AARON McKenna has set his sights on adding a Commonwealth Youth Games medal to the gold secured at a tournament branded the ‘mini World Championships’ in Russia at the weekend.
Following in the footsteps of Rio Olympian Brendan Irvine in 2014, McKenna delivered a power-packed performance to finish top of the light-welterweight pile at the prestigious Nikolay Pavlyukov memorial tournament in Anapa.
The Old School fighter, still only 17 despite being a veteran of over 150 amateur fights, had to call on his superb stamina levels to secure the gold after fighting four times in four days at the Black Sea resort.
Having seen off Finland’s Pavel Kamgnin and Scotland’s Tyler Jolly, McKenna was a big underdog heading into his semi-final bout with Uzbekistan’s world junior champion and world youth silver medallist Bilobek Mirzarakhimov on Saturday.
Yet, after what dad and coach Fergal McKenna described as “an all-out war”, McKenna’s hand was raised and on Sunday he added the scalp of Russian number one Rashid Yangazie to secure his spot on top of the podium.
“It’s a very tough tournament to win,” said the teenage sensation.
“Every fight you win, your confidence grows – that was four fights in four days so it was very tough, having to weigh in every morning as well.
“But this is the best thing I’ve won yet in my career. I feel like I’m improving physically, and I’m still learning all the time.”
Along with Irish coach Billy McClean, Fergal McKenna was working his son’s corner and spoke with pride about watching Aaron emerge from a testing week.
He said: “The semi-final against the Uzbek was the fight of the championships.
“We knew before we went in that this guy would refuse to give the ring away so Aaron’s instructions were to push him back and not allow himself to be pushed back.
“The two boys stood in the middle of the ring and they traded leather for nine full minutes. It was an all-out war.
“I’ve been away to a lot of competitions and this is the toughest I’ve ever been at. At the Worlds, you might box on the first day and then not have to box until the fourth day and over a fortnight you might have to box four times to win.
“Here, if you win, you’re out the next day. There’s no recovery and you have to be really super-fit to win this competition.”
Training for the Pavlyukov tournament began at the start of February, and McKenna was in Russia for two weeks prior to the competition as he stepped up his preparation.
As a result of being on international duty, he missed out on the Commonwealth Youth Games competition at the Dockers club.
However, Ulster High Performance coach John Conlan has yet to finalise his provisional squad and McKenna – whose brother Stephen won gold at the 2015 Games - hopes he still has a chance of being on the team that heads to the Bahamas in July.
“I was sorry I missed that competition but the preparation had to be perfect for this. I’d love to get gold at the Commonwealth Youths too,” he said, before dad Fergal added: “Hopefully common sense can prevail.
“It would be great for his development because it’s a good competition and John’s a great guy to work with. He did great work with Stephen the last time.
“But we have to see how it pans out and whether he gets selected or not.”
Stephen McKenna made it a weekend to remember for the Monaghan family, scoring an impressive win in the German Bundesliga on Saturday before younger brother Aaron came up trumps at the Nikolay Pavlyukov memorial tournament in Russia the following day.
The Old School bantam weight, lining for the BSK Hannover-Seelze, beat Jamiro Klasing from the home town Box-Club Straubing on a unanimous decision.
Indeed, the 19-year-old forced Klasing to take a standing count with 15 seconds remaining in the third.
It was a second Bundesliga victory for McKenna, who reached the final of the Irish Elite championships earlier this year.
“Stephen won all three rounds against a tough come forward boxer,” said Paddy Gallagher, who was working McKenna’s corner with Arthur Mattheis (head coach of Hannover-Seelze Boxing Team).
“He hurt him in the second and again big time in the third where the referee jumped in with a count as McKenna dished out the punishment with massive body shots.”
THE County Antrim board is staging another feast for local fight fans this Thursday night.
Following on from last week’s match-up against a talented Derry select, County Antrim are at Belfast’s Balmoral Hotel to take on County Louth.
Topping the bill is Holy Trinity banger Caoimhin Hynes, making the step up to light-heavy from middleweight for the night, when he takes on Wayne Rafferty.
But that bout is just one of 17 on the night, with the action getting under way at 7pm. Bill as follows (Antrim names first):
B1 33kg: D Magill (Glengormley) v B Lynagh
B1 40kg: K Smith (Glengormley) v P Clinton
B3: J Watson (Saints) v C Wykes
B4 52kg: M Stokes (All Saints) v J Williams
G4 53kg: M McNulty (Rathfriland) v N McCabe
B4 55kg: L Mathieson (North Down) v P Costello
B4/5 60kg: J Boyd (Gleann) v M Stokes
B5 54kg: B Morgan (Holy Family) v A Farrell
G5 56kg: C Moore (Rathfriland) v E Carey
B4 60kg: M McGregor (Holy Trinity) v T Donnelly
B5 60kg: J Adams (All Saints) v D Nevin
B6 60kg: R Farrell (Ledley Hall) v C Duff
B6 60kg: A Surgenor (Ligoniel) v J Carragher
B6 66kg: C McKinney (Holy Family) v S McKeown
B7 60kg: R Gould (Monkstown) v J Smith
Elite: C Hynes (Holy Trinity) v W Rafferty
IRELAND will return home empty-handed from the European U22 Championships in Romania.
Killough’s Dylan Duffy and Keith Flavin bowed out at the quarter-final stage in Braila on Sunday, with Duffy performing admirably in his first international competition for Ireland.
The 20-year-old, from the Pegasus club in Downpatrick, defeated the Netherlands’ Romano Marengo to reach the lightweight quarter-finals.
However, Duffy was edged out by Ukraine’s come-forward Yaroslav Khartsyz, dropping a close 3-2 call on the judges’ scorecards despite countering well throughout.
Three-time Irish Elite bantamweight champion Kurt Walker bowed out on St Patrick’s Day, dropping a 4-1 split decision against the talented Italian Raffaele Di Serio.
Walker was only drafted into the Irish panel late on, and the Canal counter-puncher will now turn his attention to the European Elite Championships in Kharkiv, Ukraine in June.