Carl Frampton leads the way in frustrating year for Irish boxing
ONCE again, the professional boxing scene was dominated by the exploits of the incomparable Carl Frampton, who continues to set standards no other Irish boxer can reach.
The success of ‘the Jackal’ lit up 2016 - as it would any other year - and he captured the public imagination in winning world titles at super-bantam and featherweight with clear-cut wins over Scott Quigg in Manchester and Leo Santa Cruz in New York.
Frampton shook up a world that sadly lost ‘the Greatest’ Muhammad Ali but, on the local scene, there was a lack of progress. That will change next year with the introduction of stellar names like Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes and Katie Taylor. Hopefully those three will attract the growing number of boxing-hungry broadcasters – Sky Sports, Boxnation, Five and, now, ITV - to Belfast to stage televised shows because, without local promoter Mark Dunlop, there would have been just one in Belfast in 2016.
Given the talent clamouring for opportunities and the public interest that is disappointing, but Irish boxing is dependent on English-based broadcasters for coverage and they pulled out after Frampton went global.
Now everyone fights on the road and leading the chasing pack behind Frampton is his former sparring partner London-based Ryan Burnett who continues to show rich promise and will be confident of landing a world title shot in 2017.
Boxing in 2016:
Jamie Conlan - one of the growing number of Irish boxers fighting out of the Macklin’s Gym Marbella (MGM) stable - remains unbeaten and would hope to follow suit but, after his third win of 2016, there seemed to be no definite plan for where his path will take him next year.
Meanwhile, LA-based middleweight Jason Quigley had an injury setback but signalled his intent with an emphatic first round KO on his comeback in December.
The major disappointments of 2016 were defeats for Tommy McCarthy and Conrad Cummings. McCarthy lost a British title eliminator to Matty Askin while luckless Cummings lost a disputed decision when he faced Germany’s Ronnie Mittag for the vacant IBF Inter-Continental middleweight title.
Elsewhere, Marc McCullough and Anthony Cacace both went to pastures new seeking to revitalise their careers while a British title challenge came too early for James Tennyson.
Ireland’s disappointment at the Rio Olympic Games released a crop of thoroughbred hopefuls onto the professional stage for 2017. The charismatic and gifted Michael Conlan leads the way. He’ll be based in Los Angeles and makes a spectacular debut at the iconic Madison Square Garden, New York on St Patrick’s Day.
Meanwhile, Katie Taylor is 2-0 already and looks certain to go on to win a world title while Paddy Barnes is in a hurry to do the same. 2017 should be action-packed.
(Featherweight, Career: 23-0, 2016: 2-0)
He is the undisputed king of Irish boxing. The Jackal won world titles at super-bantamweight and featherweight in 2017 - only the second Irishman to do that - and both came on the road.
His fighting year began in February when he turned Manchester’s MEN Arena into home turf and out-pointed Scott Quigg, breaking the brash Bury man’s jaw in the process.
That fight proved to be his last at super-bantamweight and in July Frampton pushed on by moving up to featherweight and beating Leo Santa Cruz at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
In a competitive fight, he always looked in control. As master counter-punchers do, he made Santa Cruz think all the time and consequently the Mexican’s attacks were a split-second slower allowing Frampton to punish him with the left hook that sent him into the ropes in round two and a succession of right hands.
They’ll meet again at the iconic MGM Grand in Las Vegas on January 28. Another cracking scrap is expected and Frampton should win again unless Santa Cruz finds something new - since he’s a three-weight world champion, you can’t rule that out.
In the first fight, he came on in straight lines and punched manically - over 1,000 over 12 rounds - and, in the rematch, he needs to employ feints and will have to try to create angles to have success.
But Frampton should have an answer for everything he has.
(Bantamweight. Career: 15-0, 2016: 3-0)
Burnett defended his British title and won a WBC International belt and hopes to land the world title shot he craves next year. The London-based Adam Booth-trained Belfast fighter began 2016 with a points win over Anthony Settoul in Manchester to capture the WBC International belt and he defended it against Cesar Ramirez in July.
He may have looked a little one paced in those wins, but Burnett showcased slick boxing skills in his third fight of the year - against Ryan Farrag - which was a dynamic change of pace.
(Middleweight. Career: 12-0, 2016: 2-0)
Improving with every fight, Donegal’s ‘El Animal’ is a world title prospect at middleweight and moved to 12-0 with an explosive first round knockout win over the experienced Jorge Melendez in California on December 16.
Melendez went into the fight with 30-7-1 record but a thumping right hook dropped him inside 20 seconds. He was down twice more and the referee should certainly have stopped it before the towel ended a one-sided beat-down.
Golden Boy fighter Quigley is talented, focussed and fights out of a successful stable at The Rock Gym in Los Angeles under the astute eye of Manny Robles.
He has obvious world title ambitions and you can expect him to be knocking on the door of a title shot by this time next year.
(super-flyweight, career: 18-0, 2016: 3-0)
'The Mexican’ showcased his devastating body-punching and fighting heart in what was later voted British Fight of the Year when he beat Anthony Nelson to win the Commonwealth title at London’s Copperbox Arena.
Conlan got off the canvas to stop the tough Geordie with a shuddering body shot - the fight was over before Nelson went down for the count. The Belfast man shipped some punishment in that rumble but he tightened up his defence and finished the year with much more comfortable wins against Patrick Bartos (in Wales) and David Koos on home soil.
Conlan’s progress this year means he’s still well placed for a long-awaited world title shot. He says he’d like a world title eliminator in his next fight (in late February/early March) and, while long-term target Paul Butler has slipped away, WBO champion Naoya Inoue could be in his sights in 2017.
(featherweight, career: 16-3, 2016: 1-1)
McCullough’s career reached a crossroads after he was stopped by Isaac Lowe during an off-colour performance on the undercard of Frampton v Quigg.
Soul-searching followed and the Shankill Road fighter split with coach John Breen and joined the Irish exodus to Matt Macklin’s MGM stable. He claimed the vacant WBO intercontinental featherweight belt with a fourth round stoppage of Luis Lugo in his comeback fight and will intend to make up for lost time in 2017.
(Cruiserweight. Career: 9-1, 2016: 1-1)
His loss to Matty Askin, the first of his career, was a contender for disappointment of the year. McCarthy was on the verge of taking a massive forward stride and the roadmap had been prepared by his manager Pat Magee for a British title shot against Craig Kennedy.
Unfortunately, the loss meant Askin gets the shot instead and it’s back to the drawing board for McCarthy.
(Middleweight. Career: 10-1-1, 2016: 3-1)
For the second year in succession, Cummings failed to win a title fight that would have pushed him on to a higher level. In 2015, Alfredo Meli recovered from a first round knockdown to hold Cummings to a draw in a Celtic Nations rumble.
This year, after three wins, he had to deal with the first loss of his career when he came up against Germany’s Ronnie Mittag. Coalisland middleweight Cummings looked to have done enough to win with a bit to spare but Mittag got the decision.
It’s a wrong ‘Dynamite’ intends to right in a rematch next year.
(12-0-1, 2016: 3-0-1)
His war of words with Sean Creagh was one of the highlights of the year and the tall, slick McKenna made the Dubliner pay for his trash-talking with a one-side beat down at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in November.
He’d fancy a rumble with Phil Sutcliffe in 2017.
(Welterweight. Career: 10-3, 2016: 1-1)
The Belfast welterweight had two fights in 2016, but he did push his career on. First, he won the Celtic welterweight title in Cardiff and then pushed Tamuka Mucha all the way over 10 entertaining rounds at Wembley Arena in November.
He needs more work in 2017.
(Super-featherweight. Career: 15-0, 2016: 2-0)
A split with the Cyclone camp was a setback for ‘the Apache’ and he returned to his native Belfast to link up with manager Pat Magee and has Brian Magee in charge of his training.
Understandably, Cacace has been frustrated by the lack of opportunities that have come his way: “I'm prepared to travel and I'm prepared to fight anyone who wants to fight,” he said.
“It's just I haven't got anyone offering me fights! How long do you continue fighting journeymen? Once I beat Ronnie (Clark for the Celtic title) I thought I would have pushed on and but things went stale.”
The good news is that he ended 2016 with two wins to get his career back on track but and next up for him could be a European title challenge.
(Super-featherweight. Career: 17-2, 2016: 2-1)
There was disappointment for ‘Tenny’ in his British title challenge against Ryan Walsh. It came too soon for the youngster who was out-boxed by the impressive Norfolk switch-hitter.
Bounced back with a points win against Rafael Castillo and will hope to get back into the title mix next year.
PAUL HYLAND JNR
(Lightweight. Career: 13-0, 2016: 4-0)
‘Hylo’ is now 13-0 and went 4-0 this year. So far, he has been a small hall specialist and will hope to step up to bigger and better things in 2017. Handlers MHD promoters have confirmed he’ll top the bill at the Europa Hotel, Belfast with his first 10-rounder.
LOOK OUT FOR
(Flyweight. 2016: 1-0)
His debut was awful. A scrappy fight that was more wrestling than boxing, but at least he’s got it over him now and he can look forward to better things.
At 29, he doesn’t want to hang around and the MGM fighter is after a revenge match with former Olympic Games nemesis Zou Shiming, who is the current WBO champion.
(Light-heavyweight. 2016: 2-0)
Another amateur star, Ward signed with MGM and his training will be based in Manchester. He made his pro debut in November on home soil and followed it up with another points win in Coventry.
The defining image of the Olympics was Conlan’s middle digit farewell to the AIBA and Bob Arum’s Top Rank organisation won the race for his signature shortly afterwards.
Conlan intends to repay the veteran promoter’s faith starting at Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Day. Blessed with slick skills and natural power, the charismatic Conlan has all the tools required to take the world by storm.
John Breen rates him as the hardest hitter he has come across since the days of stone-fisted Neil Sinclair. Crocker’s November debut was delayed because of injury but the youngster who tempted Barney Eastwood out of retirement, will get his career underway in 2017.
(Lightweight. 2016: 2-0)
The darling of the nation and surely destined for a world title. Dedicated, dangerous and a master boxer, Taylor got her career underway with back-to-back wins in England and, at 30, she’ll be chasing the champions in 2017.
Journeyman James Gorman was Ireland’s busiest fighter. Gorman returned to the fight scene this year after eight years on the sidelines and his record now reads 8-32-1 after he racked up 20 losses in 2016.
Casey Blair wasn’t far behind. The Bangor super-welter went 15-1.