Boxing

'Racist abuse was something I had to deal with in Belfast' says ambitious middleweight Caoimhin Agyarko

Rising middleweight fighter Caoimhin Agyarko. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Andy Watters

GROWING up in west Belfast, Caoimhin Agyarko had to contend with sporadic racist insults but his reputation as a boxer from Holy Trinity ABC meant there would always be “consequences” for anyone stupid enough to abuse him.

Agyarko’s Irish-Ghanaian heritage marked him out as one of the few black people in the city when he and his family arrived here from London 15 years ago and the unbeaten middleweight, who returns to action on July 31, was forced to roll with some sickening racist punches as a youngster.

The emerging middleweight, now 6-0 in the professional ranks, explains: “It wasn’t as if I was bullied or racially abused every day but it is something that I encountered.

“I think it’s just a part of life for black people and unfortunately it’s something I had to face growing up.

“You get small-minded people. I remember when I moved over to Belfast in 2005, me and my family were probably the only mixed-race people living in west Belfast and I encountered name-calling and stuff like that.

“At school I was called ‘n*****’, a ‘black ****’, a monkey, all that stuff. People told me ‘go back to your own country’ and that’s just a general thing that people from a black or mixed-race background have to face.

“It happened a couple of times in school when I was playing football matches but it wasn’t something that happened all the time.

“I can’t say that I was racially abused every day but I think boxing helped that because everybody knew who I was – anybody who maybe wanted to racially abuse me knew there would be consequences.

“I don’t think there were any incidents of racial abuse in boxing, I can’t recall any.

“It’s not something anyone should have to face but I understand that there are small-minded people out there who want to hurt people’s feelings and I hope that the Black Lives Matter movement can change views and opinions and help stop racism.”

He has said before that he wants to be Ireland’s first “black world champion” but surely the hope is that, one day, the colour of his skin will be an irrelevance?

“That’s the plan,” he says. “I want to be Ireland’s first black world champion. It’ll be a long process and I don’t know when it will happen but I’m sure it will happen.

“I believe in myself and once the right opportunities come along I’ll take them with both hands.”

Agyarko returns to action in a behind-closed-doors bill at the BT Sport Studios on July 31.

An opponent has yet to be confirmed and the fact that he is already proving difficult to match is an indication of the talent he possesses.

He has had little trouble in his first half-dozen fights and appears as chief support on a bill headlined by the Lyndon Arthur versus Dec Spelman Commonwealth light-heavyweight title rumble determined to impress.

“I’ve had three opponents pull out and another three or four turned the fight down,” he explains.

“They’re finding it hard to get me an opponent but I’m sure they’ll get somebody.

“I am a risk for a lot of people and that’s part of boxing, it just comes with the territory.”

Fighting behind closed doors is something new of course and, like the other boxers on bills over the summer, it’s something that he will have to put up with for the foreseeable future.

“It’s not ideal,” he says. “I love having my friends and family come along to watch me fight but it is what it is.

“It’s out of my control and I have a job to do whether there’s a crowd there or not. Business is business.”

He spent the lockdown back in Belfast and, although he admits he was “limited in terms of what I could do” he did what he could to stay in shape and trained every day.

“I went out to the park and did sprints and I did a bit of pad work too,” he said.

“It was frustrating because I couldn’t really train hard but at the same time it was good to have that break because I did have a couple of injuries and they’ve all cleared up.

“I was able to let my hands rest and go back into camp with no injuries.

“I’m back out and it was good to get back to training, get back to the camp and have a date to work towards.

I’m looking forward to it and thank God things are getting back to normal a bit.”

 

DONEGAL middleweight Jason Quigley is in consideration for a fight against Mexico’s global superstar Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.

Golden Boy Promotions President Eric Gomez has confirmed that Quigley is in good company on a shortlist of fighters – also including John Ryder, Sergiy Derevyanchenko, Callum Smith, Anthony Dirrell and Tureano Johnson – who have been earmarked to face Alvarez, the middleweight champion and super-middleweight titlist.

Alvarez (53-1-2, 36KOs) has not fought since stopping Sergey Kovalev in Las Vegas last November, but the Mexican has told his promoters that he wants to return on the Mexican Independence weekend in September.

Golden Boy recently withdrew Quigley (18-1, 14KOs) from a potential bout against Jack Cullen on Eddie Hearn’s Fight Camp card in August.

Quigley - now under the direction of former world champion Andy Lee - has beaten Abraham Cordero and Fernando Marin by way of third-round stoppages in his last two fights.

After beating Marin in Costa Mesa in January, Quigley said: “At the end of my career, I want to have been in with the best and tested myself. I want to come away saying that I ruled the middleweight division and come away with fulfilment.”

Gomez and Golden Boy Matchmaker Robert Diaz watched from ringside as Quigley stopped Marin.

JAMES Tennyson will take on Cardiff’s Gavin Gwynne (12-1, 2 KOs) for the vacant British Lightweight title in the eagerly-awaited first instalment of ‘Matchroom Fight Camp’ (screened live from a purpose-built studio in the grounds of Eddie Hearn’s London home) on Saturday, August 1.

The title fight is chief support to Sam Eggington’s showdown with Ted Cheeseman for the IBF International Super-Welterweight title and Birmingham native Eggington says the fight is "all or nothing" for both men as he sets his sights on a world title eliminator at 154lb.

Former European Welterweight champion Eggington (28-6) has notched four straight wins since losing to Liam Smith back in March 2019, picking up the IBF International Super-Welterweight Title on away soil against Orlando Fiordigiglio in September.

He puts that belt, along with his number five ranking with the IBF, on the line against Cheeseman, live on Sky Sports, knowing that a win will propel him towards a world title shot and a loss could undo all of his hard work over the past year.

The stakes are equally high for Cheeseman who finds himself in a must-win situation following two losses and one draw in his last three fights. Everything is on the line for 'The Big Cheese' and another loss could prove to be disastrous for his career.

"You only have to watch Ted fight to know that he doesn’t give up when it gets hard," said Eggington.

"I have full faith in myself and if anyone can make him give up, I’ll be that guy. It'll be a good fight while it lasts. The way we both fight, it’s going to gel for a war, but I genuinely think I’ve got enough to get the win.

"I'm confident with this fight. Eddie gave me a list of names for potential opponents and we picked him out because it's a good fight and one we can win. It’s not a fight that worries me like others might have. I’ll make sure I walk out with the win. Any way, shape or form, I'll get the win.

"I’ve never been in a position to have an argument for some sort of Eliminator and I think I am now with the IBF belt. That's the aim once we get past Ted next month. It’s all or nothing for the both of us. That's the way I live in general.

"It’s in the garden and there won't be a crowd but that doesn't matter to me. If I’m having a fight and it’s a packed-out arena, I want to win that fight. If I’m having a fight in an empty room, I'm having a fight and I still want to win. I'm going to bite down on my gum-shield and do anything I can to win."

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