GARY CULLY has set his sights on cracking America - and wants to rekindle an 11-year-old rivalry with Shakur Stevenson.

The ‘Diva’ this week signed a new long-term deal with Matchroom just months after penning an initial three-fight contract with them.

Cully says it will cover him for the next ‘16-18 months’ and has big plans to disrupt the stacked lightweight division over the course of them.

The 26-year-old southpaw, of Naas, Ireland, admits his career had lacked direction before he linked up with Eddie Hearn but is now hoping to follow the path trodden by many Irish boxers by becoming a star in the USA.

“Katie Taylor, Mick Conlan, John Duddy, Andy Lee, Steve Collins the list goes on,” he says. “Conor McGregor did massive numbers too. 

“It’s something I’ve seen people do and I’ve already planned to do it myself. I believe I can bring the country over with me.

“Over in America there are some massive fights there. There are lots of Irish in the States, we travel too, so I believe I can harness that and have some big nights over there.”

For now, however, Cully will campaign on this side of the pond. He is expected to box late next month in the UK and victory will set up a spot on the potential show at Dublin’s 80,000 Croke Park which is pencilled in for May 20, which Taylor’s rematch with Amanda Serrano is expected to headline.

Should he win both, Cully will by then be knocking on the door for the 135lbs world titles, which could fragment this year with Devin Haney set to move up to 140lb.

And there is one man in that shake-up that Cully has been monitoring for longer than a decade.

“I was in Russia in 2011 as part of an Irish junior team at a multi-nations tournament, and the USA were there,” Cully recalls.

“I boxed at 50kg then but myself and Shakur did a bit of sparring when we were there and there was a bit of needle between the Irish and American lads about who would win out of us two.

“We’ve always carried that from then and I said to him ‘when we’re older, I’m going to head to the States and we will make some money in the MGM Grand one day’. He said ‘yeah, let’s do it’. 

“I think he’s very, very skilful and I’ve always seen myself fighting him one day. That’s the mega fight for me; going over there and taking on Shakur one day. That was 11 years ago now.

“But I think there are so many big names and big fights. I think Haney will fight Loma, maybe have one more at 135 and then move up to 140. Then all the belts will scatter around the place and become vacant. That means there will be opportunities for me to step up and be in a good position when it does happen. Eddie has seen that as well.

“I think Haney is No.1. I’d probably have Stevenson next, even though he hasn’t fought at lightweight yet. Then Gervonta is probably No.3 for me and then Ryan Garcia after him - if they fight it will be huge.”

Cully also believes he will be bolstered by the return to fitness of his coach Pete Taylor, father of Katie, who had both legs in casts after a freak accident while chasing a thief during a holiday in Barcelona in November. At the time, Taylor said he expected to be in a wheelchair for 12 weeks but he is already back on his feet.

“Pete is mad,” Cully says. “He’s back walking already, I don’t know how.

“If it was anybody else they wouldn’t be walking. He was in a wheelchair for a couple of weeks but he’s very headstrong - he’s back on his feet and I think he will be holding pads before my next fight.”

The 6ft 2in Cully has emerged as a noted puncher following a series of vicious knockouts, including a fifth-round blowout of durable Miguel Vazquez last March. He followed that up by putting away the overmatched Jaouad Belmehdi in just 35 seconds in October.

“It means I need some rounds in February,” he says. 

“I’d love to fight someone like Jorge Linares at Croke Park so I can’t really go from one-round knockouts into fighting someone like Linares, who has had 50 fights and fought at the top level for years.

“I’ve been past the sixth round once in my career in 15 fights so I need someone durable who can provide that - and then a big name in Croke Park. By the end of the year I want to be knocking on the door for those world titles at lightweight.

“I’ve seen a lot of people mention Richard Commey. He’s a big name who has fought at title level for years now - somebody like him would be great.”

For now he has to focus on February but if all goes to plan, the road to America - and Stevenson - will open up.