by Leonard Gunning
With another six pages torn from the calendar, it is time again to reassess the progress boxers of the Emerald Isle have been making. Over the last six months Irish boxing has certainly been subjected to the high highs and low lows that our beloved pugilistic arts can deliver. We gained two new European champions in Matthew Macklin and Paul McCloskey but lost the world title belonging to Bernard Dunne and, more significantly, there was the tragic passing of Darren Sutherland.
Darren was a shining light in Irish boxing and a great hope for the future, inside and outside the ring he appeared to have the world at his feet - intelligent, good humoured, humble, good looking with a loyal following, lighting reflexes, granite chin and carried stunning knockout power in his left hand - he was a marketing mans dream.
The affable middleweight garnered multiple national and European Union titles with the highlight of his amateur career being his bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics. But vested honours were never Darren’s true desire and rather a means to an end in fulfilling his ambition to become a professional world champion.
Under the guidance of Frank Maloney, Darren’s dream was slowly becoming a reality, notching up a string of knockout wins in during his first months in the paid ranks. This sad loss came as a shock to all who knew him and all with an interest in Irish boxing. He will be sorely missed and our thoughts and prayers are continually with his family and loved ones.
Rest in Peace Dazzler.
In September, Matthew Macklin extended his unbeaten run completing a stunning first round knockout of Amin Asikainen to claim the vacant European middleweight title at the Manchester Velodrome. ‘Mack the Knife’ set his stall early, establishing his jab and pressurising the Finnish former Euro champ in a relatively cagey first minute.
In stark similarity to Matthew’s fight with Wayne Elcock, an early opportunity presented itself to finish the fight when Macklin delivered a bone shaking left hook, which connected flush on the chin, stiffening Asikainen’s legs and leaving him slumped on the canvas. As Macklin chased in search of a knockout, he landed a glancing overhand right which sent Asikainen down again and the referee deemed him unfit to proceed and called a halt to the fight after only 2.34 minutes of the first round.
The following day a jubilant Macklin flew back to Ireland to parade his newly won title in front of a partisan crowd in Dublin where Bernard Dunne had hoped to lift the spirits of the boxing public further when he faced Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym in a battle for Dunne’s WBA regular super bantamweight title at the O2 Arena in Dublin on the 26th of September. The country was in a frenzy and once again the O2 was a sell out for this inaugural defence.
Despite early success for the Dubliner, the much feared ‘second coming of Kiko’ appeared and the power of Poonsawat eventually told as Bernard visited the canvas three times before Jean-Louis Legland invoked the three knock down rule and stopped the fight in the third round.
November saw a massive double-bill for Ulster boxing with the rescheduled Martin Rogan-Sam Sexton bill taking place in Belfast and Paul McCloskey entered into his first assault on the European honours in tackling Souleymane M'baye replacement Daniel Rasilla for the EBU light welterweight title in an icey cold Meadowbank Arena in Magherafelt.
There were mixed fortunes for the pair with one coming of age and the other showing it. Rogan fell to the second defeat of his career and lost for the second time to Sam Sexton. This time it lacked the excitement and controversy of the initial bout as Sexton dominated a tired looking Rogan who complained of an arm injury after the fight. In contrast, McCloskey sailed past Rasilla in serene fashion to stop the Spaniard in the in the ninth round in a fight where he was rarely troubled.
So how does this shake up the Irish P4P list?
The top four had been pretty much interchangeable over the past twelve months, but that four became three, as John Duddy tumbles south following a particularly disappointing first loss in his career. Despite another spectacular loss, Dunne remains at the head of the pack as his two chasing challengers have yet to face that level of opposition that he has been pitted against.
Macklin’s breathtaking recent knockout wins puts pressure on the top two and Ulster’s dominance of the list was reinforced as Martin Lindsay blasted Paul Appleby out in six rounds and ensured that the Northerners command the majority of the slots in the top ten. The other main movers are Henry Coyle, who fell to a heavy defeat against Neil Sinclair, with retirees Michael Gomez and Jim Rock leaving the list. Eddie Hyland makes his first appearance on the list following a solid victory over Oisin Fagan.
1. (No change) Bernard Dunne - 28-2 (15 KO) Super bantamweight
Despite a clubbing defeat at the hands of Thailand’s ‘Little Tank’ Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym the biggest name in Irish boxing showed a lot of heart in rising from the canvas to beat two counts before being stopped on WBA’s three count rule. Questions that were raised over his chin after the Yuri Voronin fight, which may have lingered following his first round KO loss to Kiko Martinez, were surely answered by Poonsawat. Dunne cannot absorb the punishment that this type of squat lead fisted puncher dishes out. Almost perversely the love Dunne enjoys amongst the general public in Ireland has grown following this latest defeat, a truly unusual quirk in the Irish persona. This proves there is an appetite for more of what Dunne has to offer – should he wish to return.
2. (No change) Paul McCloskey - 20-0 (10 KO) Light welterweight
European light welterweight champion
SKY Sports commentators lauded the fact that the Dungiven man came from nowhere to rip Colin Lynes’ British title from round the Englishman’s waist. Where had they been looking before this? ‘Dudey’ was one of the most eagerly anticipated fighters to be churned off the Irish amateur conveyor belt in 2005 and had been outclassing professional opponents ever since including faded greats such as Cesar Bazan and Tontcho Tontchev. He almost effortlessly captured the EBU title against Daniel Rasilla but until St. Canice’s favourite son faces more dangerous foes than Rasilla then it is difficult to tell if his lightening reflexes are enough defend his often exposed chin and low hung hands.
3. (No change) Matthew Macklin - 25-2 (18 KO) Middleweight
European middleweight champion
After spending almost a year on the sidelines following his dramatic loss to Jamie Moore, Macklin has won eight straight fights, brushing aside British champion Elcock and former European champion Asikainen to position himself at number six in both The Ring and BoxRec ratings. Macklin now looks likely to defend his title against Dmitry Pirog and will then be poised for possible assault on a world title with the IBF strap of Germany’s Sebastian Sylvester a likely candidate. To that end Brain Peters has set up a challenge against mediocre Uruguayan Rafael Sosa Pintos at the National Stadium in Dublin on the 5th of December 2009. This won’t tell us anything with regards the talent that Macklin posses inside the ring but will measure his capability to draw a crowd in Ireland’s capital city. A sell out at the world first purpose built boxing arena will give the Meath based promoter confidence that he may have a ready made replacement for Dunne if one is needed – a knockout performance live on RTÉ wouldn’t hurt either.
4. (Up 1) Martin Lindsay - 15-0 (6 KO) Featherweight
British featherweight champion
It has been a frustrating six months for the ‘Mac Man’. Following spectacular knockout wins over former WBU champion Derry Mathews and Scotland's undefeated British featherweight champion Paul Appleby there came the turmoil in the Hayemaker Promotions camp after the collapse of sports television station Setanta Sports, which led to an unwanted extended period out of the ring for Lindsay. Thankfully, the shining light of the Immaculata club blew off some rust by earning a routine eight round points victory over Ghanaian Alfred Tetteh on the McCloskey-Rasilla undercard. Now with a newly crowned world heavyweight title holder in the Hayemaker camp maybe the rejuvenated outfit can provide renewed impetus that will get Lindsay’s career back on track.
5. (Up 1) Andy Lee - 20-1 (14 KO) Super middleweight
Irish super middleweight champion
With more stops and start than the pit land at the Monaco GP, Andy Lee would have taken a win of any description against EU champion Affif Belghecham on the 14th of November 2009 at the University Arena, Limerick. Belghecham, beaten only once in 18 fights, was to provide Lee with his toughest foe yet. It was chance to erase the memory of recent inconsistent lack lustre performances and shine in front of the nations cameras. Lee kept the negative French-Algerian at bay with his long jab and stung his opponent counter punches. This continued for eight easy rounds until Lee switched off and allowed a limited Belghecham to land at will. Lee survived the assault but this will almost a worrying repeat of the trouble he got himself into during the Vera fight. Limerick’s number one needs to create more angles, stop moving in straight lines and not allow inferior opponents to penetrate his guard with such ease.
6. (Up 1) John Duddy - 27-1 (17 KO) Middleweight
Which John Duddy turn's up to a fight these days is anyone’s guess – will it be the old school slugger, the box fighter or the cagey counter puncher? I know which one I prefer. The distraction of contractual difficulties with the McLoughlin Brothers are now well and truly behind Duddy and he is now reunited with trainer Harry Keitt and chalked up a good win against tough Mexican American Michi Munoz in October. Prior to this it appeared to some Duddy was actively trying to scupper his own career, in his fight with Walid Smichet all he had to do was convincingly overcome the Canada based Tunisian to earn a money spinning fight with Kelly Pavlik - he failed! Another title shot beckoned if he beat Ohioan journeyman Billy Lyell – he failed!
His dreadful and plodding performance against Lyell highlighted that lacked of a cohesive plan of attack and was uncomfortably caught between styles. Hopefully with now that ‘the Derry Destroyer’ is back with Keitt we can get back the Duddy we all know and love – the devil may care brawler. His undoubted popularity ensures that there will always be a promoter willing to back the New York based boxer and a St. Patrick’s Day showdown with Mexico’s Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. could be just the tonic that his career needs.
7. (No change) Andrew Murray - 16-0 (8 KO) Lightweight
European Union and Irish lightweight champion
Earlier in 2009 Murray added the European Union lightweight bauble to his growing list of trinkets when he defeated Daniel Rasilla on the Dunne-Cordoba undercard. He was then lined as chief support to Dunne-Poonsawat to defend his title against Italian Pasquale Di Silvio in September when he broke his collarbone during a sparring session and had to cancel the bout. The unbeaten Cavanman is looking to return in the coming months and will target Anthony Mezaache's European title in 2010.
8. (Up 2) Brian Magee - 32-3-1 (22 KO) Super middleweight
It’s almost a year since the Holy Trinity fighter climbed through the ropes and this irritant must be exacerbated as his British title is passed around without the Belfastman determining the recipient of the coveted Lonsdale belt following a decision to relinquish the title due to a persistent back injury. A testament to the regard with which Magee is held is that, despite this prolonged absence, he is still ranked number two in BoxRec’s British super middleweight ratings just behind Carl Froch. He looks to put the frustration of 2009 behind him when he faces Denmark’s Mads Larsen for the vacant European super middleweight title at the end of January 2010 in the Dane’s home city of Aarhus
9. (Up 6) John O'Donnell - 22-1 (10 KO) Welterweight
Commonwealth welterweight champion
The London based Galwayman with a Cork accent thicker than Roy Keane’s showed that his 2007 loss on the undercard of the Mayweather-De La Hoya bill to Christian Solano was merely a blip when he beat Craig Watson in a closely contested Commonwealth title fight and then oblitered brickie Tom Glover in September. A tussle with inactive Ghanaian Philip Kotey in December for a defence of his title should tell us little that we don’t know about O’Donnell but will provide him with a little pin money for Christmas.
10. (Down 6) Martin Rogan - 12-0 (6 KO) Heavyweight
Oh well! All good things come to and end and The Entertainer’s runaway bandwagon went crashing into a Sex Sexton shaped wall this month. A meteoric rise in fortunes saw the inaugural Prizefighter champion defeat Audley Harrison and dethrone European and Commonwealth champion Matt Skelton to leave him on the verge of a world title shot. The ‘Rogie’ road show then rolled in Belfast to face Norwich's Sam Sexton in May. Rogan lost, but the bout was shrouded in controversy and the former taxi driver was justifiably disgruntled with the performance of the referee Dave Parris and the antics of Sexton in the eighth and final round. However, he could have no complaints in the return as the younger, fitter and stronger Norfolk heavyweight made amends for any indiscretion by outfoxing and outfoxing the Belfast brawler.
11. (Up 1) Patrick Hyland - 18-0 (9 KO) Featherweight
Irish featherweight champion
One of three boxing brothers who are making waves on the professional ranks, ‘Pajo’ extended his unbeaten run to 18, collecting such baubles as the IBA International super featherweight title and IBF International featherweight title to his Irish featherweight title. Now in his fifth year as a professional, Hyland must up the level of opposition to be taken seriously on the international stage. Notable wins over Paul Griffin in the ‘Battle of the Liberties’ and a first minute KO win over John Gicharu prove he has the talent to exit his comfort zone.
12. (Up 1) Dean Byrne - 11-0 (4 KO) Light welterweight
Same old story – we still know nothing of Byrne outside of fight reports and a couple of Youtube clips. A former amateur champion, the widely travelled ‘Irish Lightning’ is starting to be talked up in the media by trainer Freddie Roach and with Jamie Kavanagh joining the team in California we may see these two exciting prospects forming the core of a west coast St. Patrick’s Day card.
13. (Down 4) Stephen Haughian - 18-1 (8 KO) Welterweight
Irish welterweight champion
Still only 24 years of age, Haughian seems to have been around forever and is established as a stalwart on the Irish professional scene. With only one defeat on the Lurganman's record, which he convincingly reversed, it looked like Haughian was being groomed for a tilt at Leonard Bundu but the Breen Gym trained fighter seemed frustrated and devoid of a Plan B when faced with the stocky and negative Albert Starikov. Haughian allowed the experienced Starikov to fight his fight and was clubbed to the floor by the smaller man in the second half of the bout, which ensured that Estonian journeyman earned himself an unexpected draw. Two steps back.
14. (No change) James Moore - 17-2 (10 KO) Light middleweight
At the end of 2007 Moore had a record of 13-0 with a 70% knockout rate but 2008 was truly an annus horribilis for the 31-year-old Wicklowman. It brought a points loss to lowly rated Gabriel Rosado and a failed attempt to capture the NABF light middleweight title against Yuri Foreman, a fight in which Moore was outclassed from the first bell to the last. With only a solitary points victory tomato-can Dominican Joseph De los Santos in 2009, Moore’s career looks in limbo.
15. (Up 1) Paul Hyland - 15-1 (4 KO) Super bantamweight
Irish super bantamweight champion
Hyland brother #2 on the list!! Paulie blemished his unbeaten record by dropping to close points loss against journeyman Lucian Gonzalez, raising doubts as to whether this particular Hyland brother has what it takes to make it to the top. Since then, he has been taking more side steps then a Purple Pincher. A rematch with Eugene Heagney in December is a repeat of the one sided points victory he earned over the Yorkshire based Dubliner less than a year ago.
16. (Up 4) Neil Sinclair - 33-7 (26 KO) Light middle weight
Irish middleweight champion
There is life in the old dog yet! With a comeback that would rival Lazarus, Take That or shoulder-pads the 35 year old Belfast veteran’s star appeared to be fading due to a combination of inactivity and a loss to Daniele Petrucci. But a knockout victory over County Mayo prospect Henry Coyle in a real crossroads encounter with the Irish middleweight title on the line followed by a stoppage of Hungarian journeyman Janos Petrovics left us in no uncertain terms that the fat lad has yet to sing.
17. (New Entry) Eddie Hyland - 14-1 (5 KO) Super featherweight
Irish super featherweight champion
Hyland brother #3!! Of the three boxing Hyland siblings Eddie has made the most progress in 2009. Thankfully reports of a shot at Belarusian Sergei Gulyakevich's European super featherweight title thankfully did not materialise - it would have been an unwise massive jump in class. However, the ‘Pride of Tallaght’ did step up to the plate in July when he faced hardened competitor Oisin Fagan in a battle dubbed the ‘Tallaght Civil War’. It lived up to its billing and Hyland emerged victorious to take the IBF International super featherweight title back to the Corba Gym in a fight of the year candidate. Everyone in West Belfast is waiting for a rematch with ‘Sweet Pea’ O'Hara but we would settle for seeing Hyland-Fagan II.
18. (New Entry) Michael Sweeney – 8-0-1 (5 KO) Light heavyweight
‘The Storm’s’ first real contest came on the Dunne-Poonsawat undercard against unbeaten Limerick light heavy Jamie Power. Both men put their unbeaten records on the line in an eagerly awaited contest, which many predicted would be 50/50 encounter. It played out very differently as Sweeney bossed Power throughout the fight, the Ballinrobe man floored Power in rounds one and three before Mickey Vann called a halt to the fight. Although the Mayo man has shed 20 lbs in the past year with further conditioning Sweeney could make his power pay in the super middleweight division.
19. (Down 2) Oisin Fagan - 25-7 (15 KO) Super featherweight
The ‘Gael Force’ was rebuilding his career after defeat to Amir Khan and a broken ankle but defeat to Eddie Hyland in a barnburner was another step back. Two recent routine wins over lightly regards opposition have put a more positive spin on the warriors record.
20. (New Entry) Gary O'Sullivan - 9-0 (6 KO) Super middleweight
‘Spike’ is a bit of a cult figure and is developing into Cork’s non-Cuban boxing hero. A slick stylistic pressure fighter, O’Sullivan likes to cut the ring off, whipping in right hooks to the liver has earned a perfect 9-0 record in just less than two years as a professional. O'Sullivan beat Jimmy LeBlanc on the 14th of March to win the American Fighting Organization light middleweight title, whatever that is! - and notched up a first round KO of Marcin Piatkowski in April and a points win in June over Arturs Jaskuls.
Out of the Top 20
(Was 11) Jim Rock - 30-4 (12 KO) Super middleweight
Rock retires as Irish light heavyweight champion sure in the knowledge that his record as four weight Irish champion should stand the test of time.
(Was 18) Henry Coyle - 10-1 (9 KO) Light middleweight
In one of the most eagerly anticipated All-Ireland clashes of 2009, Coyle fell to crushing third round defeat at the hands of resurgent former British welterweight champion Neil Sinclair on the undercard of Rogan-Sexton I.
(Was 19) Michael Gomez - 38-10 (25 KO) Super featherweight
The roller coaster ride that was the career of ‘the Irish Mexican’ has sadly run its course. Always talking a good fight, Gomez failed to overcome Amir Khan's size and speed in June 2008 and was drinking in last chance saloon with his attempt to capture the Commonwealth super featherweight title when he battled Ricky Burns in March 2009. Gomez looked like he had left his snap and power in the dressing room and that was the end of an event filled career.
Knocking on the door
Simon O'Donnell - 8-1 (5 KO) Middleweight
The Philly based Galwegian has been building a career in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ since 2006. A casualty of Irish Ropes failed bill in March he now hasn't fought since October 2008.
Coleman Barratt - 10-1 (2 KO) Heavyweight
An ever-worsening succession of truly awful adversaries made it difficult to take the Galway travellers career serious. But Barrett’s career took a sharp upwards turn when he took part in the Prizefighter series and acquitted himself well only losing to an Audley Harrison in the final. Hopefully, Barrett can cut back down to cruiser and face Ian Timms for an Irish title.
Carl Frampton – 3-0 (2 KO) Super featherweight
Despite winning a silver medal at the 2007 EU amateur championships the Jackal’s style was always more suited to professional code. Following an outstanding performance at the 2009 Irish senior finals, beating David Oliver Joyce to take the title, Frampton decided to turn pro under the guidance of Barry McGuigan. Belfast pit bull Carl has made a steady start to his career as a professional chalking up three straight victories in six months.
Jamie Kavanagh - (debutant) Light welterweight
With Bernard Dunne’s future in question and following the retirement of Jim Rock, Dublin fight fans might be in search for a new star - could Jamie Kavanagh be the one to fill that void?
‘The Nuisance’ was an integral part of Ireland’s most success youth team that brought home a haul of four medals Youth World Amateur Boxing Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico back in November 2008. Kavanagh captured silver in the light welterweight division losing in final to Cuba’s Frank Isla. Freddie Roach was then tipped off by Dean Byrne that the multilingual Kavanagh was potentially turning pro and following a trip to L.A. with his father and Spanish coach Serano Luiz the 19 year old former Curmlin Gym member signed with Roach and Steve Feder at the Wild Card Gym. Kavanagh hopes to make his pro debut in Spring 2010.