The Irish Eye: June part 1
Kane Clarke's latest edition of The Irish Eye begins with a review of Ryan Burnett's victory against Lee Haskins and all the other action from a huge night at the SSE Arena...
On 10 June, Eddie Hearn and Sky Sports returned to Belfast for the first time in four years with the Matchroom promoted 'Belfast Boy'.
The main event would see 25-year-old local lad Ryan Burnett challenging Bristolian world titlist Lee Haskins over twelve rounds for his IBF bantamweight crown at the SSE Arena (formerly Odyssey Arena).
A noisy 4,500 fight fans packed into the Belfast venue, hoping to witness history and see a new champion crowned in the Titanic city. Having seen Frampton ripped of his world title status earlier in the year, Burnett was eager to put a smile back on the faces of Belfast fight fans, and a win here would not only cement his name in Belfast folklore, but would act as a taste of what's to come for the young lad from the North of the city, as victory would promise more bill-topping nights in his hometown.
As the action got underway, the crowd burst into a deafening chorus of 'Olé Olé Olé', the atmosphere was electric, something the wider public has become expectant of when big fight nights are televised from the banks of the River Lagan.
The scene was set, now all that was left to do was for Burnett to dethrone the 33 year-old champion. The young challenger started brightly, feinting with his hands held low, piercing Haskins with lightning straight-right hands anytime he let his guard slip, continuously keeping the champion guessing.
A minute into the second round, an accidental head clash opened up a massive gash on the forehead of Burnett, and a small cut above the eye of Haskins. Burnett still had success with the lead right hand, as Haskins struggled to get his jab off.
Both corners did excellent jobs with their respective fighters' cuts in between rounds, and both pugilists set about their business in the third, with Burnett's eye-catching lead right hand still dictating the fight. Haskins was unable to counter the shot as Burnett closed the distance and clinched as soon as he threw it, holding on until the ref would separate them, a smart tactic from Burnett, and something I'm sure he and Adam Booth worked tirelessly on in the gym.
'Belfast Boy' Burnett's dominance continued through the fourth and fifth, and with every right hand landed, a cheer would echo around the Arena, the cleaner the punch, the louder the cheer.
Inevitably, with the contrasting styles between the two fighters, there was some ugly stuff, including headbutts, holding and clinches. But referee Marcus McDonnell let the action flow as much as possible and managed the bout well.
The first knockdown of the fight came in the sixth round. Burnett had Haskins pressed up against the ropes and landed a massive overhand right to the chin on the Bristolian. The champion rose to take a knee first of all, and signalled to his corner that he had a problem with his right arm. He then gamely regained his feet to beat the eight count, and braved the ferocious onslaught from Burnett to see out the remaining thirty seconds of the stanza.
Burnett's supreme head and foot movement continued to cause nightmares for Haskins throughout the second half of the fight, leaving him chasing shadows and eating counters for most parts of each round. With the rounds now piling up in favour of Burnett, it became clear that only a knockout for Haskins would see him retain his belt as the bout entered the championship rounds.
With the confidence oozing out of his performance, Burnett looked to pull the curtain down on the contest in the eleventh when he opened up to the body before attacking the head of the champion, again sending him down for a count. Haskins bravely rose to his feet and fought on, but barely made it to the end of the round after a sustained attack from the challenger that had the crowd on their feet.
A confident and composed Burnett saw out the final round much like he had seen the previous eleven, dominating proceedings with his popping straight right hand, and on the final bell, trainer Booth lifted his fighter in celebration and what everyone seemed sure would be a landslide points victory.
But as the opposing fighters took their place each side of referee McDonnell awaiting the decision, that joy quickly turned to confusion as the ring announcer announced a split-decision, sending a chorus of boos around the Arena.
The judges scorecards were read out: "Judge Parris scores the bout 119-107, Burnett. Sammartino scores the bout 118-108, in favour of Haskins. And Jerry Jakubco scores the bout 119-107, in favour of your winner, from... BELFAST!"
Burnett and his fans celebrated. There were tears from the new champion as he and his father, Brian, embraced. Ryan (now famously) told his father after an argument when he was eleven years old that he would one day be a world champion, and that prediction has now come true.
"I said at the press conference, I promised everyone in Belfast that that belt was staying in Belfast, and guess what? Its staying in Belfast!" a jubilant Burnett shouted down the microphone in his post-fight interview, much to the joy of the thousands in attendance.
"I always knew that one day id be a world champion, I've trained so hard for it. He hurt me a few times, I had to dig deep, but thank God, I'm champion of the world.
"I heard split-decision and I thought they were going to take it from me, but I strongly believe the best man won on the night."
It later turned out that American judge Clark Sammartino had, amazingly, marked his scorecard incorrectly and was unaware which fighter was which - the split decision victory was duly changed to a unanimous decision.
Fresh off the biggest win of his career over Peter Cope on St Patrick's Day at the famous York Hall in London, unbeaten Belfast man Paul Hyland Jr (15-0) faced his second successive step-up in opponent, as he challenged England's Southern Area lightweight champion Adam Dingsdale, for the vacant IBF European lightweight title.
Playing out as chief support to Burnett vs Haskins, Dingsdale (16-3-1) was expected to be a real tough test for 'Hylo' having never been stopped and having given Stephen Ormond and Derry Mathews tough nights in previous WBO and WBA title bouts.
The pair looked pumped in their respective corners, locking eyes on each other as the obligatory ring introductions took place, and there was a feeling amongst the crowd that this one could explode from the opening bell, and we weren't to be disappointed.
Hyland pressed the action right from the off forcing 'Dingsy' to box on the back foot. Halfway through the opener he landed a beautiful lead left-hook that dipped the legs of Dingsdale, Hylo pounced on him landing a flurry of crisp pin-point punches to the chin until Dingsdale hit the floor.
The SSE Arena erupted in cheers of support for the local Belfast man as he made his way to the neutral corner.
Dingsdale immediately rose to his feet to take an eight-count from referee Howard Foster and the action was back underway. But Hyland was smelling blood now, and there was a sense that the end could be near.
From the restart, Dingsdale came forward and tried to land a right uppercut but to no avail, Hyland quickly closed the distance between them and once again unloaded a huge amount of fast and accurate left and right hands to the chin of Dingsdale, again sending him crashing to the canvas, this time forcing Howard Foster to jump in and immediately wave the bout off, much to the joy of the vocal Belfast crowd who rose to their feet in appreciation of Hyland's demolition.
This was a real coming out party for the 27-year-old Lagmore lightweight who had been plying his trade on the small-hall circuit and has progressed nicely under the management and promotion of Mark Dunlop and MHD Promotions since his debut three years ago.
“I trained hard and I was expecting a tough fight. I did think I would break him down later on, but I just caught him. Adam is a tough opponent on paper and I am buzzing I went in and got the job done,” Hyland Jr told irish-boxing.com after winning his first pro title, which will also see him receive a world ranking with the IBF. However, Hyland Jr will likely look for a shot at the British and Commonwealth titles in the immediate future.
Another fighter from Mark Dunlop's stable that's been on the rise is Belfast native, power-punching James Tennyson.
Still only 23, 'The Assassin' has amassed a professional record of 18-2, with 14 knockouts, and last time out stopped Dublin's Declan Geraghty in the sixth round to claim the vacant Irish super-featherweight belt for the second time in his career.
This time round, Tennyson squared off against England's 'Ruthless' Ryan Doyle (14-1-1) in a scheduled ten-round contest for the WBA International super-featherweight trinket.
The well-supported Tennyson got off to a flyer in the opening round, and was happy to stand and exchange with Doyle, who was getting off some shots of his own.
The second round saw both fighters stand and trade in a tight round, but Tennyson just seemed to have a little more meat in his shots, whilst the more output came from Doyle.
The third round saw the fight really kick into action with both fighters having their fair share of success. Tennyson started the round by targeting the body, and Doyle finished the round by doing the same, forcing Tennyson to momentarily hold on to see out the round.
Into the fourth and Doyle seemed to be the fresher off the two, throwing out multiple punch combinations, but in fairness to Tennyson, he was catching most of these shots the gloves.
The fifth saw both fighters continue to pour forward. Tennyson continued to target the body whilst Doyle continued with his 'punches in bunches' approach.
The sixth round was probably the best of the bout so far, with both fighters hurting each other on a couple of different occasions. Tennyson landed numerous hurtful blows to the body and head of Doyle, who always replied with fast combinations, but the fight had taken its toll on the English champion, whose corner pulled him out at the end of the stanza to call a halt to a fantastic contest.
“That was a tough fight. I couldn’t have asked for a better opponent to be honest. It was just an excellent fight. He was a tough opponent and he caught me lovely in the third and he was giving as much as he was getting. It’s a good day. It was in an entertaining fight and I have a lovely wee belt around my waist now,” a jubilant Tennyson told irish-boxing.com post-fight.
“At the end of the sixth I could feel my shots getting through. I could feel it coming. My corner told me too it was coming.”
Tennyson will now take a well-earned short break after back-to-back title fights before deciding what's the next step in his professional career after securing a world ranking with the WBA.
Dublin cruiserweight Ian Tims finally squared off against Swindon's Luke Watkins for the Irish cruiserweight title, with 'The Duke' having gained title eligibility through Irish heritage in Wexford.
The opening round was a quiet affair, Watkins looked to work the jab, and was unsettling Tims anytime he tried to move forward. Tims started the second the better, working inside, unloading fast combinations throughout the round, as the action started to hot up.
Watkins started to move his head a little more in the third, but 'Timsy' was still hurting the Swindon fighter more often than not. Watkins was having some success with single punches, but it was Dublin's Tims who was pressing the matter.
Into the fourth and Watkins looked to get back behind his jab, Tims kept pouring forward with combinations, until 1 minute and 13 seconds into the round when Tims walked on to a massive left-hook, right-hand from Watkins that put the Dubliner down and forced the referee to wave off the bout, and see Watkins announced as the new Irish cruiserweight champion.
Speaking to irish-boxing.com post-fight, Watkins (now 11(7)-0) stated: “I would love to come back to Ireland and box and if it makes sense to defend the title that is what I will do. Tommy McCarthy is a fight I would be interested in, absolutely, again it’s about the right fight at the right time for me so we will see. That is a fight that makes sense so we will see.”
Cork-Cuban Mike Perez hadn't been in the ring since being stopped by Alexander Povetkin in Russia back in June 2015, but made his long-awaited comeback on the undercard when he took on Victor Biscak (10-0) at the SSE Arena.
Having lost over 40lbs, 'The Rebel' would fight for the first time as a professional at his new slimmed-down weight of cruiserweight,
The former heavyweight contender wore all-black shorts, reminiscent of Mike Tyson's in his heyday, and took Biscak apart with the first punch thrown in anger that sent the Slovakian crashing to the canvas, and referee Hugh Russell Jr immediately called off the bout.
The 6'1" southpaw (now 22(14)-2(1)-1) told irish-boxing.com post fight. “It was a great feeling before I got into the ring. I have been away from the ring for so long, so the heat, the pre-fight excitement and the crowd was good. It was a little bit disappointing, I wish the fight lasted a little bit longer, but this is boxing. Hopefully next time its a better fight, but what can you do?”
Belfast's BBBofC Celtic welterweight champion Paddy Gallagher was back in action for the first time since November last year, squaring-off with former Scottish champion Craig Kelly in a scheduled eight-rounder.
The 28-year-old 'Pat-Man' started the brighter, opening up with well-timed combinations to the body and head, but wasn't necessarily having it all his own way in the opener.
In the second, the game Kelly came pouring forward, but was met head-on with powerful pinpoint punches, before a left hook to the body, followed by a right hook to the head sent Kelly crashing to the canvas. The tough Scotsman rose to beat the count, but was outworked for the rest of the round by the impressive Gallagher.
Kelly was again down in the third, via a slashing left hand to the body, and rose to his feet to beat the count only for Gallagher to put him down again, and then finish him off by flooring him for the third time in the round with some more beautiful body work.
Gallagher now sees his record improve to 11(7)-3(0) whilst Kelly falls to 9(2)-11(5)-1 after his night's work.
The Lenadoon man stated post-fight that he would like a fight with Matchroom promoted Frankie Gavin for the British title, or even as an eliminator: “Maybe next time out defend the Celtic title or fight for the Irish title, I can’t do both now! The British title will be wide open now too. I am ranked [on BoxRec] ninth and three of those ahead of me won’t fight for it.” he told irish-boxing.com.
“[Amir] Khan, he won’t. [Sam] Eggington is European champion. Skeete, he is going to vacate and if Skeete beats Dale Evans, Evans can’t fight for it. Kell Brook is never fighting for it, so who is left?
“You have me, Frankie Gavin, Johnny Garton, and Theophane – and maybe he [Theophane] won’t fight for it either. So I am close now.
“I would love to fight Frankie for it or even Frankie in an eliminator for a shot of the title. I don’t see why he wouldn’t take it. I can’t see him going on to fight for a world title at this stage can you? We could have fought for the Irish title in a British eliminator, that would be great, but with the [Irish] board's new rule maybe we couldn’t do both.”
Tyrone super-featherweight Feargal McCrory is quickly becoming as well known for his huge and vocal Coalisland following as he is for all-action and entertaining performances inside the ring.
His loyal support made a tremendous amount of noise upon his entrance to his first professional fight on a major card after gathering quite a fanbase on the Belfast small-hall circuit since turning pro in 2015.
'Fearless' Feargal repaid his fans' support by starting ferociously, forcing his opponent on to the back foot, unloading vicious blows forcing the Englishman to cover up for most of the opener. Holt's head was repeatedly snapped back from the powerful and accurate fists of Feargal and the referee would have been forgiven for stepping in and calling a halt to the bout early as McCrory looked in a spiteful mood.
McCrory continued his dominance in the second, and ended up catching Holt with a slip and counter which wobbled the legs of the brave Birmingham native, ultimately forcing the referee to jump in and call a stop to the contest. It was yet another career-best performance from the 24-year-old southpaw, who was also in scintillating form last time out in April when he stopped Jay Carney.
The John Breen-trained McCrory (now 6(3)-0), told irish-boxing.com post-fight: “We came to do a job and we done the job. I think I did it well too.
“Eamonn [Magee] and John [Breen] had a game plan and we stuck to it. Especially Eamonn with him being a southpaw, I learned a lot off him in this particular fight. It all worked. I took time off work for this camp and it paid off.”
On what's next for the talented prospect, Breen noted: “If Eddie is back in Belfast he seems a natural for the shows. Promoters want ticket sellers and exciting fighters. The Irish title is vacant [James Tennyson technically vacated immediately after defeated Declan Geraghty in March], it could be an option.”
Derry super-bantamweight Tyrone McCullagh was another prospect who was fighting on a major card for the first time, having amassed a record of 6(4)-0 on Ireland's small-hall circuit, and he grabbed his opportunity on the big stage with both hands.
Facing off against tough Nicaraguan Jose Aguilar, McCullagh started brightly, targeting the body of Aguilar throughout the opening stanza before switching the attack to the head towards the end of the round, nearly stopping his opponent.
The dominance continued from southpaw McCullagh in the second, showcasing great foot movement and beautiful straight left hands down the pipe.
Round three was more of the same from McCullagh, who by this stage was putting on a career-best performance as an impressed Eddie Hearn sat ringside watching on.
'White Chocolate' finished the fourth with some beautiful eye-catching combinations and picked up the points decision victory 40-36.
Looking back on the win afterwards, McCullagh told irish-boxing.com: “I took a little while to settle in the first round, but in the second, third, and fourth I came on strong, I was picking my shots well, and hurt him. I was never in danger, I won every round. Fair play to him, he’s a good journeyman, he hung in there.”
Belfast welterweight Matt Wilton pushed his impressive unbeaten record to 16(3)-0 with a six-round points victory over ultra-durable journeyman William Warburton (23(4)-116(2)-9) on the undercard.
In the first round there wasn't much action as both fighters took part in the obligatory feeling out process.
'Speedy' Wilton took control of proceedings in round two, using his jab to good effect and punishing Warburton anytime he came within range.
At the start of the third Wilton pinned his foe to the ropes and started to unload combinations to the body and head, but Warburton worked his way out and looked to get behind a jab of his own.
In the fourth 'Warby' started behind the jab and Wilton looked to counter with fast right hands. Into the fifth, and it was Warburton who pinned Wilton to the ropes, looking to land to the body but being met with snappy left and rights from Wilton anytime his guard would slip, before the end of the round when Wilton again put Warburton into the corner and unloaded a volley of combinations.
Wilton saw out the fight with a dominating sixth round, switching his attacks from body to head, pinning and punishing the experienced Warburton who was participating in his 147th professional contest.
“I am happy just to get the win. My dad was in England a couple of weeks ago with the journeymen he has and he saw Warburton, he was in a bad mood that night and he went out and dropped the lad twice, so I was wary of his right hand," Wilton told irish-boxing.com.
“He is a tough journeyman, you’re hardly going to take him out. You know he is tough so you just opt to give him a boxing lesson. Plan was to box for five rounds, but I got lazy in the last. It’s all learning at the end of the day. “
Elsewhere on the card, Belfast super middleweight Padraig McCrory debuted against English journeyman Jacob Lucas.
McCrory started well, cutting of the ring and unloading power punches to the body and head, and actually dropped his opponent right at the end of the round.
The dominance continued into the second, with the slip-counter right hand in particular causing the game Lucas problems.
By round three, McCrory was in full flow, full of confidence with his hands down by his side, landing big single punches. You could be forgiven for thinking this was Pádraig's tenth test instead of his professional debut, such was the composure and calmness in his work, a rarity on a debut.
In the fourth and final round it was more pressure from McCrory, who continued to stalk his opponent, cut the ring off and punish him,
The Immanuel Boxing Academy student took the decision 40-35 on the referee's scorecard.
“I caught him at the end of the first and he went down, but trying to get him to come out again was hard. He was very negative I feel like I would have liked to stop him, but I am just happy to get the win,” the 28-year-old told irish-boxing.com post-fight.
McCrory will now fight for the second time as a professional in the same Arena when he fights on the Carl Frampton vs Andres Gutierrez 'Homecoming' card on 29 July.
Finally, North Belfast man Sean Magee made short work of his professional debut, taking just 53 seconds to dispose of English journeyman Jules Phillips to win via first-round TKO and start his professional career with a bang.
"What an amazing night! Making my debut on the big 'Belfast Boy' card in the Odyssey, over the moon with how it went and just want to thank everybody who came to support and bought tickets from me, you were all amazing." Magee said on social media following the fight.
"I would like to thank John Breen and Eamon Magee for all the time and hard work they put in with me,"
With the night being a huge success and three 'Belfast Boys' picking up new belts, it looks likely that Eddie Hearn and Sky Sports will be back again soon, with an October return rumoured to be most likely for new world champion Burnett's first defence.