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Wayne McCullough would love stable of Irish fighters Stateside

Former world bantamweight champion Wayne McCullough would love to train Irish fighters like Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes
Neil Loughran

FORMER world champion Wayne McCullough would love to set up a stable of Irish fighters at his Las Vegas base – including fellow Olympic medalists Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan.

The ‘Pocket Rocket’, a silver medallist at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, will be keeping a close eye on events in Rio this August, and has encouraged the two Belfast boys to follow his lead and join the pro ranks on America’s west coast.

McCullough famously hooked up with respected trainer Eddie Futch after the 1992 Olympics before embarking on a hugely successful pro career Stateside - the high point of which was travelling to Japan to take the WBC world bantamweight belt off Yasuei Yakushiji in 1995.

Conlan was born the same year McCullough came home with silver, and one of the heroes of 24 years ago has backed the Clonard switch-hitter to go one better and win bantamweight gold.

“We were joking on Twitter last year - he said we should spar to see who’s the best bantamweight,” laughed McCullough.

Once the Games are over though, Conlan will have plenty of options – and McCullough believes he is more than ready to make his mark in the paid ranks.

He said: “I’d love to work with him, I really would. I think he’s sensational.

“Over here, being Irish and being seen at the Olympics, the guy would be so huge. Before he turns pro they would all have seen him and then when he comes over here he’d get even more attention.

“He’s 24, so he needs to turn pro after this, and I’m a great trainer. I was trained by Eddie Futch - I’m the last world champion Eddie Futch worked with - so I’m the last one to pass on his message.”

It is understood that Oscar De La Hoya’s Los Angeles-based Golden Boy promotions have been in touch with Conlan in the past, and McCullough feels that would be a good move.

“I’m in California, De La Hoya’s in California. Joel De La Hoya, Oscar’s brother, he manages Julian Ramirez, who I train.

“He’d be comfortable out here, he really would.”

While Conlan has made no secret of his desire to turn professional after this summer, the future of soon-to-be three-time Olympian Paddy Barnes is less clear.

Barnes has talked about going pro in the past, but could also hang about for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Regardless of what he decides, McCullough believes the future is bright for the 28-year-old Holy Family fighter.

He said: “We talk on Twitter - I wanted him to go pro because coming over here, Olympic medals, he would’ve got a good contract and everything. A good signing bonus, he would have been televised.

“If you look at an Olympian like Joseph Diaz jr, he fought for America, he’s 20-0 as a pro already and he didn’t get a medal. I think Paddy’s style would make more of a pro style, the changeover would be easy.

“Paddy’s a home bird, but I was a home bird too. I didn’t think I’d have left – no way. But when somebody says to you ‘do you want to work with Eddie Futch?’ you say ‘okay, when do I leave?’”

“He’ll probably go to the next Olympics – maybe I’ll go too if the pros are allowed back!”

Like McCullough in 1992, Barnes will carry the Irish flag at the opening ceremony this summer, and the ‘Pocket Rocket’ is delighted for his fellow Belfast man.

“Yeah that’s good,” he said, “Paddy deserves it.”

Golden Boy prospect Jason Quigley is another Irish fighter on McCullough’s radar. The pair are already friends – “Jason just lives down the street” in Marina Del Rey – and McCullough is a long-time admirer of the Ballybofey banger, having first seen him in action during the World Series of Boxing three years ago.

Quigley is currently trained by Manny Robles, but McCullough believes he could take him to even greater heights.

“When you get to 10 and 0, 11 and 0, it’s a step up in class - you’ve got to have somebody who’s going to take you there,” he said.

“I went to the Olympics and won silver and Harry [Robinson, Albert Foundry coach] did everything for me, but he knew he couldn’t take me any further.

“Eddie Futch, who I believe is the best trainer that ever lived, decided to take me on. He was going to retire but he looked at me and thought ‘this kid has it’.

“It was like serving my apprenticeship with Eddie – I watched everything, he talked about all the old fighters, about sparring with Joe Louis back in the day, he was just a boxing encyclopedia. He’s the reason why I became a world champion.”

OFF LEAD WITH MAIN PIC ON PAGE

A TEAM led by former Ulster light-welterweight champion John Lennon packed a major punch when they travelled to Poland last month for the European Kettlebell Lifting Championships – returning home with four medals.

Joining Lennon (silver) on the winners’ podium in Gdansk were fellow fitness fanatics Fionnbharr Toolan (gold), Niall Greenan (silver) and Joseph O’Donnell (bronze).

Since quitting boxing, former Dockers fighter Lennon – who represented Ireland at junior level – has turned his attentions to running the Hybrid Fitness gym in Belfast and a chance meeting with a former foe sparked his interest in the world of kettlebells.

Lennon defeated former Holy Trinity boxer Paul McIlroy in an Ulster final towards the end of the last decade, and the two went on to become good friends.

“There’s been a fair bit of joking about it since then,” says Lennon.

“Paul stopped me in the town one day and said to me about the kettlebell championships, and I decided to give it a try.

“After that a couple of other boys from different gyms around Belfast came on board with me and they’re the same ones that went and won medals.

“The likes of Paddy Gallagher, the pro boxer, does the kettlebells too and he probably would have been with us only he was fighting for a Celtic title a few weeks later.”

The team is now in training for a possible tilt at the world championships in Kazakhstan later this year.

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