Boxing

Barney Eastwood to make a return to the boxing ring

Barney Eastwood will come out of retirement to help guide the career of welterweight Lewis Crocker
Andy Watters

LEGENDARY promoter and manager Barney Eastwood is set to make his return to boxing after an absence of more than 20 years.

The Irish News has learned Eastwood, who managed a stable of fighters including Barry McGuigan to world titles in the 1980s and '90s, has come out of retirement to take a guiding hand in the career of promising Belfast fighter Lewis Crocker.

Former Holy Trinity ABC amateur star Crocker has signed as a professional with Belfast boxing manager/coach John Breen and will be promoted by London-based Frank Warren.

The hard-hitting welterweight, who is poised to make his pro debut in a Warren-promoted Belfast show on November 25, has no shortage of admirers - Carl Frampton recently described him as “the best kid in the country”.

With Eastwood, Breen and Warren in his corner, he certainly won’t lack for know-how. Working in tandem with Eddie Shaw and then Breen at Eastwood’s Gym on King Street, ‘BJ’, now a sprightly 84, managed McGuigan (WBA featherweight), Crisanto Espana (WBA welterweight), Paul Hodkinson (WBC featherweight) and Dave ‘Boy’ McAuley (IBF Flyweight) to world titles in what was a golden era for Belfast boxing

He also brought through British flyweight and bantamweight champion Hugh Russell, as well as the likes of Noel Magee (Commonwealth light-heavyweight), Ray Close (EBU super-middleweight), Victor Cordoba (WBA super-middleweight) and Fabrice Benichou (IBF super-bantam) and others.

Retirement hasn’t blunted Eastwood’s enthusiasm for the sweet science. Since 1995, he’ll have heard lots of stories about ‘great kids’. Some stories have been true and others far-fetched, but it seems Crocker’s rich potential has ignited the old spark in him.

Breen says the former bookmaker was keen to lend a hand to guide the welterweight, who cut his ties with the amateur game after being overlooked for a place on a Northern Ireland select that travelled to a tournament in Samoa last September.

“Barney told me: ‘I’ll help you as much as I can’,” Breen said.

“I said: ‘Do you want to manage him BJ?’. He says ‘no, but any help I can give you, I’ll give you. I’m very impressed with the kid and I think you have the makings of something there’.

“Barney getting involved is a major asset, getting him back out of retirement to take an interest in this kid. Lewis has brought a bit of excitement back.”

Breen has been coaching pro fighters, first for Eastwood and then in his own gym, for 30 years and rates Crocker as the hardest hitter he was worked with since Neil Sinclair.

“One of the days down in the gym, I was doing the pads with him and he hit me a body shot and I went down,” he recalled.

“We started working again and he hit me another one in the same spot. Eamonn Magee wasn’t there so, the next time he was in, I got him to do the pads with him and he said: ‘He’s some puncher, that kid’s a smasher’. Eamonn doesn’t usually talk about lads like that.”

Hugh Russell came home from the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow with a bronze medal, signed with Eastwood and, in 1982, became the Tyrone native’s first British champion. Russell wasn’t surprised that his former manager had returned to the sport.

“He has always kept an interest in boxing,” said Russell.

“Maybe not on the managerial side, but he would pop up at the fights quite regularly and he would be very cute and very aware – he must have seen somebody that has got him this excited to want to put his foot back through the ropes.

“He has a wealth of experience and he has been around boxing all his life – at one stage it’s fair to say that he ran the most successful boxing gym in Europe. In the 1980s he had numerous world champions, British champions and European champions coming out of it.

“The amount of things he has seen and the amount of different trainers and different fighters that he has seen coming through that gym would be of a very, very high standard so to get excited over another lad from here is very promising.”

“I turned pro just after Barry McGuigan and I picked up a British title just before Barry.

“In the 80s when McGuigan and myself turned pro he started a stable and then out of that stable you had Dave McAuley, ‘Hoko’ Hutchinson, Ray Close.. the names just roll off your tongue.

“He was more than good to me. Everything I was told I’d get, I got and more.

“It’s great to see him back, all good for boxing.”

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