by Leonard Gunning
Oisin Fagan (25-7, 15KOs) is a fighter from the old school, there in lies his popularity amongst Irish fight fans. He has never shied away from a fight, never trash talked, never ducked an opponent and never given anything less 100% no matter what the circumstance. Despite being a 3/1 underdog in the betting stakes, this weekend will be no different as he aims to strip fellow Irishman Andy Murray (17-0, 8KOs) of his unblemished record and in the process take his Irish lightweight title as Fagan aims to become a two weight Irish champion in the headline fight of a card that boasts four Irish titles fights at the National Stadium, Dublin on 13 February.
The Fagan story is one that has been told over and over again, mainly because it a chronicle fun, adventure and macho escapades – usually against the odds. With only a handful of amateur bouts in Ireland the ‘Gael Force’ entered the professional game in the US after undertaking a Physical Education and Political Journalism degree in Oklahoma. Stateside he diminutive Dubliner earned a reputation a tough brawling pressure fighter.
After losing controversial split decisions to Verquan Kimbrough and unbeaten former WBA and IBF lightweight world champion Paul Spadafora, Fagan returned to Europe in 2008 but his shot at dethroning British golden boy Amir Khan ended in disaster after he suffered a broken ankle when he fell awkwardly during a firstly round knockdown. His first real chance to erase the memory of that loss came in a barnstormer of a battle against Dubliner Eddie Hyland for the IBF International super featherweight title in what was dubbed the “Tallaght Civil War”. Fagan once again tasted the bitter zest of defeat in a fight that was awarded BoxingScene’s Irish domestic fight of the year. Since then the Portmarnock pounder has bounced back with two routine victories to line up a long anticipated bout between Ireland’s two top rated 135 lb battlers.
But this time Fagan aims to ensure the outcome will be different as he explained that “my trainers and I have been working on a few things that jumped out at us whilst watching footage of Murray fighting in previous bouts and I intend to expose those weaknesses. The result of the fight will depend on whether I can stick to my game-plan for every minute of every round. I don’t make predictions about fights, as I have a lot of respect for my opponent, however, I think that if Andy fights me in the middle of the ring, we could have a contender for ‘Fight of the Year, 2010’, to go along with my 2009 award. And what’s more, I heard the weather-forecast for the weekend and there’s an ominous front approaching. Watch out and batten down the hatches, as apparently ‘Gael-Force’ storms will be relentless, come Saturday night.”
Fagan now based back in Dublin following a short stint at the John Breen Gym in Belfast, where Murray now trains, is comfortable with his current set up at the famous Crumlin Club where pre fight preparations have been ideal, outlining that “there are four or five excellent coaches at the gym dealing with the pros and they all know their boxing inside-out. There is the one and only, Phil Sutcliffe, of course, who is the head-trainer and extremely knowledgeable. Phil hired his staff very wisely I must say, as he’s accompanied and assisted by some excellent professional coaches, such as Joe Clifford, Jimmy Upton, Dave O’Brien, Paddy Brady and Ciaran Stevenson. They all play a huge part and make things run smoothly. Don O'Leary makes up the other part of Dolphil Promotions and he’s a great character too, but he does all his business from down south, in Cork, so I don’t see too much of Don, unfortunately.”
“I have been getting some great sparring in lately. Up until a week ago, most of my sparring was with Dean Byrne (from Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym) but he had to leave for England as his girlfriend is expecting their first child, so God bless them. He was great sparring for me and we worked well together. I also worked some good hard rounds with Irish senior amateur champ, Phil Sutcliffe Jr., who hits like a mule and will do a great amount of damage when he turns pro. However, I think he intends to make the next Olympics first though. I also had Willie Casey, who is a great new professional prospect and I go toe-to-toe and we get some excellent work in; every now and then, I jump in there with Anthony Fitzgerald, who is a skilled operator and he also fights for an Irish title this Saturday.”
Murray and Fagan are no strangers and have fought on the same Brian Peters promoted cards and the two are quite friendly which each other, which is usual on the Irish scene. Fagan explained “I know Andy, he's a very nice lad and I have respect for him both inside and outside of the ring. However, he currently has something that I desperately want and I'll fight tooth and nail to win this title back. We are friends and I think he’s great for Irish boxing. He’s a true professional, who takes his trade seriously- he’s unbeaten, the EU champ and a two weight Irish champ, so he’s had a perfect build-up to this point in his career. I am a fan of his and want him to do great things for Irish boxing, but he’s only a young-fella and I feel that he can bounce back after I hand him his first defeat on Saturday night, please God.”
“Andy and I have fought on the same card on many occasions and usually on the big Dunne undercards, so I’ve got to see him fight quite a lot. This fight has been talked about for quiet a while now at this stage, so I watch him operate at every given chance I get. I think that Andy is a very technical boxer and does all the simple things right. He’s very, very accurate and you just have to keep moving against him, or he’d box the ears off you. However, his style still has somewhat of that amateur look about it. He’s fantastic at what he does and as an amateur; he excelled in hundreds of fights for his country. However, I’ve come up the hard way in this sport. I had just 3 amateur fights before I was forced into the deep end and I still brought world champs to split decisions on their promoter’s cards, so it’s my intention to show Andy how hard I’ve had it. Thus far, I’ve also used my fledgling professional career as a learning curve, but now I think I’ve caught up with the rest, so it’s time for the Gael-Force to devastate all in it’s path.”
To the objective outsider observer this fight would seem to be an easy pick, Murray’s superior technical ability and physical advantages should be enough to ensure that the Cavanman earns a wide points victory over the seemingly crude, marauding shorter fighter and on the face of it, it would be hard to argue against that view. However, boxing isn’t just a battle of tangible assets and Oisin will carry many of those all important unquantifiable, intangible, inexplicable qualities with him as he steps through the ropes on Saturday night. Murray may be looking forward to a glittering career as he is fine tuned and groomed under the wing of Brian Peters but Fagan has his eyes fixed on the Irish title which means the world to him.
“It’s no coincidence that my first name is Oisin and in Irish folklore, Oisin was hero and part of Na Fianna h-Eireann (The Warriors of Ireland). I was the proudest Irish title winner EVER, back in 2006, when I stopped Jeff Thomas for the Irish light-welterweight title. Being honest, most fighters use it (the Irish title) as a stepping-stone to bigger things and that’s a smart outlook, if they feel they can use it to further their careers. However, as a proud Irishman, the Irish title in itself makes my veins burst with pride and if I never do anything else in this sport, at least I will go down in history as being an Irish champion. Please God, the two weight Irish champion, come Saturday night” the Gael Force pronounced.
Adding “obviously I am hoping that on the strength of a win against Murray I will be ranked in the top five in Europe and I’ll immediately call out the European champion. Whether I’ll have to wait my turn and fight eliminators etc, that is still to be seen, but for the record, I think people already know that if it’s worth my while, I will fight anyone, anywhere on the planet. I have never ducked anybody thus far in my career and will go toe-to-toe with either a top European-ranked fighter or the world champion himself- it doesn’t matter to me. Make me an offer, back it up and you'll get your fight.”
The “Gael Force” will need a strong tail wind to blow if he is to overcome the 1/5 heavy favourite Murray and will need to pressure to Cavan stylist from the first bell to ensure the stylish former EU amateur medalist doesn’t settle into a rhythm and control the fight with his piston like jab. But Fagan can take heart in the manner of Murray’s last victory over unheralded Ecuadorian Alex Bone who’s early pressure unsettled a ring rusty Murray who was returning after a lay off due to a shoulder injury.
With regards a prediction, my head says a Murray victory with a points verdict and by a wide margin but as a dyed in the wool Fagan fan my heart says a Fagan knockout win in the middle rounds.