The Irish Eye: March
The latest edition of Kane Clarke's regular column is headlined by Roy Sheahan's fairytale triumph in Ireland's 'Last Man Standing' competition...
Boxing is a sport that often throws up fairytale-like storylines. Throughout the history of the sport we've witnessed pugilists come back from retirement, career threatening injury, and even jail time, to climb back between the ropes of the squared-circle and rid themselves of the demons in their heads that kept telling them 'I've still got something left to give'.
And on 3 March, at the National Stadium, Dublin, it was the turn of four-time Irish Senior champion Roy Sheahan to live out his fairytale, as he became 'Ireland's Last Man Standing', picking up the hefty €25,000 winner's cheque, all at the ripe old age of 33.
Sheahan first burst on to the scene as a 17-year-old way back in 2002, and would go on to win three consecutive welterweight titles between 2006 and 2008, as well as EU gold in 2007. He was unfortunate to miss out on qualification for the 2008 Beijing Olympics through a freak sparring injury, and also to miss out on London 2012 through a dubious points decision loss to a Lithuanian in the last 16 of the world championships.
After this he continud fighting until 2013, then returned in 2015 at light heavyweight to win a fourth Irish title off the back of just three weeks' training. Sheahan was set to return to the Senior Championships again last year at middleweight but was forced to pull out due to work commitments.
'The Joker' made his professional debut last month with a win in a four-rounder ordered by the BUI to show he was capable of competing in the professional ranks to secure his place in the eight-man prizefighter style knock-out tournament. The card itself - co-promoted by Red Corner Promotions and Assassin Boxing Promotions - was the first to be televised live on terrestrial television (TG4) in Ireland since 2011.
Much like the World Boxing Super Series, the top three seeds in the tournament got to pick their opponents from among the four unseeded fighters. Sheahan [1(0)-0] entered the competition as the number three seed behind number one Irish super-middleweight champion JJ McDonagh [15(7)-3(1)], and the undefeated Christopher Blaney [9(3)-0] at number two, Jack Cullen [9(3)-0] came in at number four, but it was Sheahan who was the clear betting favourite.
McDonagh had first choice of the picks and went with Belfast man Gerard Healy [7(1)-4(0)-1]. Blaney chose Owen Jobburn [4(0)-0-1], Sheahan chose Vladimir Belujsky [2(2)-0-1], which left Cullen with Nick Quigley [15(3)-3(2)].
In the first quarter-final, McDonagh made the perfect start by stopping Healy in the first round. Ricky Hatton-trained Blaney outpointed Jobburn to book his place in the semi-final, while Sheahan took on the powerful Belujsky, who was fresh out of sparring Chris Eubank Jr in preparation for his unsuccessful world title challenge against George Groves. Sheahan came away with a 30-26 points decision having put his foe on the canvas in the opening stanza. Meanwhile, Cullen outboxed Quigley in the last quarter-final to complete the semi-final match-ups.
In the opening semi, Sheahan outpointed number one seed McDonagh to move to 3-0 and book his place in the final. Many people were tipping the winner of that bout to win the overall tournament, but a big performance from underdog Cullen, who dropped and outpointed second seed Blaney in the second semi-final, made for an interesting clash of styles in the grand finale.
As the action got underway, Sheahan immediately took control of the bout landing beautiful counters on the back foot, wearing the undefeated Cullen down, before stepping up his output and stopping his opponent with ten seconds left of the opening stanza to become Ireland's 'Last Man Standing' and pick-up the winner's cheque.
But this isn't, perhaps, the end of the fairytale, in fact, it could be just the beginning for Sheahan, who is now in line to challenge for the Irish title, and is looking further ahead to perhaps maybe one day challenging for the European title.
At the top of the card, Craig O'Brien defeated Jay Byrne in a Dublin derby between two BUI Celtic champions for the vacant light-middleweight Irish title. 'The Negotiator' Byrne [6(2)-4(1)] was stepping up in from welterweight to chase his dream of becoming an Irish champion whilst 'The Iron' O'Brien [8(0)-0] was stepping up in terms of class of opponent. But it was the silky skills of O'Brien that would prevail and see him realise his own dream of becoming Irish champion, winning via unanimous decision.
On the undercard, there was a light-welterweight contest between Moldovan-born Dubliner Victor Rabei and Belfast's Mark Morris. Rabei dropped Morris in the opening round and eventually stopped him to stretch his unbeaten record to 4(1)-0 after Morris was forced to retire on his stool after three of the scheduled four- ounds.
Waterford welterweight Dylan Moran finally made his Irish debut and moved to 5(3)-0 with a third-round stoppage of Hungarian Gyula Rozsas [4(2)-3(3).
Finally, there was a debut win for Dublin middleweight Cillian Reardon, who outpointed Hungarian southpaw Istvan Orsos [16(5)-46(14)-2] over four to get his pro career off to the perfect start.
Mullingar lightweight John-Joe Nevin returned to the ring on 9 March at the Parx Casino, Bensalem, and outpointed unbeaten American Alex Torres Rynn to push his unbeaten record to 10(4)-0.
The London 2012 silver medallist will be hoping to push on in 2018 after a stop-start career since ditching the vest four years ago, and is targeting WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez as a long-term target - a fighter he beat at the London Olympics to secure his bronze medal.
On what's becoming an annual ritual on St. Patrick's Day, thousands of Irish fans packed in to The Theater at Madison Square Garden, NYC, to watch Belfast featherweight Michael Conlan demolish Hungarian foe David Berna [15(14)-3(3)] inside two-rounds in his first scheduled eight-rounder.
Exactly a year on from his pro debut at the same Arena, Conlan was stepping into the ring for the first time under the tutelage of his new trainer Adam Booth, and promised a much more polished performance from his first appearance since ditching the vest last year, and duly delivered.
The dynamic switch-hitter started brightly and landed a sickening body punch from the southpaw stance to send Berna crashing to the canvas in the opening round. Berna gamely rose to his feet to see out the round, but Conlan went back downstairs in the second stanza eventually stopping the Hungarian and improving his professional record to 6(5)-0.
The Top Rank-promoted prospect will now return to The Garden on 12 May for a slot on the undercard of Linares vs Lomachenko before a mooted return to his hometown of Belfast in the summer where he could potentially challenge for his first professional title.
Also on St. Patrick's Day, Dublin's Darragh Foley [15(8)-2] moved a step closer to a world-title shot with a 12-round unanimous decision victory over Canadian Steven Wilcox [18(5)-3-1] at the Star Casino, Sydney, picking up the WBA-NABA light-welterweight title in the process to add to the long list of straps he has collected down under.
On the undercard, 'The Buncrana Banger' John Hutchinson [12(4)-2-3] fought to a ten-round split-decision draw against Australian Craig Parke [10(3)-2-1] in their WBC Asian Boxing Council Continental middleweight title bout. Meanwhile, Galway's Gearoid Clancy picked up his second New South Wales State title at a second weight after outpointing Australian Sam Williams [5(0)-6(3)-3] over eight rounds to improve his record to 9(2)-5.
Elsewhere on St. Patrick's Day, Portlaois powerhouse TJ Doheny warmed up for his IBF super-bantamweight world title shot with a second-round stoppage of American Mike Oliver [26(8)-8(6)-1] at the House of Blues, Boston. 'The Power' [19(14)-0] will now look forward to challenging Japanese champion Ryosuke Iwasa later on in the year.
Also Stateside, 18-year-old Monaghan welterweight Aaron McKenna moved to 2(1)-0 on 22 March with an opening round blitz of American Jose Palacios [1(1)-2(1)] at the Fantasy Springs Casino, Indio. The Golden Boy-promoted youngster's bout was televised live on ESPN in the U.S, and the undefeated prospect will be hoping for more TV exposure as he looks forward to a busy year.
On 24 March, Boxing Ireland and Tony Davitt Promotions once again teamed up for the fifth instalment of the 'Celtic Clash' series. The venue was the Good Counsel GAA Club, Drimnagh, and the headline bout was a rematch of 2017's All-Irish Fight of the Year between super-featherweights Stephen McAfee of Dublin and Cork's Colin O'Donovan.
The two combatants had every spectator in The National Stadium, Dublin, on their feet as they went to war over six rounds on 2 December at 'Celtic Clash 4', which ended in a draw. But their performances that night warranted a headline slot for the rematch, and a move up to eight rounds saw the pair become eligible for the vacant BUI Celtic Title.
There was a massive buzz in the lead-up to the rematch. Both fighters felt they had done enough in the first bout to be given the nod, and their genuine dislike for each other only fuelled the flames of what many were predicting would be another epic war. Irish-Boxing.Com teamed up with Ally McKenzie's Sideline Films and Gavan Casey of The42.ie to bring the two warriors to the table for a chat, titled 'Round Zero' - a 'The Gloves are Off' type of format which was hugely successful and can be watched by clicking here.
But as the dust settled on the buzz and the build-up, it was left to the two protagonists to live up to the hype - which they did - and in spectacular fashion. Once again, the two fighters went to war in what will surely bag the pair the 'All-Irish Fight of the Year' honours for a second year running, with the result ending in a split-decision victory for Dubliner McAfee via scores of 77-75 76-77 77-76.
With the bout once again delivering in a massive way, no doubt we will see the third instalment of McAfee v O'Donovan in the not-so-distant future.
On the undercard, Lucan welterweight John Joyce moved to 5(3)-0 with a third round knockout of Poland's Tomasz Goluch [6(4)-11(6)]; Dublin welterweight Keane McMahon pushed his unbeaten record to 3(0)-0 with a four-round points decision over Radoslav Mitev [10(2)-37(16)]; Dublin super-bantamweight Carl McDonald [3(0)-1(0) got back to winning ways with four-round points victory over Trayan Slavev [4(3)-16(11)-1] and Ballybrack lightweight Niall O'Connor moved to 3(2)-0 with a second-round knockout of Marcin Ficner [2(0)-21(10)-4].
There was also a debut win for Cavan welterweight Owen Duffy who stopped Antoni Hristov in the opening round [0-2(2)-1]
Finally, Blanchardstown cruiserweight Christian Scuvie debuted and got his professional career off to the perfect start with a four-round decision win over Robert Krason [1(0)-1(0)].
On 31 March, WBA bantamweight super champion Ryan Burnett outpointed mandatory challenger Yonfrez Parejo of Venezuela on the undercard of Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker's massive unification bout at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff in front of around 80,000 spectators.
The North Belfast stylist [now 19(9)-0] broke his right hand in the third round of the bout, but still dominated throughout, despite picking up a nasty cut above the eye early on.
The Adam Booth-trained fighter has been touted as an entrant in the next series of the World Boxing Super Series by his promoter Eddie Hearn, and spoke about his latest win, his injury and his future post-fight with BBC NI: "I felt myself warming into it, but early in the third round I caught him with a right hand and I felt my hand go.
“Whenever I tried to use it again after it was out of action. I couldn’t throw it whatsoever so I just had to rely on my boxing skill to get me through the rounds and make sure I won the fight. I was solely focused on staying sharp and making him miss and I knew I couldn’t throw the right hand. Anytime it was even getting close to landing it was giving me a shooting pain.
“Some fighters would let it go to their head and lose the game plan but I was focused on what I had to do. Since I got the injury I stuck to my boxing and held it together well. He was my mandatory so he was no mug and knew exactly what to do. I thought I was capable of controlling him with one hand.”
On whether he would enter the WBSS, the 25-year-old champion said: “I haven’t looked into it whatsoever. I was just focused completely on this fight. I will leave that down to Adam and I will focus on what I can control and take it from there.
“I don’t know it’s just back to the drawing board. Once I get my head stitched and my hand fixed, it’s back to the drawing board. If I had the option, I would go straight to Belfast next, give me Vegas or Belfast and I would go to Belfast.”
Dublin super-featherweight Declan Geraghty moved to 17(4)-2(1) with a career-best win over Johnny Quigley [14(3)-2(0)] at the Guild Hall, Preston on 31 March.
The slick southpaw was cut in the first and deducted a point in the fifth but still won the bout 96-93 on referee John Latham's scorecard, and will now look to target the winner of the Martin J Ward vs James Tennyson European title bout next month.
On the undercard, Belfast middleweight Alfredo Meli upped his unbeaten record to 15(4)-0-1 with a first-round stoppage of Romania's Romeo Paun [5(0)-19(8)-2].
Donegal middleweight Jason Quigley made his long-awaited return to the ring at the Marina Bay SportsPlex, Quincy, on 31 March, after just over a year out of action with a hand injury.
The Golden Boy-promoted boxer handed Puerto Rican Daniel Rosario the first stoppage defeat of his career after sending him down in the sixth round with a sickening body shot that saw 'El Animal' increase his perfect record to 14(11)-0, whilst Rosario fell to 11(10)-4(1).
On the undercard, Mayo light-welterweight Ray Moylette moved to 9(3)-0 in just over a year as a professional, with a six-round points victory over American Matt Doherty who dropped to 8(4)-4-1.