By Leonard Gunning
Unbeaten Irish fighter Paul McCloskey took his record to 20-0 with 10 wins inside the distance by cantering past Spain’s Daniel Rasilla in nine rounds to claim the vacant European light welterweight title in front of an ecstatic 3,000 strong home crowd at the Meadowbank Arena in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland.
Slick, stylish southpaw McCloskey took a step closer his dream fight with Amir Khan by overwhelming a game but limited Rasilla in a performance which showcased his lightening fast reflexes and precise power over the course of a dominant display, which saw him stop the Spaniard at 2:15 of the ninth round to become the first Derryman to win a European title since Charlie Nash defeated Francisco Leon to capture the lightweight title in 1980.
From the opening bell the supremely confident Dungiven native walked down his taller foe, bullying him with stiff guard penetrating straight shots and ferocious hooking left hand counters to the body, this ensured that at no stage of the fight was McCloskey ever genuinely troubled by Rasilla, who replaced French former world champion Souleymane M’baye.
Throughout the opening rounds, McCloskey, adorned in traditional black and white colours of his local Kevin Lynch's GAA club, pursued a nervous and awkward Rasilla as he landed to head or body almost at will.
‘Dudey’ increased the intensity in the fourth round by looking to land devastating corkscrew uppercuts but he remained reliant on exploiting the crude and infrequent attacks of Rasilla by delivering his trademark ferocious sweeping left hook counter to the body. Towards the end of the round the current Spanish champion, whose last lost was to Irishman Andy Murray on points earlier in the year on the Dunne-Cordoba undercard, began to tuck up and slipped into survival mode, only throwing the odd speculative lead right once he realised that he could not handle McCloskey’s power or fathom his movement.
McCloskey dominated the centre of the ring as the Cantabrian started to unravel in the fifth when the venom and frequency in former Irish amateur champions body shots increased. Rasilla was hurt for the first time at the end of the fifth when he was caught with a hooking right hand counter that was delivered with aplomb as the polished Ulsterman turned the brave Rasilla in knots.
Visually buoyed by that success, McCloskey came out for the sixth on his toes and toyed with Rasilla flicking his right jab in Rasilla’s face before stepping in to deliver body shots at will. McCloskey, however, showed his experience as he controlled the pace of the fight by creating more distance but, once again, became over reliant on his powerful countering left to break down the obviously limited opponent.
Still, it became inevitable that the training in the Breen Gym would pay off and that McCloskey would gain the stoppage as he continued to torment Rasilla and finally began to land his unorthodox combinations of right leads, uppercuts and body punches in quick succession.
McCloskey momentarily appeared to lose concentration at the beginning of the eighth and allowed Rasilla to enjoy to his best spell of the fight but his composure was quickly regained and he drove Rasilla back toward the ropes with clubbing rights and stiff hammering straight rights through the beleaguered Spaniards guard to end his brief burst of success.
After 35 seconds of the ninth round a straight right sent Rasilla into reverse, causing him to back peddle towards the turnbuckle and he eventually crashed to the canvas. Gamely, he rose to meet the count of eight and was deemed fit to continue but the end was not long in coming.
McCloskey opted to forego a frantic chase to gain the stoppage, instead cautiously picking his shots as his weary opponent became evermore susceptible to his stalking advances. A fierce lunging uppercut followed by left hook to the head left Rasilla crumpled on the canvas and Finnish referee Erkki Meronen had no hesitation to call a halt to proceedings with 45 seconds remaining in the stanza.
Despite his success the new newly crowned champion was critical of his showing stating that, “I was not my best performance, and I had to adapt because I had trained to face M’baye”, before going on to explain that, “he made it hard for me and he was cagey and didn’t want to engage”.
Many in Ireland now want to see McCloskey target a money-spinning bout with British WBA title holder Amir Khan or WBC champ Devon Alexander. For now, though, ‘Dudey’ can allow Brian Peters to concern himself with the murky world politics of boxing and the fighter himself can now enjoy some well earned downtime. In finishing, McCloskey beamed and stated that, “I am the European champion. I’m fresh, I’m 30 but I am fresh!”