view. Proceedings were delayed as sleet showers caused traffic to come to a crawl. To ensure no paying customers would miss any of the action, the start time was held back. It never ceases to amaze me how ill-equipped we are to deal with the weather of these shores. My journey had been in excess of 400 miles yet I was still on time! In the interest of full disclosure, I did only have to travel 400 metres that night – although with slippery surfaces and size 11 feet that was treacherous enough!

When proceedings got underway, it was up to – debutant - Feargal McCrory to open the show against Zsolt Schmidt (2-6, 2 KOs). McCrory kept his nerves in-check as he put on a mature performance to dispatch off his Hungarian opponent inside the first round. The lightweight had clearly sold a few tickets as he received a rapturous support – amplified by the acoustics of the hall. This represented one of only two mismatches on the night. The other being Josh Taylor – who was added to the card at short-notice. The ‘Tartan Tornado’ outclassed the hapless Daniel Cosmin Minescu (1-4, 0 KOs) inside the first minute. Hopefully Taylor will face sterner tests in the coming months as he – potentially - has the talent to become Scottish boxing’s next star. The rest of the card was well matched so you can excuse a late addition and a fighter making their debut having easy contests.

Paul Hyland Jr (9-0, 2 KOs) and Matthew Wilton (13-0) both received good workouts from Virgile Degonzaga and Mohamed Larabi. Neither Dezonzaga (11-11-2, 8 KOs) or Larabi (4-7, 2 KOs) had the prettiest record in the world but both showed themselves to be competent operators. The Belfast crowd were very supportive of both – lightweight – Hyland and – welterweight – Wilton. One member of the audience felt aggrieved anytime either opponent had the audacity to display some footwork and was always sure to make his feelings on the matter known by barking: “He’s showboating, knock his fucking head off!” Neither Hyland nor Wilton were able to oblige him but they did claim victories with scores of 60-54 and 59-56, respectively.

Paddy Gallagher (9-2 5 KOs) displayed the head movement, footwork and timing that saw him claim a Commonwealth Games Gold medal in 2010 as he stopped Tomas Bartunek (3-4, 2 KOs) in the fourth round. Gallagher’s performance was far removed from the bullish aggression that saw him lose twice - in one night - in the Prizefighter Welterweight tournament in 2014. Instead he was patient and ruthless. In the third, he scored a knockdown as good as you’ll see anywhere as a brutal right hand caused Bartunek to freeze for a second before falling like a felled tree. Somehow he beat the count but the writing was on the wall from that point on. A second knockdown followed in the fourth before John Lowery was obliged to stop the contest. Rumour has it that Gallagher and Wilton may be on a collision course next year.

All evening at ringside, Barry McGuigan and Carl Frampton both paused for photos with every fan that requested one – all whilst keeping a smile on their faces. As the Manchester Arena had sold out in under 10 minutes for the February clash between Frampton and Quigg, I’d hate to guess how many times each was asked: “Got any tickets for the fight?” In fact I suspect everyone associated with Cyclone Promotions or Matchroom Sport, suddenly gained a lot of new friends on Friday. Both promoter and fighter appeared to take it all their strides.

Marco McCullough (14-2, 9 KOs) cruised to a 100-90 points victory over Sergio Prado (11-6-1, 4 KOs). The former European super bantamweight challenger was a decent replacement for Jon Slowey who had withdrawn for personal reasons. Prado was cagey and awkward, continuously switch-hitting. While he may not have offered a great deal offensively he kept McCullough honest. The Belfast man now has two wins since suffering a shock first round defeat to Zoltan Kovacs in July and looks ready for bigger tests once more.

After an enjoyable undercard it was time for the main event. While the venue wasn’t sold out, there was a healthy, vocal crowd in attendance. Both Conrad Cummings (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Alfredo Meli (11-0-1, 3 KOs) had plenty of supporters in attendance which ensured there was a terrific atmosphere for 10 rounds as they contested the vacant Celtic middleweight title.

Meli, a busy, aggressive southpaw started well until a left hand from Cummings sent him to the canvas. Meli recovered well and for the remainder of the fight, the contest swung back-and-forth. Meli was throwing in volume whilst the more spiteful shots where being delivered by Cummings.

Despite lots a good action the contest was also littered with fouls. In the ninth round referee Robert Williams deducted a point from both boxers for persistent fouling. Cummings finished the contest strongly as Meli looked glad to hear the final bell. In the end, the judges couldn’t separate them as Ian John-Lewis scored the contested 95-92 to Cummings, John Keane had it 96-93 to Meli and Paul McCullagh had it 94-94 a draw. After a fight that provided plenty entertainment, a rematch would appear to make sense. Unfinished Business has a ring to it.

The contest highlighted what Cummings does well; he has good timing and is a spiteful puncher. It also showed what he still needs to work on. This is not a slight against him, he entered the contest as a seven fight novice, and he was never going to be the finished article. He would have learned a lot form the fight and gives him and coach Shane McGuigan a clear focus on which elements need improved. The fight was the right test at the right time. I hope Cyclone continue with this ambitious matchmaking in the future.

As for Meli, he has proven himself to be a capable operator and I’m sure other opportunities will arise as a result of this performance.

Whilst Carl Frampton’s status as the promotional outfit’s star seems secured for the foreseeable future, Friday showed that there are plenty talented fighters on Cyclone’s books and if they continue to produce well matched cards they will go from strength to strength.