The Irish Eye
It was the busiest month in Irish boxing for quite some time with three major shows being held on the island in November. Jamie Conlan dragged televised boxing back to the Irish fight capital through Frank Warren and Boxnation at the Titanic Exhibition Centre on 5 November.
Much to my frustration there was also a card the same night in The National Stadium in Dublin with Red Corner Promotions making their debut with a Celtic Warrior title fight between Luke Keeler and Bradley Pryce. To finish the month off we are back in Belfast for the Prospect Promotions show at the Shorts Sport and Social Club with a Celtic Nations title clash between Stephen 'Shorty' Carroll and James Gorman.
I was ringside in Belfast for Frank Warren's 'Homecoming,' and that's where our action starts this month. First to step inside the ring was undefeated cruiserweight Gary 'The Gallant' Sweeney. The 22-year-old would face a step-up in opposition for his Irish debut in the shape of Polish knockout artist Jarek Prusak. The Pole came into the bout with a threatening record of 8-1 with all eight wins coming by way of stoppage, but 'The Gallant' showed he carries power of his own, downing his opponent three times within the first half of the opening round on his way to his third straight stoppage win since turning pro in May this year.
"I was a bit nervous over his record and a bit cautious of the big right hand he has, but I didn't think the fight was going to end that fast," Sweeney commented afterwards. "Once I had him down I wasn't going to give him a chance to recover, I had to take him out."
In last month's edition of 'The Irish Eye' we talked about the Irish heavyweight scene and how undefeated trio Sean Turner, Con Sheehan and Niall Kennedy who had all met in the amateurs, were on a collision course for titles in the paid ranks. All three were in action on 5 November, with Turner and Sheehan appearing in Belfast and Kennedy in the National Stadium in Dublin.
'Big Sexy' Turner upped his record to 9-0 (plus one no contest) after going the full six rounds for the first time in his career against tough Croatian Ivica Perkovic. Turner - at just 5' 11 - was considerably smaller than his 6' 4" opponent and was also conceding 22-pounds in weight, but what he lacked in height and weight, he made up for in power and skill as he out-boxed the veteran of 53 fights from start to finish on his way to a comfortable 60-54 points decision.
"He was a tough opponent, very durable and clever. I got six good rounds in, all good, I’m happy enough with the performance and getting the rounds under the belt which I needed, badly," Turner told irish-boxing.com post-fight.
Clonmel's Con Sheehan continued his quick progression since signing with MGM with an eight-round points victory over Kamil Sokolowski of Poland. The Peter Fury trained fighter was making his Irish debut and had hoped to secure an Irish title shot on the bill, but was unable to find an eligible opponent for the opposite corner. Sokolowski (2-7-1) proved a stern test, but Sheehan (4-0) promised there is more to come.
"There’s a lot more in me, that was only fifty or sixty percent of me you’re after seeing in there."
In Dublin, meanwhile, Niall Kennedy had to come through what he described as an "embarrassing" first round knockdown in the National Stadium to extend his record to 7-0 with a fifth round stoppage over Gheorghe Danut of Romania. 'Boom Boom Baz' had his southpaw opponent down in the second, fourth, and finally the fifth on his way to victory, and spoke with irish-boxing.com after the fight:
"It was a push, I was completely square and fell back," he claimed. "I thought he [referee Mickey Vann] was going to call it a slip, but he said a punch landed so I suppose he has to rule it a knockdown. I was there thinking: Jesus Christ. that was embarrassing. My power is coming along, that's the best shape I've ever been in."
Back in Belfast, James Tennyson and Declan Geraghty took to their respective bouts knowing that a showdown between the pair for the Irish title before the end of the year lay in wait should they come through their respective warm-up bouts. The mouth-watering Belfast vs Dublin title bout (between two of Ireland's top super-featherweights) was strangely scheduled for Scotland but fate was to intervene and destroy these plans ...
First up was Belfast's 'The Assassin' Tennyson. The 23-year old lifted his record to 17(13)-2 with a comfortable four-round points decision against Nicaraguan Raphael Castillo (now 14-28-3). However, Tennyson suffered a cut above the left eye in the final round of the bout, which will mean a postponement of his title bout with Geraghty. Many Irish fight fans will see this as a blessing in disguise as the fight between the pair now looks set to be fought out in late February or early March next year on Boxnation's planned return to the Titanic city.
Straight after his fight, Tennyson and his team took a ringside seat to get a first-hand look at their rival Geraghty. Dublin's 'Pretty Boy' didn't give to much away, taking just thirty-three seconds to dispatch Georgian Khvicha Gigolashvili with a beautifully timed left hand to the body, a shot which is quickly becoming a signature punch for the Dubliner.
"There’s not a whole lot to say about it," he smiled after the fight. "A nice left uppercut to the body, that’s actually every fight I’ve had so far that has been stopped, has been stopped by them body punches. We’ll see how the next one goes."
There's certainly no animosity between Tennyson and Geraghty, as both were happy to take to the centre of the ring for promotional photographs.
Geraghty told irish-boxing.com: "He [Tennyson] got in the ring after and got a few pictures together, he’s a lovely fella, hopefully his camp goes well, and my camp goes well, and the best Tennyson will bring the best Geraghty."
Although cut, Tennyson didn't seem too downbeat about the injury and corresponding postponement: "Let’s be honest, if the fight’s in Ireland it’s going to sell the place out. Everyone’s talking about it, it’s a massive fight, so I hope to God we can get it in Ireland, it will be great. It’s a fight that excites me, it’s the talk of the place, everyone’s excited for this fight, I’m buzzing for it."
To kick-off the televised portion of the bill in Belfast, Clondalkin's Stephen 'The Rock' Ormond took to the ring just five weeks after his surprise fifth round defeat to Hungary's Zoltan Szabo. The 33-year-old took just three rounds to break down Czech import Daniel Bazo, forcing him to retire after the third round of the scheduled six with an injured right shoulder.
"It was good to get back in," Ormond commented. "MGM got me straight back out, and they have me back out in a few weeks, so I’m thankful to them because they’re getting me busy, that’s all I need. It will bring out the best of me. I will hopefully get the rematch with that guy [Szabo] I fought last time, that’s what they’re working on, that’s what I want. Hopefully we will get it. Either way I want to get busy."
(NB. Ormond won a rematch with Szabo on 3 December, a fight we will report on in next month's 'The Irish Eye')
The debut of 2010 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Steven 'The Quiet Man' Ward was next. The Belfast light-heavyweight put in an excellent performance on his way to a four-round points decision over Bulgarian Merdjidin Yuseinov in front of his extremely vocal hometown following. The atmosphere hit fever-pitch for Steven's ring entrance, but Ward looked the coolest man on the planet, controlling the action from start to finish and showing great composure and a maturity well beyond his experience in the paid ranks.
"I’m over the moon," he declared after the fight. "It was electric, Belfast North, East, South, West, everyone getting behind each other. If I can do it there with that crowd and that pressure, I honestly feel like I can perform anywhere."
Up next, was the highly anticipated BUI Celtic Warrior light-welterweight title fight between Belfast's Tyrone McKenna and Dublin's Sean Creagh. After weeks of back and forth on social media, it was finally time for both fighters to put bragging rights and their undefeated records on the line.
Much was made in the lead-up to the fight of the difference in experience and attributes between the two Irishmen. 'Creaghsy' was 4-0 in the pros with a white-collar background, while MGM's McKenna was 11-0-1 with huge amateur pedigree. Within fifteen seconds of round one McKenna's class was evident as a beautiful left-uppercut straight right hand landed on the chin of the advancing Creagh, a combination which would land with regularity throughout the bout before Creagh's corner pulled the valiant puncher after five action-packed rounds.
"I wont sulk," a defiant Creagh told irish-boxing.com. "I’d be back in the gym already only for my bicep is gone. I have to see specialist to see what the issue is. I will take the positives from the fight. People now know I don’t duck anyone. I will fight any one and they know I mean that now."
For the momentum-building McKenna it looks like another all-Irish title fight could be on the horizon with another Dubliner, as the Boxing Union of Ireland have authorised an Irish title clash between with the heavy handed Phil Sutcliffe Jr, whom he battled with as an amateur: "I want anyone, everyone and anyone" a victorious McKenna told James Helder of IFL TV.
"Everyone at light-welterweight is a potential opponent. There's great fights out there for me, Chris Jenkins is a good fight, Phil Sutcliffe, Tyrone Nurse is the British champion at the minute, there's loads of fights out there that I would love to be involved in".
McKenna would get a chance to get a close-up look at two of those potential opponents as next to take to the squared-circle was Sutcliffe Jr and two-time British title challenger Jenkins of Wales.
The powerful Sutcliffe made an explosive start, catching Jenkins square-on with a right-left combination and downing him after just twenty-five seconds of the opening stanza, to the delight of the crowd. But Jenkins, undeterred, rose to this feet and immediately battled back. Sutcliffe pressed forward, keeping the pressure on the Welshman in the first half of the fight, but Jenkins fought back, using an off-setting jab to upset Sutcliffe while the left hook to the body also hurt the Dubliner on occasions.
Going into the final round I had it level on my scorecard, and both fighters went to war. After a thrilling contest, Sutcliffe's power shots and the first round knockdown had won it for me at the end. But it would have been hard to argue with a draw or a round either way which seemed to be the general consensus in the press area. In the end it was the hand of 'Ireland's best kept secret' Sutcliffe Jr that was raised. While not many would argue the result, the referee Hugh Russell Jr's score of 98-93 was questionable.
"I should have put a bit a more pressure on him and it probably would have been an early night," Sutcliffe commented. "I just stepped back a little, where I should have just kept going. I could have made it a lot easier for myself. I learned a lot from that fight. It will all stand to me in the future."
When asked what's next, Sutcliffe (now 12-1) said: "We’ll see what happens, on to bigger and better things. I heard Tyrone McKenna calling me out after the fight, I’ll fight him if he wants, I’ll fight him for the Irish title and the Celtic Warrior belt if he wants." That would certainly be one to look forward to.
Up next in the Titanic Exhibition Centre was the professional debut of three-time Olympian Paddy Barnes. It was a 'homecoming' fight long awaited by Belfast fight fans,
Barnes, 29, amazingly hadn't fought in his home city since 2007. A chorus of the famous chant 'Ole ole ole' rang around the venue at noise levels usually reserved for world champion Carl Frampton, who took his seat ringside to witness his good friend's introduction to the pro ranks.
The opponent was Stefan Slanchev of Bulgaria, a former foe of Luke Wilton and Ryan Burnett. While many may have forgotten him from those two fights, there was no way the Belfast fight fans would forget him after this encounter.
Throughout the bout Barnes marched forward, trying to force the fight. 'The Wee Man' landed a couple of piercing right hands to the body of Slanchev, who was proving hard to pin down, and content to spoil and run. Barnes' blistering hand-speed was on show any time he could pin his foe to the rope. However, an eager to please Barnes' frustration was starting to build as he twice ended up on the floor through some type of wrestling manoeuvre from his outclassed opponent.
But the 'best' was still to come.
Towards the end of the fourth, the outclassed Slanchev lifted Barnes over his left shoulder and ran across the ring as if he was about to slam him to the canvas in a move more fitted for UFC/WWE. Deservedly, the Bulgarian earned himself a disqualification loss and a £500 fine from the BBBofC.
When a frustrated Barnes (1-0) was asked had he ever experienced anything like that in the ring before, he replied in typical Paddy fashion: "No, but I've done it to someone else. If you YouTube it, it says Paddy Barnes WWE style!"
Along with Barnes' pro signature, Jamie Conlan was been a major factor in persuading the Boxnation cameras to come back to Belfast for the first time in two years. 'The Mexican' himself hasn't fought in his home city in two years, but has built up quite a following with his exploits inside the ring, most notably his comeback win over Junior Granados in 2015 and the 2016 BBBofC Fight of the Year victory over the previously undefeated Anthony Nelson, when he claimed the super flyweight commonwealth title.
After failed attempts at getting Conlan an eligible opponent for a first defence of his commonwealth title, his fight was moved down to chief support. Hungary's David Koos (8-2-1) was flown in as a late replacement, but from the opening bell it was quite clear that world title chasing Conlan was a class above as he cruised to a one-sided eight-round points victory on his 'homecoming' show.
Post-fight 'The Irish Gatti' talked of the need for big shows in Belfast: "It just shows that we can do shows like this," he argued. "Imagine if we had bigger fights? We’ve got a product, we’ve got a demand, and we can bring TV here all the time. I want all my fights here now. We’re coming back here late February, early March. Myself and Paddy will be back here in Belfast, especially after the reception and the way it was done here."
To bring the curtain down on the bill local man Marco McCullough challenged Mexico's Luis Lugo for the vacant WBO Inter-continental strap. McCullough came through a hairy moment towards the end of the second round when he was caught with a slashing right hook by Lugo which wobbled the Shankill Road man, forcing him to grab on to his opponent to see out the round.
However, after regaining his focus in the third, McCullough stepped on his opponent in the fourth, downing him towards the end of the round with a ferocious right hook to the body. Lugo rose to his feet to beat the count and see out the end of the round, but soon retired when he got back to his corner, indicating an injury to his left elbow as the reason for his withdrawal:
"I went into that fight not knowing anything about him," McCullough said after the fight. "I haven't see a clip, I didn't know what to expect, I've been training hard to go back to the boxing I've picked my sharpness up my brains starting to work again. Everything that I did tonight I've been practicing in the gym."
The win see McCullough's record improve to 16 wins, ten via stoppage with just the three defeats. It was his second win since his failed attempt at capturing the Commonwealth title against England's Isaac Lowe in February. The pair have had some back and forth on Twitter recently and McCullough has signalled that it's a defeat he is eager to avenge: "One hundred per cent, if it was there I would take it," he insisted. "I just didn't turn up on the night."
South of the border on the same night, Red Corner Promotions had a successful debut show with their aptly billed 'Inception' bill in the National Stadium, Dublin.
In the main event Dublin's Luke Keeler collected the BUI Celtic Warrior middleweight title with a points victory over former Commonwealth titlist Bradley Pryce of Wales. Keeler had Pryce down towards the end of the second round with a chopping right hand, but the experienced Pryce beat the count to eventually lose on points 78-73 after eight rounds. The bout would also be the last ever bout officiated by the legendary Mickey Vann as he retired from refereeing after over 1,000 bouts spanning 40-years.
In the co-main event Kildare super-featherweight and Irish title hopeful Eric Donovan put on a scintillating performance in just his second professional outing, downing his Polish opponent Krzysztof Rogowski thrice on his way to a second round TKO victory, improving to 2-0.
Elsewhere on the undercard there was a defeat for flyweight Lynn Harvey as she faced off against Mary Romero of Spain in her second pro fight a year on from her debut in the same arena. Romero (2-2) usually campaigns at bantamweight and was four pounds heavier than Harvey at the weigh-ins, but a brave and valiant Harvey (now 1-1) fought hard to the end, eventually going down on referee Mickey Vann's scorecard 60-55.
Derry light-middleweight Connor Coyle made his Irish debut and went 2-0 with a four-round points victory over Nicaraguan journeyman Santos Medrano (now 10-53-4).
Navan super-middleweight Christopher Blaney (now 4-0) continued his rise through the ranks with a second round TKO victory over Hungarian Gabor Zsalek (now 11-37-2).
Balbriggan welterweight Gerard Whitehouse (now 5-0) comfortably stepped up to six rounds for the first time with a 60-54 points decision victory over Spaniard Sergio Abad (now 2-6).
Belfast lightweight Joe 'The Dragon' Fitzpatrick moved to 6-0 with a four-round points decision victory over Hungary's Gyuala Tallosi (now 12-15).
Meanwhile, on 12 November in Brisbane, Australia, Kildare light-middleweight Dennis Hogan (now 25-1-1) successfully defended his WBO Oriental title against Taiwan's Yao Yi Ma (15-2). The fight went to the judges' scorecards in the eighth round after an accidental head clash left both boxers cut. Hogan was awarded the win, having taken every round on all three cards 70-63.
On the weekend of 18 November, Irish boxing suffered three heavy losses in England as Conrad Cummings, Paddy Gallagher and Tommy McCarthy all fell to defeat in their respective quests for titles.
Coalisland middleweight Cummings (now 10-1-1) suffered the first defeat of his career against Germany's Ronny Mittag (now 29-2-1). The Shane McGuigan fighter started slowly but came back strong enough to win in many onlookers' eyes, but lost out via split decision 96-94 (twice) and 94-96 on the undercard of George Groves vs Eduard Gutknecht at the Wembley Arena in London.
Also on the undercard Belfast's 'Pat-Man' Gallagher (now 10-3) lost out in a British title eliminator against the unbeaten Zimbabwe born Londoner Tamuka Mucha (now 16-0). Gallagher and Mucha put on the fight of the night, with Mucha getting the nod on a majority decision. Both fighters agreed to a rematch straight after the bout should Mucha pull off the tough task of dethroning Bradley Skeete.
On 19 November, In the Victoria Warehouse in Manchester, Belfast cruiserweight Tommy McCarthy suffered the first professional loss of his career as he was defeated via unanimous decision over twelve rounds to Matty Askin in a final eliminator for the British title. McCarthy was down twice in the fourth round against the experienced Askin, but recovered well to see the final bell.
There was some success for Ireland on the undercard though as British title chasing Anthony 'The Apache' Cacace easily outpointed Nicaraguan Leonel Hernandez over six rounds.
Saturday 26 November was another historic night in the Irish boxing calendar as London 2012 Olympic champion Katie Taylor made her professional debut. Taylor put on a punch-perfect display from the opening bell of her super featherweight bout, eventually forcing the referee to pull Poland’s Karolina Kopinska out of the fight three rounds into the scheduled six after a succession of body to head combos landed on her beaten opponent. Taylor’s record now reads a perfect 1-0, while Kopinska drops to 7-15-3.
On the undercard of the Matchroom promoted card, Mullinger's super-middleweight Irish champion JJ McDonagh pulled off a massive upset as he stepped up to light-heavyweight to brutally knockout Matchroom prospect Jake Ball in the first round to claim the WBA intercontinental title. The victory sees McDonagh move to 14-3, while Ball suffers the first set-back of his career and drops to 7-1.
The third and final Irish card of the month was at the Shorts Sports & Social Club in Belfast, and was headlined by a Celtic Nations title clash between Stephen 'Shortty' Carroll and James Gorman. In a tightly contested clash, Dublin's Carroll won 78-76 on the judge's scorecard to keep his unbeaten record intact (now 5-0) and pick up his first professional title while Belfast's Gorman drops to 8-30-1.
On the undercard Matthew Wilton (14-0), Casey Blair (4-18) and Tony Nellins (3-0) all strolled to points victories.