Tyrone McKenna: Pride on the line as East and West collide in Battle of Belfast

Best of the West. Tyrone McKenna takes on Lewis Crocker on December 2
Best of the West. Tyrone McKenna takes on Lewis Crocker on December 2

PRIDE is on the line says Tyrone McKenna as the minutes tick away towards his east versus west ‘Battle of Belfast’ with Lewis Crocker on December 2.

The derby rumble has been compared to the legendary Hugh Russell-Davy Larmour battles back in 1980s. The sadly-departed ‘Wee Red’ (who will be sorely missed at ringside) won the first meeting at the Ulster Hall and Larmour avenged the loss with a points win at the Kings Hall a year later.

Forty years’ on Belfast is a changed place but bragging rights are up for grabs when McKenna, from West Belfast, takes on Crocker, from the East of the city. Sparks are expected to fly in every minute of the 10 rounds (if the fight goes that far) when they go to war.

McKenna has three losses on his 27-fight card but the ‘Mighty Celt’ has been mixing it at the highest echelons of the sport for a while now and Crocker (17-0) hasn’t been fully tested at that level yet.

“I’ve had bigger fights than this but this is Belfast v Belfast,” said McKenna.

“These are the kind of fights that I thrive on, I love fighting a fellow Irishman, or someone from the same city.

“It gives you added motivation, it gives you a bit more spite in training where you want to really dig deep and I know I have to dig deep because there’s a lot of pride on the line, there’s a lot at stake so I’m buzzing for this.”

McKenna has fought four Irish opponents previously and beaten them all in the unique derby atmosphere. He is confident he’ll add Scotland-trained Crocker to his list of local scalps.

“I’ve been in these situations before,” he said.

“I’m well used to this, I know what it brings and I know the pressure you feel going out there. I know what it’s like to get in the ring with someone from the same city. I’m used to that but I don’t think he is, he doesn’t know the pressure that comes with this territory so all that leans in my favour.

“There is a bit of extra pride on the line that he won’t be used to and more at stake than he’s used to. After this fight I’ll see Lewis out on the street in town and you want to be the king of your city, don’t you?

“That’s basically what it is, it’s the battle of Belfast, that’s what’s on the line.”

There’s no bad blood in the fight. The fighters aren’t close friends necessarily but there is no personal animosity there. It’ll be all about keeping a cool head and taking care of business on December 2.

“I don’t dislike Lewis, I always cheer him on in his fights and wish him well and chat to him when I see him,” said McKenna.

“But this is boxing and I’ll put that all to one side and I’m gonna smash his face in when I see him.”

In the early stages of his career, Crocker proved very hard to match and his first half-dozen opponents were all dealt with quickly. Hand injuries restricted his progress but they are behind him now and the devastating natural punching power has been evident in his last six outings.

“Anybody who gets in the ring with you is a threat,” said McKenna.

“Everyone is billing him as the biggest puncher I’ve ever fought but Prograis hits harder and Jack Catterall. I’m not worried about his power at all – he’s knocked out a lot of people but he’s had 17 fights with 17 journeymen.

“Anyone he’s beat, he’s been hot favourite, this is the first test of his career to see what he’s made of and this is the wrong fight for him to step up. I’ve fought some of the world’s best whereas he’s fought nobody so I don’t think he realises the gap of experience and skill. He’s been dumped in the deep end and it’s gonna be too deep for him.”

Hugh Russell junior presents Boxer of the Year Conor Quinn with the Eddie Shaw Trophy
Hugh Russell junior presents Boxer of the Year Conor Quinn with the Eddie Shaw Trophy

DEFEAT on Saturday night could spell the end of the career of Ireland’s greatest-ever female boxer Katie Taylor. So the stakes couldn’t be higher for Taylor who has to go all-in against Chantelle Cameron in a rematch of the May world title fight the Englishwoman won with an undisputable points victory.

That was Taylor’s first on home soil as a professional ­- something she worried would never happen for her. The extended ring walk and the pressure of the occasion may have detracted from her performance but they won’t be factors this time.

“My emotions are going to be a bit more intact this time,” said Taylor ahead of the 3Arena bill.

“This is the biggest fight of my career.

“I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to have an influence on the next generation, that’s very special to me and that’s what it’s all about. I’m very grateful that I’ve had that influence on other young fighters and hopefully that legacy can continue because I just want to keep building.

“I don’t think a loss is that big of a deal. I lost at the Rio Olympics and you’re disappointed but you get up and get on with things and you focus on the next fight. I don’t wallow in self-pity too much, I get up and get on with it and the next day (after the first Cameron fight) I was surrounded by my family and it would have been the same if I had been celebrating a win.

“I have to learn from the first fight and adapt and I’m excited at the prospect of this rematch.”