Tommy McCarthy back from wilderness and determined to make up for lost time

Tommy McCarthy is ordered back to a neutral corner after knocking down Jon-Lewis Dickinson during the Eliminator for the British Cruiserweight Championship at the SSE Hydro, Glasgow in May, 2016
Andy Watters

AFTER coming through the frustrating two-year spell in the wilderness that unfairly followed the only loss of his professional career, Tommy McCarthy is determined to make up for lost time in 2019.

Older and wiser for his experiences, McCarthy intends to make strides in the cruiserweight scene beginning at the Ulster Hall against Jiri Svacina of the Czech Republic on February 9.

Everything was going smoothly for talented McCarthy (now aged 28 and 12-1 as a pro) until he met seasoned Matty Askin in a British title eliminator back in November 2016.

He had beaten experienced campaigners Conor Fry and long-time British champion and world title hopeful Jon Lewis Dickinson impressively to force his way into the frame against Askin in just his ninth pro fight but he started nervously and was dropped heavily in the fourth round.

McCarthy fought his way back into the fight but didn’t get the decision and the loss of his unbeaten record saw him plummet from future star to forgotten man very quickly.

The former Commonwealth Games silver medallist fell below journeyman level to sparring partner status and spent a day short of a year out of the ring before his career was resurrected by a link-up with Belfast fight manager Mark Dunlop.

He is now training alongside James Tennyson with coach Tony Dunlop at the Belfast Kronk Gym in the New Lodge and feels like the second chapter of a career that promised so much is about to start.

“I was happy with the start that I had because I felt that I was on the fast track,” said McCarthy looking back on the first chapter of his fighting life.

“In my sixth fight I beat Fry and after that I was in with Dickinson who was looking to fight Tony Bellew for the world title.

“He had won Prizefighter, he had won the Lonsdale Belt outright and he was WBC International champion so he was light years above me in terms of pro boxing.

“I thought I boxed brilliant and I won handy against him so everything was running so smooth and I felt I was on the road to reaching my potential. Then the loss to Askin just set me back so much.

“It wasn’t as if I got mangled or anything, it was a close fight against a fella who was a good British champion.”

Askin went on to knock out Craig Kennedy and win the title and then defend it before he lost a decision to current champion Lawrence Okolie. Meanwhile, McCarthy came close to slipping off the boxing map.

“I’ve had two years of, more or less, inactivity,” he said.

“It just became so frustrating and after that loss it was looking like I was just going to be an opponent.

“I wasn’t going to get any notice for fights or I’d get two weeks’ notice. It was like: ‘Will you take this fight?’ so you needed to stay ready.

“I wasn’t happy with that. I was 25 and I was thinking: ‘I’m only young, I don’t want to be a journeyman yet’. It was only one loss and I wanted to fight Askin again because it was so close.

“I wasn’t happy with being put into the opponent category but what happened was even worse - I went to being a sparring partner.

“The next two years I was getting call-ups to go and spar with all the top names. I was always given good work with the camps out there but I wasn’t given call-ups for fights so it was just getting worse and worse. 2018 was probably the lowest point of my boxing career. It was shit.”

He sparred former WBC cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew before his first fight with David Haye fight and had to decline the offer of a return for the Haye rematch because he was working with Hughie Fury. After that he sparred Mairis Bredis (another former WBC cruiserweight champion), WBA champion Beibut Shumenov in Kazakhstan and Sam Hyde.

“I was in the Bellew camp for about six weeks and I thought I would have been fighting on the undercard but it was more like wishful-thinking,” he explained.

There were no fights for exactly 364 days and he returned to action in a low-key bout against Kent Kauppinen last November. Manager Mark Dunlop has had difficulty getting opponents for him but he’ll fight an eight-rounder at the Ulster Hall – his first appearance there – and after that he wants to climb up the ranks.

“This year I want to get my head down and get in the big fights,” said McCarthy.

“After this fight I would love to have either Luke Watkins or Isaac Chamberlain because I think I’d beat both of them no problem. After that I want to challenge Okolie for the British title.

“If all goes according to plan then that puts you on to the international scene.

“I feel great in the gym and I’m glad that I’ve had the experiences I’ve had in my pro career,” he adds.

“I know what I want and what I don’t want. I’m not coming in green and thinking everybody’s my friend and looking after me.

“It is a business and you have to be smart and you have to speak up for stuff that you want. There have been a few times in the past when I wasn’t confident enough to say ‘no, I don’t like that’ or ‘this isn’t right’. You just go with the flow and you don’t want to rock the boat and say something for people to fall out with you but now I’m past that stage.

“I know what I want out of my career and I’m confident in my ability of what I can do and where I can go.”

Carl Frampton isn’t finished yet but when ‘the Jackal’ finally hangs up his gloves there will be a vacancy for Irish boxing’s next draw card and McCarthy says he is the man to fill the void.

“Frampton has another couple of fights left but this year could be a big year for Belfast boxing,” he said.

“By the end of the year I intend to be a big name in boxing and take over the reins from Frampton.

“You’ve seen what Mark did with James Tennyson, he got him to a world title fight, and I reckon he can do the same with me.”

After a spell as an MTK fighter trained by Ensley Bingham, McCarthy has joined IBF super-featherweight challenger Tennyson at the Belfast Kronk gym and says he has gelled quickly with coach Tony Dunlop, the canny New Lodge trainer who has high hopes for his new fighter.

“Tony took me on and we have just gelled brilliant,” he said.

“I really enjoy working with him and I enjoy going to the gym. I’ve always enjoyed going to the gym and I’ve always thought that I’m living the dream boxing for a living.

“It’s just good, it feels great to be a part of the Belfast Kronk gym and it’s a new start, it’s fresh and Mark Dunlop (no relation to Tony) has connections and he has the right idea how to get me to where I want to be.

“He wants to keep me busy and I feel like this year is going to be a big year for me.”

The February 9 show is headlined by Tennyson who steps up to the lightweight division to take on Portsmouth’s Garry Neale (10-0) in his first contest since losing his recent world title challenge in Boston last October.

Paul Hyland Jnr takes on Miroslav Serban (10-1) while undefeated Feargal McCrory takes on Dublin’s Karl Kelly of for the vacant Irish Lightweight title. Cathy McAleer, Luke Wilton and Mathew Fitzsimons also feature on the show.

For the remaining tickets, contact Ulster Hall Box Office 028 9033 4455 or www,

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