Boxing

Shades of the Hitman with Aaron McKenna says 'Irish' Micky Ward

'Irish' Micky Ward, Monaghan prospect Aaron McKenna and Goldenboy Promotions cheif Oscar De La Hoya met last week

WHEN one bona fide boxing legend compares you to another, you know you must be doing something right.

Boston-born brawler ‘Irish’ Micky Ward – one half of a famous fight trilogy with Arturo Gatti - was glowing in his praise of young Monaghan pro prospect Aaron McKenna when he met the Smithboro native in LA recently.

McKenna, AKA ‘The Silencer’, has his fifth professional fight on August 11 and Ward’s timely words of encouragement came as a huge boost for the softly-spoken youngster.

“Micky loved the way I get leverage behind my punches,” said McKenna (now 4-0).

“He says I’m a strong fighter, that I get great power behind my shots and he compared my to Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns – it was brilliant to hear him say that.”

Of course McKenna has a long way to go before he can claim to be anywhere near the level of Hearns who tangled with Leonard, Duran and Hagler during his 1980s heyday. But he is talented, single-mindedly ambitious and determined to reach the top.

“My training camp has been brilliant. I’ve had some top sparring with the likes of Fabian Maidana,” said McKenna from his LA base.

“It has gone well and closing into the fight I’ll be sparring with my brother Steven – I’ll be razor-sharp sparring him. I’m in the best shape of my life for this fight.

“This year I’ve had three fights and three knock-outs so I’ve had a good year so far and I hope to keep it up and win every fight with style.

“They call me ‘the Silencer’ and I’ll go out and try and put on an exciting fight for all the fans and go for the knockout.”

McKenna makes no secret of his desire to become a world champion one day, but he won’t allow himself to get too carried away despite what Ward, or anyone else, has to say about him.

“I just take each fight as it comes and I never look ahead of myself,” he said.

“Each fight is a stepping stone. Every fight I want to improve and I feel like I am improving all the time.

“I think I’m getting stronger, I’m starting to fill out. I’m starting to develop more of a pro style and I’m sitting down on my punches now.

“I’m working on all the things I need to improve on like letting the punches go and firing in the bodyshots, I’m learning all the time. Before every fight we’ll work on different punches and they’ve worked in every fight so far.

“I have an aggressive style and I like to apply a lot of pressure to my opponent iand throw a lot of shots.

“I like to hunt him down. I can box on the backfoot too but really I like to go out there, put on a show and go for the knockout.

“I love boxing, I absolutely love it. Training out in LA, you couldn’t be in a better place – the sun and hot weather… I love running out in it and it’s good to have my father and my brother out too because we’re great company for each other and we train alongside each other.”

With Belfast now well established as a boxing hub, bills are coming thick and fast in the city these days. Michael Conlan made his home debut in June but there are no plans for McKenna to make an appearance on this side of the Atlantic yet.

“Irish boxing is booming,” he said.

“It would be unreal to fight back home some day – in St Tiernach’s Park (Clones) for a world title. That’s my goal.

“I’d like to have seven fights by the end of the year and hopefully have a six-rounder too.

“As the years go on I think my style is more suited to the longer rounds – eight, 10, 12 rounders would suit me better.”

DILLIAN Whyte wants another fight before challenging Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder for the world heavyweight title.

Last Saturday, at London's O2 Arena, the 30-year-old produced his finest performance to secure his best win in outpointing Joseph Parker to perhaps prove he has become their leading contender.

His long-term rival Joshua next defends his IBF, WBA and WBO titles at Wembley Stadium against Russia's Alexander Povetkin on September 22 and is scheduled to fight there again in April.

It is still hoped that the WBC champion Wilder, of America, will be his next opponent but if he is not, Whyte will be the favourite to fight Joshua again. Their promoter, Eddie Hearn, believes the rematch has become "inevitable".

"Wilder, Joshua, if I fight them two I need to wait until April," said Whyte, who knocked Parker down twice and also survived a dramatic knockdown in the final round that left him struggling to reach the final bell.

"Last time I tried to outbox (Joshua), but this time I'd take the fight to him, lean on his chest, rough him up a bit, and look for the punches that I believe can hurt him. I know what punches he's vulnerable to. He's a champ, he's experienced; I got a win on a big show but he's more experienced than me.

"We need a fight in the meantime because I'm still learning, there's still things I need to work on, I need to get a bit sharper, get my weight back down a little bit, but if Joshua wants it in April, he can have it.

"(This was) one of the best nights (of my career), definitely. I fought someone very experienced; he's a very, very tough, experienced operator. He was hungry - he fell on his face and he got up. He'd never been put down before.

"It was a good punch. I got hurt, but I showed my experience; the last time I got hurt like that I thought 'I'm going to fight' and then I got hit for a finish; I started doing that and thought 'I'll take a knee and get the count'. I was buzzed."

New Zealander Parker, 26, was considered a threat to Joshua while he reigned as WBO champion, but having lost his title in their unification fight in March has suffered successive defeats and is faced with rebuilding his reputation.

He was unfortunate Whyte was awarded a knockdown following a clash of heads in the second round, but said: "I didn't execute the plan my coach (Kevin Barry) put in place. I take full responsibility for that and need to work on a few things; hopefully I'll come back and fight here again.

"Dillian roughed me up and did everything he could for victory, came in and looked for those big shots. Joshua fought a different fight, with distance, keeping me at bay with his jab."

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