The Irish Eye: March part 3
March was a mammoth month in Irish boxing, so we are bringing you a special five-part edition of 'The Irish Eye' to make sure every base is covered... In part three Kane Clarke reviews the plethora of St Patrick's Day action from around the boxing world...
With St. Patrick's Day falling on a weekend this year, boxing promoters all over the world were trying to get their hands on some Irish boxing talent to help bolster their fight-cards and entice Irish fans enjoying the celebrations to come and support some of their own - as the Irish always do.
The main attraction this year was, of course, Belfast man Michael Conlan's professional debut against American Tim Ibarra in the 'Mecca of Boxing' Madison Square Garden, where the amateur superstar stopped his opponent after an sustained attack in the third round of their scheduled six-rounder. The Irish Eye was ringside for all the action - see my fight analysis and account of my time in New York by clicking here
Conlan wasn't the only Irishman boxing on the St. Patrick's Day card - Monaghan welterweight Larry Fryers kicked off the show in The Garden in a four-round contest against Seattle's Gabriel Solario, and had the American on the floor in the opening stanza, before injuring his hand in the second.
Boxing more conservatively after the injury to see himself through to the final bell, Fryers won by a wide decision of 40-35 to up his professional record to 3-0, while Solario slipped to 2-4-1. Speaking to irish-boxing.com afterwards, 'Lethal Larry' stated: “Madison Square Garden, opening up for Michael Conlan ... there’s no better feeling in the world.
“I went in, started finding my range, dominating him, and an overhand right put him down near the end of the first round, he got up, I went at him, and the bell saved him a bit. In the second I started using the jab and hit him with another big overhand right and that’s when I think I broke my right hand, it swelled up like a balloon. Hopefully it’s just a bad sprain. The downside was, I probably could have got a good knockout win, but it is experience.”
“From the end of the second round and the whole third round I just had to use my jab, the right hand was giving me a lot of problems. Then, come the fourth round, the hand went a bit numb and I just let it go, dominated again and started to really catch him.”
Back over on this side of the Atlantic, Belfast's Paul Hyland Jr continued his march towards a British title shot on 17 March at the famous York Hall in London, with a career-best win over Hartlepool's former BBBofC Northern Area champion Peter Cope.
Cope started the better of the two, picking up some of the opening rounds, but the war-hungry 26-year-old 'Hylo' dragged the Englishman into his kind of fight from the halfway mark, and never looked back as he took the decision on referee Jeff Hinds' scorecard 78-76 after a tightly contested battle.
Speaking with IFLTV after the bout, the Belfast lightweight admitted: "It was a tough one, wasn't it? It was a close contest, it was an exciting fight, I enjoyed it. I done enough to win it by a few points at the end there, I was pleased with the win.
"I knew myself it was tight, I was catching him and getting caught with silly shots, should of had my hands up a wee bit more, should have moved a wee bit more, but I was also catching him, I knew it was pretty tight and my corner was saying it was pretty even, so they told me just to step it up the last two rounds, and I believe that's what won me it."
Elsewhere on the undercard, Dublin's Jay Byrne stepped up two weight divisions to take on Matchroom prospect and former English elite amateur Felix Cash over four rounds.
Byrne, who usually campaigns at welterweight but stepped up to middleweight for the clash, was on the receiving end of a massive gulf in size, but nonetheless put on a stellar performance, giving the Englishman the toughest test of his career so far. As a result of his excellent showing, he has bagged himself a massive bout on another Matchroom show where he will introduce Olympian Josh Kelly to the pro ranks in Scotland on 15 April on the undercard of the Burns vs Indongo unification match in Glasgow.
“In life you sometimes have to take one step backwards to take two forwards, which is what I have done,” Byrne [4(1)-1(0)] told Irish-Boxing.com following the York Hall loss. Matchroom went to Tommy McCormack [co-trainer] before we left to get his details as they said they wanted me back. They said that there are big fights for me at welter and light middle, there was even mention of the Joshua-Klitschko card.
“Eddie Hearn met me getting out of the ring to say well done and that he was very, very impressed. He also said he would love me back at my proper weight and that I had some balls.” I was also approached by James DeGale, Dillian Whyte and many others to say well done and that I was a tough motherf*cker.
"After the first couple of rounds I really enjoyed it. I was nervous of the size difference and whether I’d be OK with the power difference, but I had fun in there. I was laughing at him at one point and called him on. He wasn’t hurting me and I wanted to entertain.”
Undefeated Derry duo Connor Coyle and John Cooley both fought at the A La Carte Pavilion, Tampa, Florida on 17 March in four-round bouts, both of which were won on points.
Super-bantamweight Cooley outpointed debutant Emilio Rivera of Puerto Rico after surviving a third-round knockdown where he was caught flush with a big right hand. Cooley recovered well thereafter to see out the bout and take a 38-37 decision win on all three judges' scorecards.
Upping his record to 2-0, 'Bam Bam' Cooley said in a post-fight interview with 'The Fighter's Share': "I was confident [I would get the decision] apart from being caught with that right hand, I was coming forward and I squared myself up and went to let my shot go and he just landed as I was coming forward. I wasn't hurt at all, I didn't even really feel the shot when he hit me, my legs were off-balance, it is what it is. I walk away with the victory, that was the only round I lost, I won the rest of them."
Derry light-middleweight Connor Coyle upped his perfect record to 4-0 with a points decision victory over undefeated Cuban Daruma Almenarez.
Coyle forced the referee to give the Cuban a standing eight count in the final stanza as the ref had signalled that the ropes had kept the Cuban from hitting the canvas after a barrage of punches from the Derry man.
Coyle has impressed massively since turning over last-year, and did so again in Tampa, Florida. Speaking post-fight he told 'The Fighter's Share: "I'm 4-0 and I'm climbing."
After an impressive display behind the jab, he continued: "It's the key to every fight, we've been working a lot on it, it's the most simple punch, but it's the best"
On 18 March, Murphys Boxing held ‘St Patrick’s Clash 2’ at the House of Blues in Boston, Massachusetts.
Irish-American Danny O'Connor outpointed Donegal southpaw Michael McLaughlin over an eight-round war to become the new welterweight Celtic Nations title holder, and also the New England welterweight champ, with a majority decision victory by 79-72 (twice) and 76-76.
Speaking to irish-boxing.com post-fight, 'Danny Bhoy' stated: “I thought I won the fight. It’s hard to score when you get wrapped up in that sort of fire-fight, you’re taking punches, you’re giving them. When I sat back, relaxed, and boxed – he didn’t touch me and I kept touching him so I got a lot of points from that. I’d like to fight that way all the time, not getting hit – but hey, I’ve got big balls, sometimes too big for my own good.”
“Michael McLaughlin was a tough opponent, I know he had some animosity before the weigh-in, and so did I, and I hope he leaves it at that. It’s just part of the sport. He’s a tough kid, a good guy, a very respectful person. I never said nothing about him before the weigh-in, whatever you want to do to motivate yourself is fine, and I hope he leaves it there because I’ve got nothing against him, it was a tough fight and a good opponent.”
Click here to watch O'Connor vs McLaughlin
Elsewhere on the undercard, Wexford heavyweight Niall Kennedy picked up the first title of his professional career, when knocking out Jesse Barboza in the final round of their scheduled eight-rounder to become the new USA Massachusetts State heavyweight champion.
Speaking to Irish-Boxing.com afterwards, 'Boom Boom Baz' (now 8-0) explained: “That was my first eight rounder, and I was saying to Packie [Collins, trainer] in the fourth that I thought I was going to blow and he told me I wouldn’t. Paschal kept telling me, ‘Niall, I’ve seen you in the gym, sick, doing six rounds, you can do this four rounds easy.'
“I’d say I train harder than any heavyweight. I train for every fight like it’s a world title fight. It’s confidence, I lack self-confidence a lot of the time. I just need to build and work on that work rate. I was happy with the finish, really happy. It was crisp and it wasn’t loaded. Packie has been saying that to me recently, ‘Niall your power is there now, but don’t be loading,’ and I think I did that.”
“I think I have a good chin, my conditioning is getting better. He seemingly had power – I never got caught with anything – but everyone out here was coming up to me during the week and saying watch his overhand right. He had nine knockouts so I had to respect that – but I felt grand, fitness was good. I’m hoping for the next fight, I’ll be stronger again, and keep improving.”
Also on the undercard, Gary 'Spike' O'Sullivan returned to action after six months out with a third round TKO of Ronald Montes.
Spike started slow in the opener, but upped his output in the second, before eventually forcing his Colombian opponent to retire after the third round with a suspected broken rib.
Moving to 24-2, Spike told irish-boxing.com afterwards “It was grand, I was just warming up to be honest. It was my first time in the ring for six months so I’m a bit disappointed. I’m glad to just get back in the ring. I was biding my time, I thought I was going to take him apart. I think he [Montes] is after breaking his rib, and I don’t even think I landed very well to be honest. I’m surprised I broke his ribs.”
Also on 18 March, former WBO middleweight champion of the world Andy Lee made his return to boxing having not fought since he lost his title to Billy Joe Saunders in 2015. Lee outpointed Alabama's Keandre Leatherwood over eight rounds on the GGG v Daniel Jacobs undercard in Madison Square Garden, New York, to up his record to 35-3-1.
Speaking after the bout, the 32-year-old southpaw declared: “It’s always good to come back to New York and it’s always a pleasure to fight here. It took me a while to get going but he was a tough and awkward opponent. He stayed in his shell and he wouldn’t really open up and I could see he was very wary of my right hook, he was protecting that side all the time
“It took me a while to get into it. Around rounds four, five and six and then towards the end I knew he kind of just wanted to coast and try to go the distance. It’s been a long time. I’ve been completely out of boxing for a year, I was at home and I wasn’t in the gym, but it’s good to be back and I think the rounds will stand to me more than if I had finished him in a round.”
Also on 17 March in The Italian Club, Perth, Australia, Donegal's John Hutchinson continued his winning streak with a six-round points victory over Pramool Boonpok of Thailand to raise his professional record to 9-2-2.
The 30-year-old 'Buncrana Banger' called for an Irish title shot post-fight, telling irish-boxing.com: “I will take the Irish title whenever I can. I want it before the year is out. I want my shot bad. It’s fight by fight for me at the minute and I am happy to be active, but for an Irish title fight in Ireland I would be on the next flight home and ready to win."