The Irish Eye: February part 2
February was a jam-packed month in Irish boxing, so we are bringing you a special three-part edition of 'The Irish Eye' to make sure every base is covered... In part two Kane Clarke looks at Red Corner Promotions' 'Unfinished Business' show from 25 February...
Dublin middleweight 'Cool Hand' Luke Keeler continued his march towards a European title shot with a points victory over England's Lewis Taylor as boxing returned to the National Stadium, Dublin on 25 February with Red Corner Promotions' 'Unfinished Business'.
In the opening round Taylor worked the jab while Keeler was landing the straight right hand. A cut was visible above the left eye of the Dubliner as he made his way back to the corner after a tight opener, but Keeler's coach Packie Collins was quick to point out to the ref that the cut was caused by an accidental headbutt during a clinch.
As the fight continued, Keeler began to open up with combinations, with the straight right hand / left uppercut in particular landing on multiple occasions, while Taylor mostly worked behind a stiff jab.
In the fourth Lewis came out and started dropping the right hand to the body of Keeler. Halfway the round and Keeler landed three uppercuts in quick succession that rocked the braided head of Taylor back.
Taylor started well in the sixth, attacking the body and trying to slow Keeler down, but unfortunately for him it had the opposite effect and brought about perhaps Keeler's best spell of the bout as he started landing big right hands that got the crowd involved. By now the famous Irish chant of 'Ole Ole Oe' was ringing around the stadium as the confidence started to ooze out of the Dubliner, who was landing rapid one-twos and raising his arms in the air to gee the crowd up and get them behind him.
In the final round Taylor came out all guns blazing, perhaps sensing that a knockout was his only hope of making the trip back across the Irish sea a successful one, but Keeler fought fire with fire and continued to outwork his opponent to win the bout 80-72 on the judge's scorecard.
Taylor (now 19-3-1) was ranked twelfth in the European rankings coming into the bout, so on the back on this win, Keeler can expect to enter the rankings when they are next updated. Speaking with Irish-boxing.com post-fight, Keeler (now 12-2) said: "I got the win, a good eight rounds, and I’ll build on that, keep the momentum going, and keep the shows in Dublin."
In the chief-support bout, Cork's Noel Murphy finally made his long-awaited Irish debut having fought the first eight of his professional bouts in the USA.
The 22-year-old welterweight outpointed Spaniard Avelino Vasquez to pick up the BUI Celtic Nations title in his first eight-round contest, much to the delight of the massive support from the rebel county who had travelled north to finally get to see their man in action.
The atmosphere hit fever-pitch as Murphy entered the ring to 'Shipping up to Boston', a firm favourite among Irish fight fans, and a song that had the whole stadium on their feet to create an atmosphere that hadn't been seen since Jamie Conlan fought Junior Granados in the summer of 2015 at the same venue.
Straight from the off, 'The Irish Canelo' started to target the body of Vasquez, before switching the attack to the head with a beautiful overhand left that momentarily stumbled his Spanish opponent. The familiar chants of 'Ole Ole Ole' rang around the arena as Murphy continued to dominate the opening exchanges, with his left hand again stumbling Vasquez towards the end of the second.
Southpaw Murphy bossed the middle rounds with more devastating body punching and some fancy footwork. Another overhand left landed flush on the chin of Vasquez at the start of the fifth but, to be fair to the Spaniard, he was taking them well, and much lesser opponents might have been tempted to call it a night as the onslaught from 'Noely' never seemed to slow right up until the final bell.
The judge's scorecard read 78-75 in favour of the new champion but, if truth be told, it was hard to see how any rounds were scored to the brave and durable Vasquez after a flawless performance from the Lou DiBella-promoted prospect.
Speaking to irish-boxing.com afterwards, Murphy (now 9-0) stated: "I am mandatory for the Irish title now. I don’t know what's going to happen, but Peter McDonagh might have to defend it soon. We will see. How could you not want a fight with him here after that? The atmosphere was amazing when I came out, but I knew I had to block out the crowd. I would have thrown everything at him and blown out in the first round if I listened to the crowd."
Steve Collins Jr appeared on the undercard for his first fight in Ireland in just over two years, and put on a scintillating display to outpoint tough Argentinian Pablo Sosa, and increase his undefeated record to 10-0-1.
Fighting at light heavyweight for the first time, the Castleknock man started brightly, boxing behind the jab and landing the right hook throughout the opening rounds.
Sosa landed a couple of nice right hooks of his own in the third, but Collins Jr was throwing a high volume amount of punches and keeping the jab constantly in the face of Sosa, landing the bigger shots throughout, whilst showing great head movement and composure, looking particularly good at the new weight.
Both fighters landed some big shots in the fifth, but 'Wolfhound' was looking the fresher of the two despite fighting in his first eight round contest and having entered the sixth for only the second time in his professional career. Collins started finding the target with one-two's straight down the pipe, but was caught with the occasional left-hook from the teak-tough Argentinian, who fought to a split decision draw in 2014 against Germany's Eduard Gutknecht, who took George Groves the distance in November for the WBA International trinket.
The final round saw more of the same from Collins Jr, who at times looked like he was toying with Sosa, throwing out the jab and short hooks without much meat behind them before drilling in the big shots any time his opponent would let his high guard slip.
Sosa's record slipped to 7-7-3 as the 26-year-old Dubliner took the decision on the judge's scorecard 79-73, much to the delight of his hometown crowd. Speaking to irish-boxing.com afterwards, the son of former two-weight world champion said: "I’m happy with my performance. To be critical of myself, I probably looked for the knockout too much early on and I probably blew a bit.
"But other than that, I was busy for eight rounds, he didn’t hurt me at all, he was winging big right hands and caught me but I was riding the shots, he put me on the ropes a few times and looked like he was busy, but I was catching everything. Defensively I’m happy, and all round I’d give it a B-minus."
Elsewhere on the undercard, Kildare super-featherweight Eric 'Lilywhite Lightning' Donovan upped his professional record to 3-0 with another second-round stoppage, this time against Romanian late replacement Stefan Nicolae who falls to 1-5.
The stand-out amateur was scheduled to fight over six rounds for the first time in his career. Perhaps wary of this, Donovan started a little slow and was happy for Nicolae to come forward throwing while using his feet to manoeuvre himself from any danger posed from the Romanian. A left hook to the body from Donovan towards the end of the opener visibly hurt Nicolae, and was a signal of what was to come in the second.
Again Nicolae came pouring forward, but the single shots to the body were clearly taking their toll. Half-way through the round, the game Romanian was dropped to the canvas as 'Lilywhite Lightning' struck the body with a left hook to the solar plexus from the clinch that had Nicolae gasping for air. While the Romanian bravely rose to his feet to beat the count, the referee waved off the contest whereupon Nicolae dropped again to the canvas clearly still in pain, as southpaw Donovan climbed the ropes to salute his hardcore following who had travelled up from Kildare.
Speaking to IFLTV after the fight, Donovan said: "It was very short, once again it was the signature body punch that I have mastered over my many years of boxing and training, I love that punch, and when it lands it does a lot of damage and Nicolae felt it in the second round.
"I have to say though, in the first round I was very slow to get going, my timing was off a little bit, but I never felt in trouble I was never in any doubt, I just used the first round as a warm-up, there was a break before my fight and I didn't know there was a ten-minute break, and I was ready to go and fight before that, that stopping and starting sort off knocked me off kilter there a little bit."
As for what's next for the former five-time Irish senior champion, Donovan stated: "I want to move just south of Dublin now and in to the Kildare area. I'd love to bring back big-time boxing into Kildare, it's been over a century since there's been a professional boxing show in Kildare, so you can imagine, bringing big-time boxing back there, and to headline a card there and box for a title, my first title, it would probably be a stepping stone towards major international titles."
Dublin light middleweight Craig O'Brien made a successful return to the ring after 17 months out, outpointing Jorge Vallejo of Spain over six rounds on the undercard.
O'Brien started well and caught Vallejo with a right hook while he was backed against the ropes that wobbled the Spaniard, and nearly sent him head first out of the ring. O'Brien seemed comfortable boxing on the back foot as Vallejo poured forward but was having trouble finding the target and more often than not was left chasing shadows as 'The Iron' showcased some great footwork to manoeuvre himself out of trouble.
O'Brien had his man down towards the end of the second, as he again walked him into a right hook before pivoting out of range, but the referee ruled no knockdown and the action continued. A beautiful left uppercut from the Dubliner landed flush on the chin of the game Spaniard at the start of the third, but Vallejo took it well and continued to march forward trying to land some big shots of his own. More often than not though, O'Brien was nowhere to be found as he continued to use his feet to work his way out of danger.
As O'Brien entered the fifth round for the first time in his career, Vallejo caught him with a left hook that pushed him back to the ropes and forced him to hold on to foil any further attacks, but after the referee broke the two fighters up, it was O'Brien that took control once more, landing some hurtful combinations to the tiring Spaniard, who was perhaps having his best round of the bout.
The two fighters embraced before the start of the final round in a mark of respect for one another's efforts during the full-throttle contest, and Vallejo continued to pour forward looking for the big shots knowing that most likely a knockout was needed, but more than often than not found he himself on the receiving end in a tight final stanza.
O'Brien improved his record to 4-0 while Vallejo fell to 2-3. Speaking with irish-boxing.com afterwards, O'Brien stated: "I knew it would be tough, he was like a tank, he just kept coming, but the main thing was getting back in the ring tonight after 17 months.
"I haven’t been in the Stadium for ten years and it was more overcoming all that. It wasn’t that I was nervous, but I knew I had to stay relaxed and keep myself together. I knew if I boxed him, I’d win. The crowd roared when I hurt him in the third and I let six or seven shots go till I heard Paschal [Collins, coach] roar at me, so it’s about not getting caught up in all that."
As for the future, the 27 year-old said: "It’s possible we could do something with the boys [Red Corner]. Obviously they have got Luke [Keeler] headlining in a BUI Celtic title fight, that’s a belt I would love to fight for. It’s picking up again, which is great. There is chance I could get out the start of May in England before the next show here in June or July.”
Jay Byrne fought for the second time this month at the National Stadium, the Dubliner stepping up to six rounds for the first time in his career as he took on tough journeyman Sergio Abad.
The Spaniard fought in the National Stadium in November and gave Gerard Whitehouse a tough fight, and from the off he proved a handful for Byrne, pinning him to the ropes and attacking the body before landing a nice right hook to the head. Throughout the opening two rounds Abad continued to march forward landing some telling shots.
'The Negotiator' burst into action at the start of the third and started letting his hands go. In the fourth Abad landed a powerful right hand that momentarily stiffened the legs of Byrne, but he recovered well and landed some hurtful blows of his own towards the end of the stanza. However, Abad was giving him a tough night's work as expected.
In the final two rounds both fighters were visibly tiring, Byrne was boxing behind the jab trying to keep the advancing Abad away, but the Spaniard continued to come forward looking to land some big shots of his own. At the end of the bout the judge's scorecard read 58-57 in favour of The Negotiator, who will be happy to have picked up the win in what was a testing and gruelling contest.
Speaking to irish-boxing.com after the fight, Byrne said: "I thought the first round was very close, he could have got it. I thought second, third, fourth I controlled fairly handily. Fifth was more of the same, then in the sixth the lads said to me ‘don’t even box him, stay away from him, throw out your jab, make him think.’ I think I was a complete professional, I felt more comfortable as the fight went on, I was making him miss a lot more."
The 30 year-old welterweight also hinted he was close to securing a major contest: "We may have something big in the next three weeks, we’re in talks. If that happens, it will be very big."
Lynn Harvey also made her second appearance of the month, hoping to get some rounds under her belt having demolished her opponent in just 37 seconds at MHD's 'Inquisition' show on 4 February.
This time up for 'The Hunter' was Romanian Sara Regina Coca, and Harvey wasted no time whatsoever in ripping into the former kickboxer, running across the ring from the off, opening up with hurtful one-twos while taking a couple herself. At one stage in the opener Coca lifted her knee in a move more suited to a Muay Thai contest, but it went largely unnoticed and the bout proceeded. Harvey was switching her attacks from the body to head well, while Coca kept coming forward looking for the big shots.
Harvey boxed beautifully in the second and was clearly starting to frustrate her opponent. She continued to do so in the third, so much so that her opponent resorted to kicking her, yes - you read that right, Coca threw a front kick to Harvey's midriff which forced the referee to step in and rightly disqualify her. Coca (now 0-2) will surely think about switching back to the kickboxing club after this embarrassing blunder, while for Harvey, it's been a successful month having bounced back from her loss in November last year.
"I am feeling so proud of myself right now,” Harvey (now 3-1) beamed when speaking to irish-boxing.com after the fight. "I am happy she was tough. A few people thought it was going to be a quick job, but I am glad she was tough because it made me dig a bit deeper."
The 35-year-old Killbarrick light-flyweight then teased: "I am looking at 1 April [for my next fight] and I might have something juicy then. I can’t say much now, but if it comes off I’ll keep you posted!"
After over two years out of the ring, Kildare's Allan Phelan made a successful return to the square circle with a impressive four-round win against tough Nicaraguan journeyman Johnson Tellez.
Making his Irish debut, having fought out most of his career in the USA, the 25-year-old showed no signs of ring rust as he started brightly, working off the jab with the lead left hook also finding the target. Tellez came out firing in the third, but was caught with another well-timed left hook for his troubles, although he returned the favour soon after with a left hand of his own as the tough journeyman upped his work rate.
Phelan remained composed and focused in the last after being caught with one of the Nicaraguan's wild hooks early on, landing the right hand left hook on a couple of occasions, as well as beautifully timed right hook to the body which slowed Tellez down towards the end of the round to take the fight on the judge's scorecards 40-36 and improve his record to 7-2-1, while the game Tellez dropped to 9-31-5
Speaking with irish-boxing.com after the bout, the super-featherweight said: “I wasn’t tired, I wanted to keep punching and moving. He was looping punches in, throwing weird shots, so I wanted to punch and move. There was actually no ring rust! I thought there would have been but we did enough preparation in the gym. I felt good, I worked on what I was told to do and everything fell into place."
Turning his attention to his next contest, the Newbridge man joked: "We’re not waiting twenty seven months again! Hopefully we’re not even waiting 27 weeks, it’ll be more like 27 days!"
Derry light middleweight Connor Coyle continued his unbeaten start to his professional career with a four-round points decision victory over late replacement Miguel Aguilar of Nicaragua. The 2014 Commonwealth Games medallist put on a masterclass as he outboxed and outfoxed Aguilar from start to finish, much to the delight of his vocal travelling support.
In just his third professional bout, the Derry man showcased a wide range of vicious attacks, and hurt his opponent on numerous occasions whilst showcasing a calmness and composure usually seen from a well-seasoned veteran. The eye-catching body shots were executed beautifully from early on, and wore his opponent down round by round. Any time Aguilar tried to defend the body he was punished with sharp combinations to the head from the 26-year-old former standout amateur.
Coyle improved his perfect record to 3-0 while the experienced Aguilar dropped to 11-31-1. Speaking with irish-boxing.com afterwards, the Ulsterman made it clear he doesn't want to hang about and said: "For 3-0, I feel I can go up the rankings quickly. I think I adapt to things a lot quicker than an average person. With my amateur background, I’ve a lot of fights under my belt and plenty of rounds of sparring over the years. The amateur background has given me that edge in the professionals."
The St. Josephs boxer then announced: "We’ve one more fight on Paddy’s Day in Tampa, my last four rounder, then we’ll move up to six, then on to eight rounders and maybe a title before the end of 2017. Maybe even the Irish title. Red Corner are doing three or four shows a year in Ireland, and I’ll have three or four shows a year in Tampa. Basically, I’ll be over in Tampa for training camps and then we’ll be traveling over here for fights. I’m going back now on Friday [3 March]."
Elsewhere on the stacked undercard, Navan's Christopher Blaney had an early night as he made light work of another late replacement in the shape of Romanian Adrian Parlogea. The Ricky Hatton trained super middleweight landed a couple of telling uppercuts right at the start that set the tone for the opening stanza, and followed that up with a thudding right hook to the body of his opponent who didn't offer much in return.
The Romanian journeyman was a little late out of his corner for the second round, and was probably left wishing he hadn't come out at all as he was met with a left hook that sent him crashing to the canvas. He picked himself up and wobbled his way back to the neutral corner only for the bout to be rightly waved off by referee David Irving as he was clearly outlclassed by the ever improving 'Ginga Ninja' who picked up his third second-round stoppage in his third appearance at South Circular road.
Blaney improved to 5-0 while Parlogea dropped to 11-45. Speaking to irish-boxing.com afterwards, Blaney stated: "In the first round we knew nothing about him so we just went in and didn’t do anything stupid or get caught. Second round then we just went in to take him out. After the first round I said it to Ricky [Hatton, trainer] that I can't see him going the next round – and my prediction came true."
Hatton himself added: "Sometimes you have to go through these opponents. Six rounds next and there’ll be tougher tests. We want some rounds now. He’s breezing through these opponents. He’s turning into an all-round professional now."
There was a debut on the night for Tallaght super-middleweight Thomas Finnegan who outpointed Spaniard Alejandro Mostazo over four hard-fought rounds.
Finnegan opened brightly, targeting the body of Mostazo with the jab and switching to the left and right hook upstairs in a dominant opening stanza. It was a case of more of the same in the second from Finnegan, who was also dipping the head and looking for the big overhand right, having some success.
Into the third and 'Victorious' started again behind the jab to the body. Midway through the round he went head-hunting and started to land a series of one-twos that really got the crowd behind him. Showing some versatility the Dubliner momentarily switched to southpaw and landed a straight left hand to the chin of Mostazo, but the sustained attacks were clearly taking their toll on Finnegan, as he visibly started to tire towards the end of the round.
Into the final round and Mostazo picked up the work rate as he went looking for the stoppage. Finnegan had clearly blown himself out in the first three, and was holding on to the Spaniard at any given chance to see out the bout, showing serious grit to make it through the round and take the decision 39-37 on the judge's scorecard.
Speaking to irish-boxing.com afterwards, the 28-year-old Stephen Kavanagh trained fighter admitted: "I have to get fit, I’ll get there, I’m only back five weeks. It was my first fight in eight years. He could hit, I wouldn’t say he hurt me, but he got my respect. It was a lot of pressure, but I got through it. With a bit more fitness I would have stopped him in the third. I’d like to be back out straight away."