Boxing

Smithborough sensation Aaron McKenna hopes to follow in footsteps of 'Canelo'

Aaron McKenna at Golden Boy's Los Angeles offices with dad Fergal (left) and Robert Diaz, Golden Boy's head matchmaker
Neil Loughran

SMITHBOROUGH sensation Aaron McKenna is hoping to follow in the footsteps of new Golden Boy stablemate Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez by starting young in the pro ranks before rising right to the very top.

Alvarez was just 15 when he made his professional debut in 2005 and, by the time of his 20th birthday had 32 professional fights.

The Mexican superstar, still only 27, will fight for the 50th time this weekend in a money-spinning middleweight showdown with Gennady Golovkin, and McKenna admits he can only dream of showcasing his talents on such a stage down the line.

Last week McKenna, regarded as one of the hottest properties in Irish boxing, inked a major multi-fight deal with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions – just two months after celebrating his 18th birthday.

Having also signed with Sheer Sports Management, the same company who look after Donegal middleweight Jason Quigley, McKenna will swap county Monaghan for Santa Monica once his visa comes through.

A debut date has yet to be confirmed, although it could be as soon as next month, and McKenna – who will begin his career at welterweight - just can’t wait to get started.

“All the training and hard work has paid off, and it feels great to finally say I’m a pro boxer. I can’t wait now to have my first fight,” he said.

“Since I was young I’ve always wanted to be a pro, I always wanted to win a world title and that’s my ambition – to win a world title and become Ireland’s greatest-ever boxer.

“It’s a dream come true, when you look at the names on their roster – ‘Canelo’, Cotto, guys like that – you just realise how big it is. When I spoke to Oscar, he said he was very excited to see me box.

“You see the way Canelo’s career has been managed and it can be done after starting young. Mike Tyson was young too when he burst onto the scene.

“I’m well suited to the pro game, I’m not afraid to get in with anyone.”

McKenna will only contest four rounders in the first year as he learns the ropes under coach Courage Tshabalala, and will be managed gradually as Golden Boy build him in to the pro ranks.

Despite what he expects will be a low-key start, the talented teenager has already selected a nickname that he hopes to see up in lights some day soon.

“The Silencer,” he says.

“I got this name when I was away in Russia with the Irish team earlier this year. One of the boys said about me being quiet outside the ring but looking like I want to hurt somebody inside the ring, so that’s what I’ll go with.”

Dad and amateur coach Fergal is heading out to America’s west coast too, and admits it is an opportunity they simply couldn’t refuse.

He said: “The reaction has been unreal.

“He was an outstanding amateur but his heart and soul was always for the pro game.

“Golden Boy wanted him when he turned 18 and we respected that, because there was only one company we were interested in working with.

“It’s something that doesn’t just fall in your lap every day and when you’re getting an opportunity like this, it’s something you have to seize and make the most of it.”

James Tennyson, Brendan Irvine and Dylan McShane officially reopened the new-look St Paul’s boxing club last Friday night. Picture by Matt Bohill

McKAY DELIGHTED TO FINALLY GET INTO NEW-LOOK ST PAUL'S BOXING CLUB

ST Paul’s boxing club in west Belfast showed off its new facelift at Friday night’s official re-opening.

Politicians and friends of the club headed down to the Riverdale East premises, with WBA international super featherweight champion and St Paul’s old boy James Tennyson joining Rio Olympian Brendan Irvine and young hopeful Dylan McShane as the tape was cut.

The club benefitted from a £59,000 grant from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, allowing them to bring St Paul’s – which opened in 2009 - right up to date.

“We were in a cave,” says head coach Ralph McKay, who works alongside fellow coaches Frankie McCourt, Mark O’Neill, Tom O’Neill and Yuri Piskin.

“There was just concrete walls, the lighting was hanging off the roof, there were no proper shower facilities.

“Now we have showers, we can properly cater for females, there’s a new heating system, air conditioning and the whole place got a tidy up and a much-needed lick of paint.

“It actually feels like a club now. We have lots of really good kids still coming through the door, so the future is bright.”

It was a special night for Tennyson too, returning to the club he represented before turning pro in 2012.

He said: “Ralph’s done a great job - he puts every hour of the day in with those kids and the club deserves everything it gets.

“The boxer he has coming through, and that he has produced through the years, shows the work that has been put in.”

Jake Tucker with Holy Trinity coaches Mickey and Harry Hawkins

TALENTED TUCKER AIMING TO BE A EURO STAR IN BULGARIA

HAVING watched with pride as older brother Kane battled his way to a silver medal at the Commonwealth Youth Games, Jake Tucker has the chance to enhance his own burgeoning reputation next week.

The talented teenager, who recently turned 16, is part of a 13-man team heading to Albena in Bulgaria on Saturday for the European Junior Championships after starring at July’s national cadets.

The Newry siblings have always pushed each other on throughout their rise through the ranks, and Jake was delighted to see middleweight Kane performing so well in the Bahamas.

Now it’s his time to shine, though the St Colman’s College, Newry fifth year student isn’t putting any pressure on himself.

“I’m not really going out here with any particular medal in mind or anything, I’m just hoping I perform well,” said Tucker, who stands at 6”2 and will box in the 70kg category.

“We’ve been training hard down in Edenderry all week with our coaches, Billy McClean, Dmitry Dmitruk and Pete Brady, and we’re all looking forward to getting out there now.

“Kane has been helping me with sparring when we’ve been up at Holy Trinity because he’s been the only one around my height and weight class, and it’s good to have him there.

“We both just want to be as good as we can be, and we’re lucky to work with such top class coaches at the club too.”

Also part of the Irish panel is 46kg pocket rocket Jude Gallagher from the Two Castles club in Newtownstewart.

Gallagher, who will be making his first appearance on the international stage, booked his spot on the plane to Bulgaria with a split decision win over Patrick Connors in the cadet final.

Irish squad

46kg: Jude Gallagher (Two Castles); 48kg: Patrick McCarthy (Tralee); 50kg: Myles Casey (Rathkeale); 52kg: Dean Clancy (Ballinacarrow); 54kg: Brandon McCarthy (St Michael’s, Athy); 57kg: Mikey Stokes (Athlone); 60kg: Callum Walsh (Rivertown); 63kg: Peter Vrinceanu (Crumlin); 66kg: William Hayden (Crumlin); 70kg: Jake Tucker (Holy Trinity); 75kg: Gavin Rafferty (St Cianan’s); 80kg: Thomas Doherty (Baldoyle); 80+kg: Cathal Crowley (Spartan)

Coaches: Billy McClean, Dmitry Dmitruk; Team manager: Pete Brady; R&J: John Casey

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Boxing