Seconds Out Boxing: Aaron McKenna ready for 'Dr Steel' WBC title fight

Aaron McKenna plans to go right to the top of the middleweight division
Aaron McKenna plans to go right to the top of the middleweight division Aaron McKenna plans to go right to the top of the middleweight division

AARON McKenna has had to bide his time, but his patience will be rewarded if he beats Shakiel Thompson at London’s York Hall, London on June 16 (live on Sky Sports) and wins the vacant WBC international middleweight title.

McKenna and Thompson have been trading insults with McKenna describing his opponent as “a club-level fighter”. Thompson countered: “Who has he fought? We’ll see what happens”.

Claiming the WBC belt and the ranking points that go with it will propel 16-0 Monaghan fighter McKenna into the top 20 in the WBC and the plan is then for him to fight Welsh hardman Liam Williams in an eliminator for the world title which is currently held by inactive American Jermall Charlo.

That’s the plan and you can count on McKenna putting everything he has into executing it. The 23-year-old from Smithborough has completed around 170 rounds of sparring (many against older brother Stephen) in an eight-week camp that also included gruelling sessions against all-action South Armagh middleweight Fearghus Quinn.

“First and foremost we have to get Thompson out of the way and look good doing it, so that’s the main objective,” said Aaron’s coach and father Fergal.

“We can’t be thinking too far down the line. It’s nice to have ambition but we have to take care of business. We take nothing for granted and we’ve been treating this as a world title.”

The McKenna team spent the last two weeks in England preparing for the York Hall title fight and Aaron went in against a succession of southpaws in preparation for his 12-rounder against Sheffield leftie Thompson.

“We’re in good shape,” added Fergal.

“This is our opportunity now to excel and, even though we’re known as people who put a lot of hard work into our training, we’ve really raised the bar. This is a massive opportunity because there’s not too many middleweights around in the UK and Ireland at the moment so it’s a chance to grab the number one spot.”

As Fergal talks, Aaron smashes 10 bells out of the bag behind him in the well-used gym at their house. Eight-time Irish amateur champion Aaron has trained like a demon for this fight and hopes that winning will be his big break.

“I’m just putting in the finishing touches,” he says.

“I’ll be more than ready for next week. He (Thompson) is unbeaten like myself and I think it’s a great fight for TV and for fans. He is 6’3”, he’s a southpaw and he’s a negative fighter, there’s not many people who wanted to fight him.

“When I was offered it, I said: ‘I’ll take the fight, no problem’ and here we are now. Just looking forward to it. I’ve put in the best training camp so far in my career – I treat every fight like it’s a world title fight but this has been the best (preparation) and I can’t wait for it.”   

Thompson is unbeaten but ‘Dr Steel’ has never fought an opponent with a winning record – all 10 have had more losses than wins on their cards. He is tall and can punch and, if McKenna deals with him comfortably, it’ll be a sign that he’s ready to step up to the level of former world title contender Liam Williams.

“He’s a great fight for me to get at this stage of my career,” said McKenna.

“It’s been very hard getting fights but finally I’ve got someone with a winning record from the UK and it’s on Sky Sports as well so a lot of people will get to see it. For me this guy is a stepping stone towards bigger fights – my goal is to become world champion and I’m going to do everything it takes to make that happen.”

Ken Buchanan fought Roberto Duran at Madison Square Garden in 1972
Ken Buchanan fought Roberto Duran at Madison Square Garden in 1972 Ken Buchanan fought Roberto Duran at Madison Square Garden in 1972

THERE’S no love lost between Scotland’s Josh Taylor and New Yorker Teofimo Lopez as they prepare for Saturday night’s blockbuster at Madison Square Garden for the WBO light-welterweight title.

Taylor, who is following in the footsteps of his late great countryman Ken Buchanan who was a staple at 'The Garden' in the early 1970s, walked out of a ‘live’ press event with Lopez, saying: “I’ve had enough of listening to you waffling on”.

He says he will stop the Brooklyn native on Saturday night.

"The way I think he's going to fight, we'll put him out of there early," Taylor said.

"But if it goes the other way, which I think it might do as well, it'll be a boxing match, a clever boxing match but nothing that I'm going to be surprised with.

"I've watched him quite a bit in the lead up to this fight and I think I know what I'm expecting. But whatever he brings, I'm more than ready for.

"Having said that, the fighter that beat Lomachenko is the version of Teofimo Lopez that I'm preparing for; a very good fighter."

Taylor is a stablemate of Caomhin Agyarko’s there days at Liverpool’s Rotunda gym and this is his first fight with trainer Joe McNally. The Scotsman is certain he will recover his best form after his contentious victory over Jack Catterall last time out.

"I've got - I've said it so many times - my mojo back. I feel like I've got it back. I just feel like I'm back to my old chirpy self. The way I was before in the lead up to the [Regis] Prograis fight. I feel I'm back to that kind of mentality. That sort of form as well," Taylor said.

"I wouldn't say the love for the game was lost," he continued. "I just felt like there was just something always missing, that one link missing that I was looking for that I wasn't able to get out. The full potential out of myself.

"There's none of that now. I feel like I'm unlocking my full potential and can be myself and improving as well, improving on the bits of my game that I need to improve on. I just feel like I'm firing on all cylinders."

Both fighters have had to take a degree of criticism from boxing fans. Lopez came under fire for rejecting a title shot against WBC 140lb champion Regis Prograis after the sanctioning body ordered the fight. Some fans saw it as a case of Lopez ducking the heavy-handed Prograis.

Meanwhile, Taylor hasn’t fought in 14 months and is coming off a controversial 12-round decision over Jack Catterall in February 2022.

“This is a super fight on both sides of the pond, the junior welterweight king in Josh Taylor stepping up against the young, dynamic Teofimo,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum.

“I cannot wait for these two supreme talents to step into the Madison Square Garden ring. It’s going to be a special night.”