The Irish Eye: June part 2
Kane Clarke's latest edition of The Irish Eye continues with a review of Frank Warren's 'Battle of Belfast' card, which saw Paddy Barnes claim his first title in the pro ranks...
On 17 June Frank Warren and Boxnation returned to the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, with the 'Battle of Belfast' card.
Jumping up to ten rounds for the first time in his career, Paddy Barnes headlined - and won - his first title in just his third pro fight as he scraped past former European champion and world title challenger, Silvio Olteanu, via majority decision to claim the vacant WBO European flyweight championship.
It was a back-and-forth battle with both fighters having their fair share of success. Barnes dominated the opener, peppering Olteanu with the jab and straight right hands to the body, although a right-hook over the top from the Romanian reminded Barnes that he was in a fight.
Into the second, and Barnes was having the better of the exchanges, but Olteanu seemed to have the advantage in the power department and rocked Barnes at the end of the round with a right hand that sent 'The Leprechaun' stumbling across the ring. However, the 30 year-old quickly regained his composure and saw out the round.
Barnes pressed the action at the start of the third, but Oltaneu worked his way back into it with some big hooks. Barnes finished off the round by catching the Romanian with a nice straight left.
Olteanu came out for the fourth and targeted the body of Barnes, veering below the belt on a couple of occasions, unseen by referee Steve Gray. Barnes replied with blistering fast left and right hands, but was being outworked by the Romanian, who had his best round of the bout so far.
Belfast's double Olympic medallist replied well in the fifth, throwing a huge amount of punches, which were both fast and accurate, whilst Olteanu was still dangerous throughout, looking to land the big shots.
The sixth started and played out much like the previous five, with Barnes starting the better, then tiring, and Olteanu coming on strong towards the end, making the rounds difficult to score. But Barnes' sheer volume of output was winning him most of the tight rounds for me.
As Barnes entered the seventh round for the first time in his career, the bout hung in the balance. Although Barnes was probably up on the scorecards, there was a feeling that he could be fading, the fight having been fought at a ferocious pace, with seasoned campaigner Olteanu growing in confidence as the rounds went on.
The eighth was another back and forth barnstormer, both fighters were having success to the body - Olteanu was landing hooks whilst Barnes was scoring with lightning fast flurries.
The non-stop pressure from the Romanian continued in the ninth, Barnes was meeting him head on, fighting fire with fire, and that continued in the final round, but it Barnes was landing the eye-catching shots in the final minutes towards the end.
Barnes was duly announced as the new WBO European flyweight champion via majority decision with scorecards of 95-95, 97-94, 97-93. In a very hard to score fight due to the back and forth nature of each round, 'The Irish Eye' finished with a 96-94 card in favour of the home fighter, who said afterwards: “It’s given me great confidence. My first ten-rounder in my third fight, at high pace against someone who’s very, very good. I’m a bit tired. Well, I’m not too tired – just a bit relieved. It was a tough fight. The fella [Olteanu] was a very tough fighter.
“I expected it would go 10 rounds, I said it before. Who am I to knock him out, you know? I’ve never had a knockout in my life. It was great to fight ten rounds.”
Barnes will now enter the WBO world rankings, which is a remarkable achievement considering he has only had three professional fights over the space of seven months.
The Belfast flyweight has made no secret of the fact that he is chasing a world title shot against a former amateur enemy and current WBO flyweight champion, stating post-fight: “I’d like to fight for the WBO Inter-Continental or International title, and move myself even further up the WBO rankings, because Zou Shiming is the ultimate goal.
“He’s the Floyd Mayweather of flyweights, he’s the money man. So, he’s the man I want to fight.”
On the undercard there was a contender for Fight of the Year, as undefeated MTK stablemates Jono Carroll and John Quigley went to war over twelve rounds for the IBF East/West European super-featherweight title, with Dublin's Carroll getting the nod on the judges' scorecards.
The fight burst into action in the second when Carroll twice had Quigley on the canvas after constant pressure, but the Scouser responded well in the third and fourth to even up the bout.
Dublin's Carroll regained the momentum in a tough and tight fifth round, and kept the pressure on 'Johnny Boy' throughout the sixth, wearing him down with constant pressing.
Quigley looked to be tiring through rounds seven and eight, but seemed to catch a second wind in the ninth and he again started to outbox Carroll, who by this stage was feeling the full effects on the bruising encounter, and was tiring himself.
Into the tenth and Carroll started the round the better, staggering Quigley on a couple of occasions, but the Everton Red Triangle fighter bravely fought back towards the end of the round.
The eleventh stanza was a strong contender for round of the year. Both fighters were running on empty. Neither had ever entered the championship rounds before in their professional careers, but both managed to give their all for three minutes solid without a backward step.
The Waterfront Hall rose to their feet in appreciation at the end of the round and 'King Kong' Carroll returned to his corner thumping his chest.
It was the Liverpudlian, Quigley, who had the better of the exchanges in the final round of this epic back-and-forth battle, but it was Carroll who got the nod on two of the judges' scorecards to get the split-decision victory (115-111 - twice - and 114-113).
Having picked up his first professional title, and pushed his unbeaten record to 14(1)-0, Carroll, 25, told irish-boxing.com: “The crowd was amazing. In the last two rounds they really helped. You feel real proud when they are cheering you on. There were two Scousers on the bill so he had a crowd that played a part too.”
Of the split-decision verdict, Jono declared: “I am almost happy he got the split to be honest. You have to give it to him he did put the effort in and fought till the end and made it a very hard fight.
“When they said split I knew I had it because I dropped him twice. There was no way in a million years he won more rounds so I wasn’t panicking. I was thinking ‘fair enough,’ and I knew I had it won.”
Another title bout on the card featured Dublin favourite Stephen 'The Rock' Ormond. The 34-year-old was attempting to recapture the WBO European lightweight championship he held between 2013-2015, by challenging current champion, Craig Evans, who was fresh off his trilogy fight with Ormond's MTK stablemate, Tom Stalker.
Rumour had it that the winner of this bout would be pushed for a world title shot against WBO titlist, Terry Flanagan, should they impress. But the fight itself was a bit of a scrappy affair, with both fighters being bundled to the ground on a couple of occasions, although there were also odd flashes of brilliance from the pair.
Towards the end of the fight Ormond clearly started to wilt, and the champion downed him twice in the final round with body shots to all but seal the decision, which was unanimous in Evans' favour (97-91, 96-93, 99-89).
Another local fighter in action was Belfast fan favourite, Tyrone McKenna. The rangy southpaw stopped Romanian journeyman, Ferenc Katona, in the fourth round of their scheduled six-rounder with a beautifully timed uppercut, that sent Katona crashing to the canvas and left him unable to beat the count.
The unbeaten super lightweight had hoped for a better opponent on the bill, and hasn't been shy in calling out anyone ranked above him in the British rankings. He also claimed leading up to this bout that no one in Ireland was willing to face him, declaring: "The Irish guys had plenty of notice, I don’t know what their excuses were."
Of his victory over Katona, the MTK fighter told irish-boxing.com: “I tried to pace myself. I am doing eights and tens in sparring no problem, but I wanted to get rounds in a real fight. I hurt him in the first with a body shot and I was going to go for it there and then, but my coach wanted me to ease off and relax.
“I started boxing on the back foot a bit then. He was taking a lot of good shots, hooks, uppercuts and body shots, but then he kept coming and smiling so I thought he was there to stay. Then I caught him with a beautiful uppercut and he didn’t recover.”
The unbeaten 27-year-old (now 14(6)-0-1) then went on to call out another name: “I want Josh Leather. I would love to fight him. He is a big welter too, but I don’t mind. I just love fighting.”
Leather (12(6)-0) is fresh off the biggest win of his career over Dublin's Phil Sutcliffe Jr last time out for the IBF Intercontinental belt - a win which secured him a top 15 world ranking with the organisation. With Leather being managed by Frank Warren, and Warren's links to MTK, the fight should be quite easy to be made.
Belfast light-heavyweight Steven Ward jumped up to six-rounds for the first time in his career, and grabbed his first stoppage victory when he halted Hungarian journeyman Istvan Orsos, to improve his unbeaten record to 4(1)-0.
'The Quiet Man' dominated proceedings from the first bell, downing Orsos in the opening round, and finishing it off in the fourth with some beautiful bodywork which he had been displaying throughout the fight.
The Oliver Harrison-trained fighter mentioned afterwards: “[This fight] was my first six rounder and I was really looking forward to getting six rounds. That is one of the reasons we brought this opponent in.
“We were looking for someone durable because I want to get up to eight as soon as I can. As soon as we are up to eight we are in title contention. It’s another win. I am happy enough with my performance. I wasn’t as sharp as I would have liked, I didn’t get enough sparing in because of a wee niggle, but no excuses. I did what I had to do.”
The former Commonwealth Games medallist will now look forward to an undercard slot on the Frampton vs Gutiérrez 'Homecoming' bill, at The SSE Arena on 29 July.
Another fighter added to the Frampton bill, was heavy-handed welterweight prospect, Lewis Crocker.
The Belfast native picked up his second successive TKO victory in as many fights, stopping Bulgarian journeyman Radoslav Mitev in the second round of their scheduled four-rounder.
The Immanuel Boxing Academy fighter spoke to irish-boxing.com post-fight: and stated: “I like winning inside the distance. It was a good work out I enjoyed it. When I was hitting him I could hear him groan, but I took my time and waited for the big finish.
“I picked my shots a bit more. I felt comfortable. The boys know what I can do in the gym and it’s just a matter of time before everyone else sees it. People will see I am not just a big puncher.”
It was recently announced that Crocker's I.B.A teammate, Gerard Healy will fight Derry middleweight Sean McGlinchey on a Kieran Farrell promoted bill in Belfast on 6 October, with the Celtic Nations title on the line.
But first 'Mummy's Bhoy' McGlinchey had to get through ultra-durable journeyman, Dan Blackwell, and did so in entertaining fashion to improve his undefeated record to 2(0)-0, with a 40-36 points victory.
“I am available to fight any time if anyone is looking. I am training away with Glenn [McCrory] all the time so I am ready,” he told irish-boxing.com
“When I am at title level it will be at middle. People keep saying super middle maybe because I said it at the start, but it will be middle. I weighed in at 11’10, I can do 11’6 no problem now, so the Irish title at middleweight is my first target.
“It might be down the line, but I will be keeping a close eye on the Irish title fight next weekend [between Luke Keeler and Darren Cruise]. The winner might have a defence and give me time to get the rounds up and then next year I would like that fight.”
The Glenn McCrory trained fighter will now make a big jump from four to eight rounders and he looks to manoeuvre his way to that Irish title shot with a win over Healy.
Also on the undercard, there was the professional debut of Rio 2016 Olympian, David-Oliver Joyce.
The standout amateur recently ditched the vest to sign with MTK Global, and jumped straight in with a six-rounder, putting on an scintillating display to dispatch of Hungarian Gabor Kovacs (now 7-4) via second-round stoppage.
After what many observers were calling 'the best Irish debut in recent memory' the three times EU amateur champion stated: “I felt at home in there. I have a load of experience so the only thing new was the fact I walked in the ring called a professional rather than an amateur.
“I have great amateur experience, then semi pro with APB and the WSB so I just wanted to enjoy it. I have done it all so there is no change. I have beaten some of the best guys in the world as an amateur and even done the ring walk in the WSB!”