Time for changes, says Irish Amateur Boxing Association president

Michael Conlan makes his feelings clear after controversial defeat to Vladimir Nikitin of Russia at the Rio Olympic Games
Andy Watters

Two months ago Ireland’s boxers departed for the Rio Olympics full of confidence. Hopes were high that they’d return home with a haul of medals.

But a series of controversies starting with Michael O’Reilly’s failed drug test and including Michael Conlan’s exit after an inexplicable quarter-final decision and the expulsion of referee Michael Gallagher turned the dreams to dust.

Since then, Paddy Barnes and Conlan have both transferred to the professional ranks and Stephen Donnelly looks set to follow.

Pat Ryan, Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) president, looks back on a turbulent summer for the sport…

Losing fighters with a nationwide profile like Conlan and Barnes is obviously a blow for the IABA?

There’s nobody in the association who would want to see Paddy and Michael go pro, we’d like to keep them as amateurs.

They’re household names and everybody knows them in one way or another whether it’s boxing or off the television or the banter or the bit of craic, so they have found their way into most homes.

But the reality is that they’ve come to the end of a journey and there’s a new beginning for them now. I’ve absolutely no doubt that everything they’ve learned will stand to them.

What they achieved as amateurs is immeasurable. The last medal that Michael won – the world title - people have been trying to get for a lifetime.

When you have boxers of that calibre making that kind of history all you can do is to support them and wish them the best for the future. If they maintain their consistency in the professional ranks there’s no end to what they can achieve.

Can both become world champions?

Absolutely. Professional boxing was always going to be on the cards for two incredible athletes, two incredible boxers.

It’s the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new chapter.

The controversy in Rio – the decision that Michael got, judges being sent home etc - has that hurt the public image of boxing?

Boxing has been damaged.

It’s everyone’s duty and responsibility to try and support the efforts to make it better.

Every federation is going to review all that happened in Rio. When the review is completed it’s important that every organization puts forward their proposals to assist AIBA in improving the systems that are in place for judging and the standard of refereeing. That will help to implement the change that is necessary to avoid such controversy in the future.

What makes the current judging system so complex?

In different parts of the world they have a different interpretation of how boxing should be conducted.

Take a Latino boxer – they don’t want to see him taking a step back. Then take the Cubans, they want to see more manoeuvring, more movement… In different parts of the world there are different schools of thought and you have to factor that in. It’s difficult to try and get it right but we have to keep trying to get it right.

The judging end of it is where we have the most difficulties after every Olympic Games.

After losing to Nikitin, Michael Conlan felt cheated and said he would never box in an IABA tournament again. Could those comments stop youngsters coming through or parents allowing their kids into boxing?

I certainly empathize with Michael and as far as I’m concerned he won that contest. Unfortunately we have no appeals system.

But it was an isolated incident in extreme circumstances. You have a highly emotionally charged young man who had spilt blood to get to where he was and for that to be taken away from him in that manner…

Maybe it’s only people who are at the cutting edge of boxing will know how he felt at that moment in time but it’s probably indescribable.

We have to step back and allow it time to heal. Will it ever heal? I don’t know. But what I do know is that Michael can take solace that he did win a world title, he did win a European gold medal. They are huge medals and he made history winning them and he wasn’t cheated.

Absolutely, the decision (at the Olympics) was shocking but there were times when the decisions were right.

Ireland got some bad decisions – but there where other countries who did too.

No it wasn’t just us. The Cuban welterweight world champion got a terrible decision, the Canadian 75kg girl was unbelievable and that’s just to name a couple.

It wasn’t specific to Ireland, we were just unfortunate, shockingly unfortunate.

Stephen Donnelly won two split decisions – people were saying we never got split decisions – and then he lost his third fight on a split decision. If he’d have done a bit more work in the first round Stephen would have been coming home with a medal. That’s how tight it was.

What’s the next step for the IABA?

Our focus is to stamp out the cheats. IABA, the world body, has acknowledged that there are cheats and we have to move them out but that takes time and it takes everyone’s contribution – all the national federations – to assist with the process to remove these cheats.

People have to stand up and be accountable for their actions but there has to be a process in doing that, not a knee-jerk reaction.

What changes would you like to see to the judging system?

Why don’t they use five judges instead of three? If you have five judges observing the contest and they are all included in the decision it will, most of the time, have a different outcome than using just three.

The contest is fought in different area of the ring. If you’re sitting in one spot and the contest is fought in a different zone it’s very difficult for you to judge that contest because you’re only able to judge it on what you see.

We need people viewing the contest from all sides to make sure they’re getting a full return on what’s actually taking place.

Have you had any contact with referee Michael Gallagher since he was sent home from Rio?

No, none whatsoever. It would be inappropriate for me to speak about Michael.

He has received a number of accolades for his ability to judge but I can’t comment on what has gone on because I don’t have any information on it.

JAMIE Conlan’s unforgettable rumble with Anthony Nelson was named ‘Fight of the Year’ by the British Boxing Board of Control last weekend.

The April tear-up at London’s CopperBox Arena saw Conlan floor Nelson early on only to be put down himself before he eventually ended it with a thunderous bodyshot in the eighth round.

“It got out of hand,” Conlan admitted.

“Everything should have went to plan but when I saw the first knockdown and I saw his reaction when I was hitting him I started loading up on my shots and my plan when out of the window and it was gun-slinging then.

“The fight was an experience like no other and in patches I was happy with my performance and the stuff I was doing but in other patches I was very disappointed. I know what I did right and I know what I did wrong and we’ve been working on it in camp.”

Conlan hoped to meet Nelson again at the Titanic Exhibition Centre on November 5, but the Newcastle fighter has ruled himself out of the rematch.

It is understood that the November bill will also include the professional debut of Paddy Barnes as well as Marc McCullough and Tyrone McKenna.

OVILL McKenzie’s withdrawal from his world title showdown with Marco Huck due to illness may have opened the door for Tommy McCarthy to fight for the British cruiserweight title.

McCarthy’s manager Pat Magee says McKenzie should now vacate his British title and allow McCarthy and fellow contenders Craig Kennedy and Matty Askins to fight it out for the belt.

“McKenzie was due to defend his British title against Kennedy on October 29 as he’s obliged to do,” said Magee.

“The deadline is October 31 so if he’s not fit to fight I believe the Board should make the title vacant in which case the decision has to be made who’s fighting for the vacant title.

“Should that be the case I would propose that Tommy and Matty Askins fight for the title on October 22. Or McCarthy or Askins fight Kennedy for the title on October 29.

“One way or another – there should be a fight for the vacant title next month and whoever is the odd man out should get a crack at the winner within 60 days.

“There’s no point in going out to purse bids again and finding another contender and going through an elimination series – we’ve got three fighters there who are all vying for the vacant title and it should be decided that two of those three will fight for the vacant title and the third party will fight the winner.”

TYRONE McCullagh intends to extend his unbeaten record on the MHD Promotions show at the Europa Hotel Belfast on Saturday, October 8.

The hard-hitting 26-year-old Belfast/Derry prospect (4-0) has his sights on titles by the end of the boxing season in July 2017 and has his first six-round contest at the Europa.

He also goes up a level in quality of opponent when he faces the very strong, durable and experienced Edwin Tellez of Nicaragua at the famous Belfast venue.

McCullagh was made to work hard in his last contest in Dublin back in June and expects nothing less from Tellez who has taken many a more experienced prospect the distance in his previous contests.

“The super-bantamweight division is limited in numbers at the minute and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Tyrone in a major title fight by the end of 2017,” said promoter Mark Dunlop.

“If his team keep him busy he certainly has the amateur pedigree to take a short cut to the top.”

The card is headlined by the talented Belfast lightweight Paul Hyland jnr v Felix Lora and also features emerging Coalisland fighter Feargal McCrory.

“Fergal is a very dedicated young man,” said Dunlop.

“Not many prospects jump on a bus to travel 50 miles each way to the gym and back. I’m interested in running a dinner show in his home town early next year as a thank you to the huge support who travel to our shows to watch him.

Ronnie Clark, Jay Byrne, Carl McDonald, Ian Timms and Gary Sweeney also feature on the Europa bill. The last remaining tickets are available tickets priced £35 (unreserved) by contacting Tyrone: Tel 07598018868 Email: or contact the boxers.

TYSON Fury’s trainer has confirmed the WBA and WBO heavyweight champion is “seeking help” for issues arising over what he believes to be a “witch-hunt” against the boxer.

Fury was due to defend his belts against Wladimir Klitschko next month but has been declared medically unfit, postponing the rematch for a second time.

Peter Fury, Tyson’s uncle and also his trainer, claims his nephew is “at an all-time low” following a wave of negativity and allegations of doping against the 28-year-old.

“I think it's a culmination of things,” Peter Fury said.

“When he won the world title the way he was treated, he said to me: ‘I came back off the boat, I picked up the paper, I expected to be celebrated.’ Straight away, he said, the hate campaign started.

“He was complaining about it a lot but said: ‘Okay, we’ve got to accept it. I’ve won the world title and this is how I’m treated. There’s almost been a vendetta against me since I’ve won it.’

“On many occasions he’s asked: ‘What's it for? Because if I’m not being credited for the work I’ve done and what I’ve achieved, why am I bothering?’

“So I think it’s created a lot of negativity in him as a person and it’s just the lack of respect he’s received on a global scale, it’s obviously had an effect.

“I think that, because of the witch-hunt against him and recent allegations, it’s put him over the edge. He said: ‘If this is what boxing’s doing, I don’t want it.’”


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