'I love that I'm the underdog': Paul Hyland Jr interview

Lee Gormley
01/05/2018 3:26pm

Ahead of his enticing British title showdown against Lewis Ritson on 16 June, Belfast lightweight Paul Hyland Jr tells Lee Gormley "I love that I'm the underdog"...

Paul Hyland Jr (18-0, 7 KOs) enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2017, rising to prominence with eye-catching victories on high-profile shows and subsequently becoming one of the stand-out Irish fighters of recent months.

‘Hylo’ rallied to four impressive triumphs across an elevating nine months, which included brutally stunning first-round knockouts against both Karoly Gallovich and Adam Dingsdale. The latter of those stoppage successes came on a huge night on home soil, when he got the SSE Arena crowd pumped before Ryan Burnett became IBF bantamweight champion by clinically outpointing Lee Haskins.

Before that quick-fire finish in his own backyard, Hyland Jr had secured a solid decision win over tricky Peter Cope at the famous York Hall in London, on what was the inaugural show in Sky Sports’ ongoing NXTGEN series.

The 27-year-old’s admirable 2017 was rounded off when he prevailed with a 12-round split decision over rugged Dubliner Stephen Ormond, again on the undercard of fellow Belfast fighter Burnett, this time before his unification win against Zhanat Zhakiyanov.

That epic encounter with Ormond saw both men pushed to the limit in undoubtedly Hyland Jr’s toughest test to date, one in which he suffered a serious jaw injury as the bout unfolded. Following months away from action due to this injury setback, he most recently halted David Birmingham in four rounds at the Europa Hotel in April.

“It feels good to get back into that ring and get a win after being out from October from that injury, get rid of some ring rust and good to let the hands go again,” Hyland Jr told Boxing Monthly.

His injury was also tried and tested in the build-up to his most-recent outing on home territory, with beneficial sparring against the aforementioned Burnett, James Tennyson and Marco McCullough.

“It's back to normal now, I knew it was from sparring with Burnett, Tenny, Marco and a few others as I had been taking shots on it, and then with no headgear and 8oz gloves it felt fine,” he added.

Despite this recent injury, the highly-driven 135lbs contender has momentum on his side as he prepares for his next challenge; a British title shot against reigning champion Lewis Ritson in Newcastle on 16 June.

“I see the media bigging him up to be the next big thing, I love that I'm the underdog, no pressure and I am confident of beating him,” outlined ‘Hylo’ who will travel to the lion’s den in his quest to become British champion.

“I think he’s a quality fighter but I believe I can beat him from watching the way he fights. His last few fights he has had top wins but his opponents have only had a few weeks' notice, I’ll have a full camp and I'll be ready.”

The match-up sees two of the most in-form and promising domestic lightweights collide at the Metro Radio Arena, with Ritson entering on the back of a string of KO victories over the likes of Scott Cardle, Joe Murray and Robbie Barrett.

But it’s an intriguing meeting that Hyland Jr is more than confident of having his hand raised in and clinching the coveted British strap, a title he has been chasing for some time.

“We sort of have similar styles so when we clash I think it's going to be a cracker, but I'm determined to take that British title home, as it's a belt I've always dreamed of winning,” continued the unbeaten challenger.

Hyland Jr already has a great deal of motivation and is relentless in his desire to succeed, but a spell back on the work site over a freezing cold winter period was enough to boost his ambitions even further.

With the injury stopping him from appearing on shows scheduled by manager Mark Dunlop, Hyland Jr was forced to get back to work duties alongside his training regime in order to get by financially.

“It was for six weeks over Christmas time, I needed some extra money as I had no income due to being out for a while with the injury and had to lose out on some of Mark’s shows,” he admitted.

“I moved into my own wee apartment also and wanted to get a load of money saved up for things. But yeah definitely it makes you want to succeed more at boxing, so it's your main income so that I don't have to go work on cold wet sites at times in the future.”

The lightweight talent is one of many promising boxers from Belfast to establish themselves in front of a wide scale audience. The city already boasts a rich history of success in the sport and is currently enjoying something of a golden generation.

Hyland Jr is one that has stood out in recent times, while the likes of brothers Michael and Jamie Conlan, Olympian Paddy Barnes, James Tennyson, Tyrone McKenna and, of course, Ryan Burnett have also become big names to come out of the city, with Carl Frampton still leading the way, of course.

“Boxing in Belfast is buzzing as you say, I was given a few opportunities last year on the big shows and I grabbed them with both hands,” stated the proud Belfast pugilist.

“They have helped push me on and give me extra exposure, also the fans and support from back home play a big part for boxers here. I always have amazing support, they have helped get me to where I am at this moment in time and I'm very grateful for that.”

if he can secure the most prestigious victory of his already glowing career on 16 June when he locks horns with Ritson, then the Belfast native will surely continue his climb up the lightweight ladder.