The Irish Eye: March part 2
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 two Kane Clarke reviews the big 10 March Boxnation show in Belfast...
As promised, the Boxnation cameras returned to Belfast on 10 March with 'The Belfast Boys are Back', this time the venue was the atmospheric Waterfront Hall on the banks of the River Lagan. On the stacked card there were twelve contests featuring Irish pugilists, including two All-Ireland title fights, a WBC title bout, the long awaited professional debut of a future superstar, and a host of other Irish talent making their mark in the sport and continuing their climb up the ladder to success.
The night was headlined by 'The Irish Gatti' Jamie Conlan, who lived up to his nickname and 'again' went to war, this time against former world-title challenger Yador Cardoza of Nicaragua in a pulsating and nervy contest in front of his hometown fans that culminated in a split-decision victory for the Belfast man, who also claimed the vacant WBC super-flyweight International silver title in the process.
Conlan boxed well through the first half of the bout, but Cardoza had his moments also and clearly wasn't here just to make up the numbers. Then, in the eighth, Conlan found himself on the canvas after he was caught with an uppercut to the top of the head which wobbled his legs and Cardoza followed up with a flurry that sent the Falls Road man down.
Conlan took the count and rose to his feet to see out the round and responded brilliantly in the ninth. In the final few rounds Cardoza pressured Conlan, perhaps sensing that the home-town fighter was withering and he could get him out of there. But Conlan stuck in there, fighting fire with fire to the end, and took the split-decision victory 114-113, 115-113 and 112-115 to raise his undefeated record to 19-0, while the talented Cardoza drops to 22-11-1.
Summing up his performance afterwards, a slightly dejected Conlan said: “Good at times, silly at times, and below par. I’m not happy with myself, I thought I could have won it a lot more decisively. The lads are pushing me in directions here, I should be a lot better if I’m honest. You have to be honest with yourself in this game, I should be doing people like that a lot easier – and I was, I just got caught with silly shots.”
Recalling the knockdown he stated: “He caught me high on the top of the head, it was a weird shot, it didn’t really hurt too much, it just knocked my equilibrium off. I just felt it going down through my left leg. I knew then he was going to have a big onslaught. Just like Granados before him, I knew I was going to have to make a statement or he would push it on me. So, when I came out the round after, I knew I had to be the boss in that round and when I did I knew I slightly broke his heart.”
On the undercard, Belfast's James 'The Assassin' Tennyson and Dublin's Declan 'Pretty Boy' Geraghty scraped it out in a highly anticipated bout for the vacant Irish super-featherweight title - a contest which did not disappoint.
In what was a real clash of styles, with Tennyson the puncher and Geraghty the slick boxer, both fighters formulated a game-plan that each of them thought would win them the fight: Geraghty started by peppering Tennyson with his jab and using his footwork to manoeuvre himself around the ring, while Tennyson looked to cut the ring off and unload with big power punches anytime he could pin his elusive foe in the corner or on to the ropes.
The fight exploded into action in the second round when Tennyson landed a massive right-hand to Geraghty's chin and sent the Dubliner crashing heavily to the canvas. Geraghty rose quickly to take the count, and thereafter went straight to war, landing a left hook to the body which momentarily had Tennyson wincing in pain and dropping his guard to defend the torso.
Geraghty went back to his boxing in the third and the southpaw boxed beautifully in the next three rounds to seemingly re-take the lead on the cards. Then, in the sixth, he once again he found himself on the wrong end of a Tennyson hook, this time a left that sent Geraghty to the canvas.
Once again Geraghty gamely rose to his feet to beat the count, but Tennyson poured forward throwing hurtful uppercuts. Geraghty tried to hold on to see out the round, but referee David Irving had seen enough, and stepped in to call a stop to the battle with seven seconds remaining of the round.
Tennyson (18-2) is now a two-time / two-weight Irish champion, and will again look to move on from the national scene towards British and Commonwealth honours. Tennyson's long-term manager Mark Dunlop stated: “We are not fighting for no more Irish titles, he has proved he is above that level now.”
“it’s bigger and better things now,” Tennyson himself agreed, adding: “Maybe we can look toward the British title again. I said before the last time the weight played a part, but I am comfortable now [at super featherweight].
“I was really comfortable in there. I knew he was going to tire out and I knew there would be a time he would have to stand in front of me and we would have to trade. I didn’t know how hurt he was in the second round, but when I landed the left hook clean on the knuckle [in the sixth], I knew that was the end,”
Speaking after the second loss of his career, Geraghty (now 14-2) said: “It was a good, entertaining fight. I won’t cry about it, I am a man now. He won and that’s the end of it. In fairness he had a bit of power. I did feel the stoppage was a bit early, my head was still clear, but I am not going to dwell on it. James won and I am not going to argue with the decision. He is a lovely fella and I wish him all the best. I hope he goes on to bigger and better things.”
In another North vs South All-Ireland clash, Belfast's Tyrone McKenna stopped Dublin's Jake Hanney in the sixth round to successfully defend his light-welterweight BUI Celtic Warrior trinket. 'The Mighty Celt' McKenna was defending his belt for the first time since stopping another Dubliner - Sean Creagh - to win the title back in November, and was met head on from the very first bell by the undefeated Hanney.
The first couple of rounds were quite tight but frantic, while McKenna also picked up a nasty cut due to an accidental head clash. The Belfast man took over from the third as Hanney seemed to tire after putting a lot into the opening rounds, eventually forcing referee David John Irving to call a halt to the bout 2 minutes and 10 seconds into the sixth round.
Speaking post fight, McKenna (now 13-0-1) admitted: “I would love to step it up again now. I would love the Irish title or the British Board’s Celtic title. I’d fight anyone to be honest. I just want big fights I don’t care who it is. Usually an Irish title was a prospect against someone who was more or less a bum, but now it means something again and it’s nice to see. If I was to challenge for an Irish title it would be against an undefeated guy. Phil Sutcliffe is there and Matt Wilton is there they are massive fights for an Irish title.
“They are the names I want although, as I said, I want anyone in a big fight. Phil has his own path I think and has a IBF title fight coming up, but I would love to fight him for it. ”
Dubliner Hanney wasn't too impressed with the referee stepping in to call a halt to the bout, and immediately called for a rematch after suffering the first loss of his career and seeing his record fall to 5-1. “Since I got out of the ring all I have heard is ‘rematch, rematch, rematch’ so I think it’s obvious what should happen," Hanney declared. "I asked Tyrone and he didn’t seem too keen, but his corner said 'rematch' and BoxNation would love a rematch.
“I had nine months off and he has been active, so let’s do it again. I don’t want to make too many excuses, he won on the night and probably was ahead on the scorecards, but that wasn’t me at my best.
“I haven’t boxed in a long time and I had a cut at the start of the camp so I didn’t spar one round in the lead-up to the fight. I could have pulled out but I didn’t and I produced that performance without a proper camp - imagine what I could do with a full and proper camp in.”
Elsewhere on the undercard, Belfast flyweight Paddy Barnes continued his professional career with a one-sided six rounds points victory over Adrian Garzon of Argentina.
The former three-time Olympian finally got the chance to show what he was all about after a rather frustrating debut a few months previously which resulted in his opponent being disqualified for lifting Barnes above his head.
Barnes started well in the first, with his fast hands landing with precision, notably to the body of Garzon, and throughout the middle rounds it was more of the same as the double Olympic medallist demonstrated multiple punch combinations on numerous occasions, nearly getting his opponent out of there in the fourth after a sustained attack.
But the tough Argentinian survived the non-stop six round onslaught to see the final bell. Referee Hugh Russell Jr awarded the decision 60-54 to Barnes who rises to 2-0.
Afterwards, Barnes called for bigger and better opponents: “I felt good [doing the six rounds]. After the second round I started to throw too much and Danny [Vaughan, coach] said slow it down and coast around. They wanted me to try and get the six rounds in. It was hard for me to slow myself down, but I done it. I think there were three times I stepped off, where if I stayed in the pocket I think he would have packed up."
On what's next for the Belfast fan favourite, he said: "He [Garzon] was a step up, but those are the fights I want. I want a title as soon as possible. I was in there against a journeyman and I coasted. I didn’t apply any pressure or plant my feet to hurt him. I hope to be out in the April or end of May, possibly here [Belfast].”
Belfast light-heavyweight Steven Ward continued his unbeaten start to the professional game with a superb display over Englishman Curtis Gargano.
The Commonwealth Games medallist outboxed his last-minute replacement from the off and nearly finished the fight in the third of a scheduled four-rounder, but 'The Quiet Man' will be happy with his night's work as he upped his record to 3-0 while Gargano continues his quest for a first win after seeing his record fall to 0-28-1.
Speaking after the bout, the 26-year-old said: “He [Gargano] came in last minute, we trained for a six rounder, but MTK had to get me a late replacement and I was glad to fight such an experienced fighter. A couple of times I could have sucked into him when he was doing that showboating stuff, but with Oliver in the corner he kept me composed and we worked on that.
“I feel good. I feel like I have another few rounds in me. When I turned pro and went with Oliver we have been working on putting punches together. As an amateur, because of my big long range, I was able to throw single punches. Now I am putting together and I feel good and comfortable. I think I will go strength to strength.”
Tipperary heavyweight Con Sheehan continued his rise through the ranks with another points victory in Belfast, this time beating experienced Bulgarian journeyman Ferenc Zsalek over eight rounds in dominating fashion.
The Peter Fury trained big man attacked the body well in the opening rounds, and throughout the bout switched his attack from body to head with ease to move his perfect record to 5-0 while the game Zsalek fell to 19-57-6.
Speaking after the bout, title-chasing Con 'The Bomb' stated: “Hopefully we get the Irish title now. I am looking to try and get on Hughie [Fury]’s undercard in New Zealand [against Joseph Parker], that would be lovely, but definitely the next one in Ireland would be the Irish title.
“That most likely means Big Sexy [Sean Turner]. It depends what happens, he might go a different route, but he said he wants the fight, I want the fight, so why not?"
When pushed on the potential of an Irish title fight with former amateur rival Sean Turner, who Sheehan defeated twice as an amateur, he said convincingly: “I win it. Don’t get me wrong, it would be a good fight, but I win. Listen you can’t mess around with Sean, If you stand and trade shots with him you're going to sleep for a week.
“The better level of opponent the better I am. I don’t think Turner could live with me if I box to my best. If he catches anyone he can do damage, you’ve seen it yourselves, he has serious punch power, but I am a lot fitter and, as I said, I win that fight.”
Turner himself was also fighting on the card in the Titanic city, albeit on the untelevised portion, and wasted no time in knocking out Croatian opponent Igor Mihaljevic in the second round, an opponent that Sheehan took a four-round points decision over in October of last year.
'Big Sexy' was fighting in his first scheduled eight-round contest, which makes him Irish title eligible, but only needed the two, after sending Mihaljevic crashing to the canvas with a ferocious right hand that will send a warning to title rival Sheehan.
Dubliner Turner's record now stands at 10-0 with seven knockouts, and after the fight the powerhouse told irish-boxing.com: “It’s just another day at the office. It’s good to get a fight in after last week’s one falling through. I just went in there, took my time in the first round, caught him with a few nice shots, set him up, and put him out of there. It was a nice crisp one.”
On the comparisons in performance between himself and Sheehan in their respective wins over Mihaljevic, Turner stated: “it is what it is, I’m a banger and Con isn’t. We’ll see how things go from here. That’s the eight rounder out of the way, so I’m title eligible now.”
Belfast's Marco McCullough warmed up for his British title showdown with Ryan Walsh on 20 May with a routine eight-round points victory over Leonel Hernandez of Nicaragua. The Shankill Road man had his opponent down in the first round and looked set for an early night, but Hernandez showed great toughness to beat the count and see out the remainder of the bout, eventually going down on the scorecards 80-71.
Featherweight McCullough said after the bout: “It was perfect preparation for Ryan Walsh. He is that stature and tough too and I am happy enough. Walsh will be coming to win. He is a great champion to be honest. I think I knew about him well before I turned over. I used to watch his fights. He has always been at the top end of domestic level so it's a great fight for me. His record speaks for itself. He has only been beat by Lee Selby and the European champion so I know it will be tough.
“He was tough as old boots that boy. I knew after the first round I was in for eight rounds. He was absorbing everything. I knew myself after he went the distance with Cacace and Kiko Martínez that might be the case, but he was tough. He was easy to hit, but I didn’t want to jump on him in case I blew up myself. I caught him lovely in the first and he shook it off. The body shots were hurting him, but he was a tough nut.”
McCullough wasn't the only Irish fighter having a warm-up bout ahead of a major title clash, Dublin's Phil Sutcliffe Jr was also in action and coasted to a fourth-round stoppage victory over former Connor Coyle opponent Miguel Aguilar after his corner pulled him out of the bout and saved him to fight another day after taking four rounds of punishment in the scheduled six-rounder.
The 27-year-old light-welterweight was glad to stop the durable Nicaraguan, and told irish-boxing.com afterwards: “He had that cheeky grin that meant I wanted to hurt him for a couple of rounds. I caught him a few times, but I didn’t pounce on him. I wanted to hurt him bad.
“I could have taken him out earlier, but I said to myself: ‘no, let’s give him a few more thumps to his smiley head. I enjoyed the fight. It was good and he was tough as everyone could see. He went the distance with [Connor] Coyle at middle and he only has seven stoppage defeats so he is a tough lad. I caught him one or two nice ones on the chin and he took them.”
Power-punching Sutcliffe will now look forward to an IBF Inter-Continental title bout with undefeated Englishman Josh Leather at the First Direct Arena, Leeds on 13 May.
“Look, we’ll put our head down now and get ready for this big fight," Sutcliffe said. "That was a Mickey Mouse fight, but it was good to get a fight in and get rounds in. I’d like to thank the team for getting me out. I haven’t looked past this one [Aguilar], so I wasn’t worried about Josh to be honest. All I really know he is 11-0 and from here on I will look at ways to beat him.
“I am looking forward to another big fight. It will be a good build-up, but I am going back into camp after a couple of days off and getting ready for that.”
Lewis Crocker finally made his long-awaited debut under the bright lights of the Waterfront Hall on 10 March. The heavy-handed welterweight took just 77 seconds to dispatch undefeated Hungarian Ferenc Jarko, when a thudding right-hook landed flush on the chin of the import, and sent him crashing to the canvas.
Jarko, to his credit, rose unsteadily to his feet to beat the count, but 'The Croc' was having none of it, and sent him crumbling back down with another barrage of punches. After the referee had waved off the bout, Jarko had to be given oxygen in his corner to help him recover from the brutal blows from the stand-out amateur.
The 20-year-old Crocker's new record now stands at a perfect 1-0, while Jarko moved to 1-1. Speaking with irish-boxing.com after his spectacular debut, Crocker said: “I didn’t really realise how tight these eight-ounce gloves are and, with these on, any welterweight in the country gets hit by me with these on and it could be it.
“I am not much of a talker beforehand. I prefer to do it after in case I scud myself. I am humble, I’ll take it as it comes and I am glad I got the win. I am only 20, I have years to go so I am not going to call anyone out or look for big fights already. I have a good team behind me in MTK and Frank Warren so hopefully I can take it steady and progress to the top.”