Ryan Burnett, Michael Conlan, Carl Frampton, Barry McGuigan... An action-packed boxing review of 2017
IN THE ring, the highlights were the success of unified bantamweight world champion Ryan Burnett and Michael Conlan's spectacular Madison Square Garden pro debut while crushing defeat for Jamie Conlan in his world title challenge was the major disappointment of the year.
Outside the squared circle, Carl Frampton and the McGuigans dominated the headlines. In between Burnett's IBF and WBA title wins, Frampton parted company with Barry McGuigan's Cyclone Promotions and trainer Shane McGuigan in a split that has since progressed to the High Court.
The break-up brought about an unhappy end to one of Ireland's most successful sporting partnerships and it rekindled memories of McGuigan's acrimonious divorce from Barney Eastwood back in the 1980s. It seems that McGuigan has ruffled feathers on the way up with Frampton and he has come in for a lot of criticism, some of it vicious, since the split.
Elsewhere, Paddy Barnes and James Tennyson made real progress while a year that saw a record number of pro shows in Belfast also saw the emergence of welterweight knockout artist Lewis Crocker.
Ryan Burnett (bantamweight)
THE north Belfast fighter has leaprfrogged his former sparring partner Frampton by becoming a unified bantamweight champion. Burnett can fight, he can box and he showed a champions' heart when he broke down teak-tough Kazak WBA champ Zhanat Zhakiyanov over 12 head-to-head rounds.
Four months previously, Adam Booth coached Burnett had out-boxed Lee Haskins to win the IBF title. The fight was announced as a split decision, as two judges had Burnett winning 119-107 but a third, Clark Sammartino, had him losing 118-108 although Burnett was a clear winner.
An IBF statement said there had been an “error with the scorecards” and the decision should have been unanimous.
“An error of this nature and at this level of the sport should not have occurred,” read a statement
“One of the scores after each round was recorded on the individual scorecards for the incorrect fighter.”
After the fight, British Boxing Board of Control general secretary Robert Smith said Sammartino “won't be coming back”.
Burnett will be back of course and his aim is to establish complete dominance in the division. Luis Nery holds the WBC belt while explosive South African Zolani Tete has the WBO version. A match with either, particularly Tete, tops the fans' wish list for 2018.
Carl Frampton (featherweight)
FROM the moment Leo Santa Cruz rammed a jab into his nose early in the first round of January's Las Vegas rematch you feared it wasn't going to be Frampton's night.
Santa Cruz had been dismissed as a one-dimensional brawler by Frampton's coach Shane McGuigan but he out-boxed ‘the Jackal' over 12 rounds to take back his title on a tight, but deserved, points decision. Frampton gave his all but, disappointingly, there was no discernible ‘Plan B' in his corner.
“Go out and win this round with your feet,” McGuigan instructed a bewildered Frampton with the fight slipping away. Afterwards McGuigan, who had played his part in Frampton's rise to world level, admitted he had been “mugged off” by Santa Cruz's change of tactics from the first meeting in New York.
It was hardly an acceptable excuse and with no third fight clause in the contract, Santa Cruz predictably ducked out of traveling to Belfast leaving Frampton to return for a relatively low key August comeback against Andres Gutierrez in Belfast.
Rumours swirled that all was not well in the camp after ‘The Jackal' failed to make the nine stone limit, but the fight – originally billed as a WBC eliminator - was due to go ahead until Gutierrez was injured after slipping in the shower of his hotel room.
Amid conspiracy theories and controversy, the entire bill was cancelled and the relationship between Frampton and the McGuigans quickly unravelled. Frampton announced a break-up and appointed Manchester-based Jamie Moore as his new coach.
News soon followed that he had linked up with MTK and Frank Warren's Queensbury Promotions and that his fights would be screened on BT Sport.
In front of a packed house at the SSE Arena Frampton made his comeback in October and had to come through a sticky patch against underrated Mexican Horacio Garcia to win reasonably comfortably on points. He has vowed to get his world titles back and will fight in April before focusing on a summer spectacular at Windsor Park. He'll need to be better and he will be.
Jamie Conlan (super-flyweight)
A FIGHTING heart, a granite chin and a thunderous left hook had seen Conlan through some close scrapes on the way to a challenge for the IBF belt held by Jerwin Ancajas. The SSE Arena was packed for Conlan's challenge and – given his previous record for blood and thunder scraps – an engrossing battle was expected.
Conlan went in as the underdog but from early on it was clear that Ancajas, a dangerous puncher in his third defence, was superior.
Conlan was forced to take a count near the end of the first after he shipped a left hook to the body and he was dropped twice more before referee Steve Gray waved it off in the sixth. There was no shame in losing to Ancajas who looked a global superstar in the making but the defeat left Conlan, who has since been appointed MTK Global Professional Development co-ordinator, with some soul-searching to do regarding his career in the ring.
James Tennyson (super-featherweight)
TENNYSON continues to make strides and now holds a number four ranking with the WBA putting him within touching distance of a shot at that title. He began the year by stopping Declan Geraghty in explosive fashion at the Waterfront Hall, sending his opponent crashing to the canvas first with a left hand and then with a right, to win the Irish super-featherweight title.
In June, Tennyson beat Ryan Doyle to win the vacant WBA International Super Featherweight title and he defended his belt in spectacular style with another stoppage win against Darren Traynor in October.
Paddy Barnes (Flyweight)
‘THE Leprechaun' made his pro debut late in 2016. 12 months later he remains a man on a mission and looked every inch a world title contender when stopping Eliecer Quezada to win the vacant WBO Inter-Continental Flyweight Title. Barnes' performance was the highlight of the bill at the SSE Arena which featured two world title fights (Conlan-Ancajas and Zolani Tete's remarkable one punch WBO World Bantamweight Title win over Siboniso Gonya) and Carl Frampton's comeback fight.
Barnes looked electric with quick feet, fast hands and no shortage of power. He will hope to get a crack at a world title in 2018.
Michael Conlan (featherweight)
MMA superstar Conor McGregor was at Conlan's side as he picked his way through a packed Madison Square Garden Theatre on the way to the ring for his debut on St Patrick's weekend. The Top Rank star had no trouble blowing away Tim Ibarra and he went on to stop Alfredo Chanez, Jarrett Owen and Kenny Guxman before he returned to ‘The Garden' on December 9.
Luis Fernando Molina took him the distance in that fight but it was Conlan's most polished performance to date. He was patient, kept the distance and picked off Molina to take a shut-out points win. If all goes to plan we'll see him in Belfast in June, 2018.
Paul Hyland jnr (lightweight)
HYLAND fought on bravely despite a broken jaw from a head clash to squeeze through on points against experienced Dublin hardman Stephen Ormond in October.
For the first half of that fight ‘Hylo' had looked ready for a step up as he defended the IBF European Lightweight title he'd won with a first round TKO of Adam Dingsdale in June.
He dominated the early rounds with slick, smart movement and fast hands and had Ormond down in the third. The Dubliner came roaring back at him and Hyland, with his jaw broken, ducked for cover. The judges reckoned he done enough to win it, but it was a close call. Hyland will chase the British title next year.
Paddy Gallagher (welterweight)
THREE wins out of three made it a decent year for ‘Pat-Man' who has benefited from regular action.
He stopped Craig Kelly in June before traveling to Edinburgh to defend his Celtic title against Gary Murray. He stopped the unbeaten Scot in the 10th and final round and Murray was later admitted to hospital after a CT scan. Thankfully, he has since made a complete recovery.
Gallagher returned to action in December and hammered out a point win over Miguel Aguilar.
Stephen Ward (light-heavyweight)
‘THE Quiet Man' has the tools and the physique to go a long way and he extended his record to 6-0 with four wins in 2017. Ward has a good defence but a tendency to throw single shots. Without real knock-out power, he will need to work on putting his punches together to maximise his potential.
Lewis Crocker (welterweight)
FOUR wins so far and he has yet to hear the bell for the end of the second round. ‘Croc' is a serious talent with devastating punching power. The Ray Ginley trained prospect hasn't been remotely tested yet and we won't know how good he is until he makes a step up in class. However, the 20-year-old already looks like a serious talent.
Conrad Cummings (middleweight)
A CASUALTY of the war between Carl Frampton and the McGuigan clan, Cummings also made the break from Cyclone Promotions and followed his friend Frampton to Jamie Moore's gym.
Stopped Gogi Knezevic in three rounds to win the WBO European Middleweight title in March and was out of action until December when he out-pointed Norbert Szekeres. With his contractual issues sorted, he'll be chasing the belts in 2018 and wants a fight with Billy Joe Saunders.
Feargal McCrory (super-featherweight)
THE Coalisland man was shaken up by unknown Welshman Callum Busuttil in his fourth fight of the year. The John Breen trained former Tyrone underage GAA star needs to tighten up his defence as he looks ahead to next year.
Tyrone McCullough (featherweight)
A VERY solid year for the Derry southpaw. Stopped unbeaten German Tom Tran to clinch his fourth win of 2017 and is one to keep an eye on next year.
Marco McCullough (featherweight)
McCULLOUGH fell short against capable Norfolk battler Ryan Walsh in a British title challenge but the ended the year with a stoppage win over Josh Baillie. Seems to have lost his spark and will intend to find it again next year.
Jason Quigley (middleweight)
INJURY problems meant he fought just once and by the end of the year the Donegal man announced he was swapping Los Angeles for Sheffield where he will be trained by Dominic Ingle.
Tommy McCarthy (cruiserweight)
JUST two fights for McCarthy who was on the verge of a British title shot last year until he was beaten by the unheralded Matty Askin. Needs to be more active to regain lost ground next year.
Ciaran McVarnock (lightweight)
BUCKED the trend by leaving MTK for Longshots Sports and put injury problems behind him to end the year with his third success of 2017.
Padraig McCrory (super-middleweight)
Two wins in his first six months as a pro for the stylish McCrory. We'll see more of 'The Hammer' next year.
Joe Fitzpatrick (lightweight)
AT 23 he has lots of time on his side but needs more work to fulfill his undoubted talent.
Anthony Cacace (super-featherweight)
COULD become the forgotten man of Irish boxing which would be a crying shame. Cacace fought just once in 2017 and pushed Martin Joseph Ward all the way in a Commonwealth and British title scrap. Didn't do enough to dethrone Ward, but better days will be ahead if he keeps the faith.
Fighter of the Year
TOUGH and talented, Burnett's single-minded approach earned him two bantamweight world title belts in 2017.
“He has done remarkably well and Adam Booth deserves a lot of credit because the gameplan was outstanding,” said promoter Eddie Hearns after Burnett had met Zhanat Zhakiyanov head-to-head in the centre of the ring and slugged it out to add the WBA strap to his IBF title.
“We're going to come back here in February or March and try and pick up the other belts in the division.” A mouth-watering prospect.
New kid on the block
THE Monaghan welterweight made his pro debut in Las Vegas and his intention is to be “Ireland's greatest ever boxer”. The LA-based Goldenboy prospect has plenty to work on, but he has plenty of talent too.
One of watch
HE has talent and is blessed with KO power as three first round wins and one in the second illustrate that. Just 20, Crocker is a star on the rise. Keep an eye on him in 2018 and beyond.
Trainer of the year
WORKING alongside Dee Walsh, another former pro, at Belfast's Emerald Gym, Ginley has emerged as a knowledgeable coach and calm cornerman. With Lewis Crocker leading the way, Ginley also has Gerard Healy, Matthew Fitzsimons, Lewis Crocker, Joe Hillerby and Stephen Webb in his stable.