The Irish Eye: wrap-up and awards
This month we start the action off at the famous Luna Park in Sydney, Australia where on 2 December 'Super' Darragh Foley (now 10-2) retained his WBA Oceania super lightweight title with a unanimous decision victory (97-94, 98-92, 100-90) over Argentinian southpaw Sergio Gonzalez (31-21-4).
Foley, 28, left Dublin back in 2013 and headed 'down under' to start his professional boxing career and hasn't looked back since, picking up four titles in just twelve fights.
The southpaw has built quite a following within the Irish community in Sydney's Eastern suburbs (aka Co. Bondi) with his knockout performances and brash talk in the lead-up to his fights. With a top 15 ranking 'Super' Foley will be looking to use 2017 to build up to an eventual world title shot in 2018.
But don't rule-out a return home next year for the Blanchardstown man as just this week he called out MGM's much-avoided Phillip Sutcliffe Jr:
"I saw him say a while back that no Irishman will fight him… don't disrespect me like that, whilst I'm alive I'll fight any fucking man on this planet," the former Australian champion told irish-boxing.com.
"September, O2 Dublin, banger against banger, Dublin vs Dublin. Someone's taking a nap. Fight doesn’t go three rounds. Trust me. MGM get your wallet out."
Staying in Sydney, on 9 December Galway lightweight Gearoid Clancy (now 7-4) stopped Thailand's Akrapong Nakthaem (now 17-22) in the fifth round of the scheduled six to set up an Irish title fight with Belfast's Paul Hyland Jr on 4 February at the Europa Hotel, Belfast.
Clancy and MHD promotions were left with a bitter taste in their mouths a couple of days later though as the Boxing Union of Ireland (BUI) refused to sanction the bout between the pair, much to the outrage of many within the Irish boxing community. The BUI cited that Clancy's last two opponents are not considered to be of a level worthy of challenging for the vacant Irish belt.
In last month's column we spoke about Belfast light heavyweight Steven Ward's professional debut under the bright lights of the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast. 'The Quiet Man' was greeted with a hero's welcome on his hometown debut, but would experience quite the opposite for his second outing as a professional as he took to the ring at The Hilton Hotel, Coventry, England against durable journeyman Remigijus Ziausys of Lithuania, who was making his 97th ring-walk for the four-round bout.
Ziausys was a huge step-up in opponent for the MGM managed Ward in just his second pro fight. The Lithuanian has gone the distance with British heavyweights Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora to name two, but had no answer for Oliver Harrison's new student as the former Monkstown amateur put in a punch-perfect performance, downing his veteran opponent with a beautiful uppercut in the third, on his way to a 40-35 points victory.
"The fight went really well. I was expecting a tough fight with Remigijus to come forward strong the whole time like he does with in most fights, but I was able to get the jab established early and got very comfortable from the start," the 26-year old, who is now 2-0, told irish-boxing.com.
"I preferred this fight [over his debut] as Remigijus took a few chances and was able to leave some openings for me to work on a few things that I had been doing in the gym."
With Frank Warren announcing that Boxnation will be returning to the Titanic City on 18 February, this time at the famous Waterfront Hall, Ward has made it known that he would love to fight on that bill, but his fiancé Catherine Green might have other ideas - as the pair are scheduled to tie the knot the following day.
"I'm more scared of her than any light heavyweight," the 2010 Commonwealth Games silver medallist told Kevin Byrne of the Irish Sun. "No, my fiancé is the most understanding person and has always supported my career. I haven't been told if I'm on the bill or not but I hope I am.
"I know it's a day before my wedding but what better wedding day could I have than with another win under my belt?"
Good luck to Steven with both battles.
Frank Warren and MGM Scotland rolled into the Lagoon Leisure Centre, Paisley, Scotland on 3 December, for Billy-Joe Saunders' first defence of the WBO middleweight belt he ripped from Limerick's Andy Lee late last year.
On the undercard Dublin super-featherweight Jono 'King Kong' Carroll extended his unbeaten record to 13-0 with a routine eight-round points victory over Spaniard Juan Luis Gonzalez (now 9-4).
Carroll clearly looked up for this bout during the ring announcements and dominated the opening proceedings. Some classy footwork and short sharp left-hands from his southpaw stance troubled Gonzalez. A confident Carroll also showed great agility, leaning back out of range and proving very hard to hit, setting traps to counter perfectly with powerful, fast combinations raining in on the outclassed Spaniard.
'King Kong' started the second round behind the jab, moving in and out of range, peppering his southpaw foe with ease. Towards the end of the round the 24-year-old landed a beautiful left-hook followed by a right which momentarily shook the teak-tough Gonzalez, who recovered well to see out the round.
In the corner before the third round, Danny Vaughan told 'Jono' he wanted to see more left hands to the body, and his student duly obliged throughout the rest of the bout. A straight left hand over the jab of Gonzalez towards the end of the round landed cleanly and although the former Spanish title challenger again took the shot very well, it was clear that the Irishman was levels above in every department.
Gonzalez did have some slight success towards the end of the sixth round when an over-hand left landed right on the button of Carroll, but a wry smile and a touch gloves of acknowledgement was as much as 'Juancho' would receive from 'Jono' for the peach of a shot.
The bearded Dubliner was made to go toe-to-toe in the final stanza as Gonzalez suddenly burst into action for a brief part of the round which brought another smile for the boxing-mad Carroll.
Perhaps the only thing missing from the punch-perfect performance was the stoppage, although such an assessment is perhaps unduly harsh considering the maturity shown by Carroll, who was boxing to orders from his corner.
Since signing with MGM in September, Jono certainly seems to have clicked and developed a bond with new coach Danny Vaughan. The former Prizefighter champion plans to relocate his young family to the South of Spain full-time as he looks to take the next step in his well travelled career.
Speaking later with Kugan Cassius of IFL TV, Carrolll claimed: "It was a good tough eight rounds. I just stuck to the game-plan, just listened really in the corner, done everything well, we were sussing out the jab, your man was a bit wild in the first two rounds, your man was just throwing haye-makers just trying to catch me with a big one."
Rumours had been circulating on social media recently that an offer was made to Mitchell Smith for a future bout with Carroll but they never received a reply. Smith's head coach Adam Booth has stated that that fight was never put to him and when asked about the prospect of this fight Carroll stated: "Yeah, good fight. I really respect Mitchell Smith, I think he's a very good fighter and that's what were all in this game to do, to test ourselves and come against these good fighters.
"They're the type of people we want to be in the ring with, what's the point in being a boxer if you're going to get carried the whole way through your career? I don't believe in that, I believe you're a fighter for a reason, you need these good fights, [to] test yourself, see how good you are.
"I know he'd enjoy the fight as well, he's a good fighter, and that's what we're in this game for - to fight good fighters. They're the type of fighters we need to learn and improve, if we're going to start getting titles and testing ourselves, they're the fighters you need to be fighting, it's good, I can't wait to fight all these lads."
Elsewhere on the undercard, Stephen 'The Rock' Ormond got his wish with a rematch against Zoltan Szabo just nine weeks after surprisingly being stopped by the unheralded Hungarian three miles west at the Bellahouston Leisure Centre, Glasgow.
'The Rock' came into this bout nearly seven pounds lighter than the first fight. After a quiet opening round, Szabo came out attacking the body with hooks in the second, a shot which successfully dropped Ormond twice in their first encounter. Ormond returned the favour with some nice body shots of his own towards the end of the round but the fight was still yet to take off.
The third was also a tight round, Ormond scoring the more piercing singular shots while Szabo continued to land to the body. The fourth started with Szabo slipping well and countering with the straight right hand. The work-rate from Ormond was considerably less than what we have came to expect from the Dubliner, and when he did land a three-punch combination, his best of the fight so-far, Szabo replied instantly with a left uppercut/hook, momentarily dipping the legs of the Irishman.
The fifth was another tight affair, with Ormond upping his output and putting the pressure on Szabo, however perhaps the nicer work was coming from his Hungarian rival. In the sixth Ormond started to find his way inside the guard of the 'Sticky Man'. Unloading the fast flurries we are used to seeing, the 33-year-old took the clearest round yet of a tight affair.
Ormond continued to take the fight to Szabo in the seventh, landing a nice overhand left half-way through the round that had his opponent on the retreat. In the final stanza Ormond seemed content to see the round out, and took the points decision on referee Kenny Pringle's scorecard 79-74.
Ormond will be glad to have revenge over Szabo and will now be looking for MGM to keep him busy in 2017 and hopefully build towards title contention. The busy Szabo will most likely keep fighting every week if he can. The 22-year-old finished his debut year in the pro ranks with a record a record of 13-3 having only turned over in February. Not the average professional record after ten months!
The Queen of Irish boxing Katie Taylor took to the ring for her second professional bout on 10 December. The Bray super featherweight appeared on the Pay-Per-View portion of fellow London 2012 Olympic champion Anthony Joshua's undercard, as he defended his IBF World title with a third round TKO against American Eric Molina.
Having impressively disposed of Karina Kopinska in the third round of her debut at the Wembley Arena just two weeks previous, Taylor's opponent this time round was Brazilian born Viviane Obenauf who came to the bout with a record of 9-1 having turned professional in April 2014.
Taylor dominated right from the off against her high-ranking opponent, switching shots from the body to the head with a gracefulness rarely seen. Obenauf was briefly downed in the second from a check hook but rose immediately to see out the round.
The more the fight progressed the stronger Taylor became. There was to be no stoppage this time out for Katie though, who had to settle for a 60-53 win on referee Darren Sarginson's scorecard after six two-minute rounds, improving her record to 2-0 while Obenauf drops to 9-2.
The former Olympic champion told IFL TV afterwards: "I thought I was a bit flat. I thought it was a mediocre performance, but a win's a win. I got six good rounds out of it. I suppose I just have to take the positives from it, but I felt a bit tired in there tonight. It was a quick turnover from the last fight as well. I felt a lot better in the last fight, but obviously this girl was obviously a better quality girl. She had a good winning record and was a lot more game."
Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn will look to have Taylor out once or twice more in early 2017 in preparation for a big fight on St. Patrick's weekend in New York City, where she is pencilled in to fight on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin vs Daniel Jacobs in Madison Square Garden. It will be a big weekend for Irish boxing in NYC, as the night before Taylor's former Olympic team-mates Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes take to the ring for at the MSG theatre.
Elsewhere on 10 December, Belfast's Alfredo Meli returned to the ring for the first time since November 2015 (when he fought a split-decision draw with Conrad Cummings for the vacant BBBofC Celtic title in Belfast).
MGM's 'Fredo' outpointed the German-born Anthony Fox over six rounds at the Trudor Grange Leisure Centre, Solihull and improves his unbeaten record to 12-0-1 while 'The Matador' Fox falls to 1-2.
Donegal's unbeaten middleweight Jason Quigley took another major step towards title contention on 17 December in California, when he sensationally stopped Jorge 'The Destroyer' Melendez in the first round of their encounter after having him down three times before his corner eventually threw the towel in 2 minutes 24 seconds into the round.
'El Animal' started fast and had his opponent down for the first time with a looping right hand from the clinch. The 27-year-old Melendez didn't see the shot coming and wasn't given the chance to recover from the blow by the relentless Ulsterman.
Quigley, 25, had stated in the lead-up to the bout that he had been feeling 'dangerous' and he looked just that as he landed four vicious hooks to the chin of Melendez, sending the Puerto Rican crashing to the canvas for a second time.
Again the brave Melendez rose to his feet, only to be met instantly with a powerful right hook from Quigley that saw him require a third count. The referee let the bout continue and Quigley pressed forward for the kill, backing his opponent up on the ropes and unloading a barrage of left and right hands before Melendez's corner pulled him out to fight another day.
"Leading up to this fight I was feeling like a bad, bad man," Quigley said amid a post-fight media scrum. "I was feeling bad, I was feeling evil, coming into this fight I don't know what it was in me, I was listening to deep dark songs, I was thinking deep dark thoughts about getting into that ring and really hurting this guy, but I had to control that, I don't know why, is that the frustration of being out of the ring for so long? I don't know. But for me, there was something inside me that I haven't felt before, I felt a lot of badness inside me. I'm going to sit back now and enjoy this with the people who mean the most to me."
The win sees Quigley up his unbeaten record to 12-0 while Melendez drops to 30-8-1.
All of which brings an end to another dramatic year in Irish boxing with many highs and lows.
Thanks to all 'The Irish Eye' readers throughout the year and I look forward to seeing what Irish boxing has in store for us in 2017. It's an exciting start to the year with Carl 'The Jackal' Frampton (23-0) defending his WBA featherweight title on 28 January at the MGM Grand Arena in his highly anticipated rematch with Leo Santa Cruz.
Then on 18 February Boxnation and Frank Warren return to Belfast, this time at Waterfront Hall. 'The Irish Gatti' Jamie Conlan (18-0) will defend his Commonwealth title against an opponent yet to be confirmed. And in March, Jamie's younger brother Michael Conlan will make his long awaited professional debut in Madison Square Garden on St. Patrick's day, with Paddy Barnes and Katie Taylor also scheduled to appear over the weekend at the same venue.
Irish boxing is certainly on the rise, so make sure you support your local fighters and be a part of it!
The Irish Eye - End of Year Awards
Fighter of the Year:
Carl Frampton - twice travelled to opponents' backyards to rip their world titles away from them, unified the super-bantam division against long-time rival Scott Quigg in Manchester in February and then became a two-weight world champion in Brooklyn in July, while also handing the legendary Leo Santa Cruz the first loss of his illustrious career. Frampton's achievements will take some beating, but if anyone is to do it in 2017, its 'The Jackal'.
Fight of the Year:
Jamie Conlan vs Anthony Nelson - Nelson was down in the first and Conlan cut. 'The Mexican' was down himself in the third, but rose to put Nelson down in the fifth, and then finally sealed victory in the eighth with a beautiful left-hook to the body. Hopefully the rematch gets made for the upcoming card in Belfast.
Round of the Year:
Luke Keeler vs Tom Doran - Round 1 - the Dubliner had Doran down heavily and went for the kill. The Celtic Warrior ended up getting caught a perfect shot himself and being put down by the Welshman. Keeler wouldn't fully recover and unfortunately was stopped in the second.
Prospect of the Year:
Jason Quigley. 'El Animal' has had quite the year stateside with three impressive wins against Freddy Lopez, James De La Rosa and Jorge Melendez, despite a seventh month lay-off. The Donegal man isn't too far off from challenging for a major middleweight title.
KO of the Year:
Jamie Conlan vs Anthony Nelson - Round 8 - this maybe wasn't the most eye-catching stoppage from the year, but my best KO of the year would also have to go to Conlan against Nelson - it was the perfect shot, at the perfect time in the fight just as Nelson was starting to have some success, which would have made for a nervy final few rounds.
Warrior of the Year:
Alec Bazza - 28-year old journeyman Bazza fought six times on the road this year going 0-5-1 whilst still looking for his first win as a professional boxer. 'The Belfast Spartan' is one of the most respected journeyman on the circuit, so don't be fooled by his pro record of 0-20-3. The likeable Bazza is known to give anyone a fight and has been on the wrong end of some terrible decisions which is to be expected as an away fighter. Alec and his girlfriend Christina are also becoming parents in the new year, which the Belfast man says provides him with more motivation to keep chasing that thus far elusive win.