Boxing

Tyrone McCullagh leads the way as Pete Taylor quartet gets primed for summer showdowns

Tokyo here we come. Irish boxers Aidan Walsh, Brendan Irvine, Kurt Walker and Michael Walsh get set for the Olympic Games. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Andy Watters

YOU could understand if Pete Taylor had picked up a little bit of the Belfast patter with all the fighters from the city he has in his gym there days.

Taylor recently took Sean McComb under his experienced wing and the former Holy Trinity ABC star joins Tommy McCarthy and Tyrone McKenna in the busy Dublin stable.

Cruiserweight McCarthy is preparing for his showdown with Shane McGuigan-trained Chris Billam-Smith and will travel to England on Thursday for a sparring camp. Tyrone McKenna will also be involved in that camp as he sharpens up for his long-awaited clash with Kazakhstan hardman Zhankosh Turarov at Feile an Phobail in Falls Park on August 6.

McKenna-Turarov was originally scheduled for the Carl Frampton-Jamel Herring undercard in Dubai in April but fell through after the Kazak withdrew at the eleventh hour.

“That’s a great fight for Tyrone,” said Taylor.

“Turarov is a big puncher and undefeated and if Tyrone wins that one it puts him right up there for a world title shot and we’d love to get a rematch with Ohara Davis after that. I don’t think Davis would take it though.”

McCarthy puts his European title on the line when he and Billam-Smith also clash for the Commonwealth and British titles in London on July 31. Victory will put McCarthy in the mix for a world title shot.

“Billam-Smith is a big, strong lad and he has a good workrate,” said Taylor.

“Tommy’s last two performances have been good but I think we need to step up another level for this one. I don’t think Billam-Smith is as good a boxer as Tommy but it’s not a three-round fight, it’s over 12 so he’s going to have to dig in there and stay there and fight with him.

“It’s an interesting match-up, a good clash of styles and if Tommy wins it he has been promised a world title shot so he has everything to fight for. Both of them have so it’s life-changing, it’s where you go into the one per cent of boxers who start making a little bit of money and that’s what they’re all in it for at the end of the day.

“Tommy is well capable of it and he is training hard. Hopefully it works out well for him.”

But it is Taylor’s Derry fighter Tyrone McCullagh who is out first this summer.

‘White Chocolate’ makes his long-awaited comeback in Bolton on Friday night against seasoned journeyman Brett Fidoe.

McCullagh hasn’t fought since February last year when he lost to savvy Ryan Walsh at York Hall. That defeat, the first of his career, hit McCullagh hard but he has worked tirelessly with Taylor to prepare for his comeback.

“He’s flying,” said Taylor.

“We have been working on changing his style a bit – we don’t want him moving so much and this is the perfect fight to try that. Fidoe has only been stopped once (by Lee Selby) and he has fought all the top lads.

“On his day he can turn it on so it’s a potential banana skin for Tyrone.”

McCullagh began well against Walsh and shaded the early rounds with his elusive hit-and-move style but ‘Iron Ryan’ eventually caught up with and was the clear winner at the finish.

“It’s hard to come back from a first loss but Tyrone has had a long break now and we’ve been changing a few things in his armoury which hopefully will stand to him,” said Taylor.

“I don’t want to change what he does because what he does can be very effective. I mean, he got to 14-0 and his legs are brilliant but we’re trying to get him to stop throwing single punches and start throwing punches in bunches and then move before the opponent gets set. He is attacking more frequently instead of boxing on the back foot all the time. I want him to box-fight a bit more, that’s what we’ve been working on and he’s been doing great in sparring.

“Hopefully he’ll be okay and I don’t want to change too much because he got a European bronze medal as an amateur and won the Irish title. It’s trying to get the right balance and we were only together a short while before the Ryan Walsh fight.”

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TYRONE McCullagh admits he had “called it a day” several times after setback followed setback over a frustrating last 18 months. Thankfully, the Derry featherweight was talked out of premature retirement and he returns to the ring on Friday night in Bolton against experienced English journeyman Brett Fidoe.

“I’m delighted to be back,” said McCullagh.

“It’s been a long, long time and it’s probably given me a few extra nerves but I’m really looking forward to it and I hope I can push on from here and keep busy.

“I’ve only had one defeat but, after what’s happened since that defeat, it feels like this is the last-chance-saloon for me. I know it’s not but it feels that way because it’s been that long.”

McCullagh hasn’t fought since February last year when he lost to Ryan Walsh (the Englishman who has stoppage wins over Marco McCullough and James Tennyson on his record) in London. That bill in York Hall was one of the last before the Covid pandemic wiped out live sport and, because McCullagh had appeared on it, he was then “put to the bottom of the list” for another fight date.

As he made his way up the list he had a problem with his medical – a query on a brain scan which has since been resolved – which delayed his return. He was given a date for mid-May but the bill was postponed.

“I had called it a day in my head a few times but I was talked out of it,” he explained.

“You have to be very tough mentally and all that time I’m training away in Dublin full-time and there’s no money coming in and all the out-goings so it’s been very, very tough to be honest.

“My family helped me out and I was borrowing off Peter to pay Paul and do odd-jobs here and there, taking people on pads and doing what I could to make ends meet so I could get down to Dublin and get a few days’ training in.

“It has been tough but I suppose there are people who have been worse off. There’s no point feeling sorry for yourself, you have to grind it out and hopefully one day it will pay off.”

McCullagh went into the Walsh fight – the final of Sky Sports’ lucrative ‘Golden Contract’ tournament – unbeaten on 14-0. Early on he controlled the contest with an elusive, on-his-bike style but Walsh took charge after he caught up with him in the sixth round. Losing his ‘0’ was a hammer-blow for McCullagh.

“For the first five rounds I was cruising against him – I don’t think he landed a glove on me,” he said.

“But with the style I box, you need to box the perfect fight and have no lapses in concentration. In the sixth round he caught me – he hit me hard, I was never hit like that before – and it turned the fight on its head.

“I went into survival mode but I’d never experienced getting hit like that before and as soon as he dropped me I was just thinking: ‘See it out, get to the final bell’ because the last thing I wanted to do was get stopped. He took over the fight.

“I was devastated afterwards.

“Maybe everybody goes through it after a first defeat? I took it pretty bad. I just sat in my room, I shut myself away feeling sorry for myself for a couple of weeks but my da had a word with me and I picked myself up and dusted myself down. It took me a while to get over it and then, when I did try and get back at it, it was one thing after another that went wrong and I was starting to worry that people would think I had one defeat and called it a day which wasn’t the case.”

McCullagh came to terms with the loss and spoke to Jamie Conlan (manager) and Pete Taylor (coach) about where he would go from there. Friday is the start of his rebuild and, understandably, he is relieved and excited to get back to action.

“I haven’t completely changed but I’m going to be a bit more attacking and maybe put a bit more behind my punches,” he explained.

“I won’t be ‘Tyrone McKenna all-out war’ but I will be on the front foot a bit more. I’d say I learned more from the Walsh fight than my previous 14, it was a big, big learning curve and I think I’ll be a lot better fight because of it.”

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PADRAIG McCrory was the winner of the Eddie Shaw Trophy for 2020 and now hopes follows in the footsteps of the likes of Carl Frampton and Brian Magee, both previous winners of the prestigious award.

“It’s nice to be recognised and it’s nice to have my name on the same trophy as Frampton, Brian Magee and a lot of other great fighters,” he said.

“A lot of them went on to achieve great things so let’s hope I can follow in their footsteps.”

McCrory will appear on the Feile an Phobhail bill on August 6 and there are unconfirmed reports that he will be in a WBC International contest that night. In 2019 he beat Steve Collins junior to win the Irish super-middleweight title at the Feile in what he describes as “one of the best nights of my career”.

'The Hammer' turned 33 yesterday and insists he is fresh and motivated and that his best years are still in front of him.

“Looking back on my boxing career, taking four years’ off has served me well,” he said.

“I still feel fresh, I’m 33 going on 23 and I feel great. Time doesn’t wait for anybody but I still feel like I’m getting better with every fight and let’s hope I can get my hands on a title this year.”

Meanwhile, Belfast light-welterweight Owen O’Neill, McCrory’s stablemate at the Gleann gym, gets the sixth fight of his professional career in Alicante, Spain on Friday night.

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SEAN McComb is targeting a rematch with Gavin Gwynne says, coach Pete Taylor who adds that southpaw McComb has been “a great addition to the team” after the slick Belfast lightweight joined his gym earlier this year.

“Sean is quality,” says Taylor.

“He had a little blip (against Gwynne) but that’s all it was. A lot of people are probably writing him off after that but I’ve seen the quality of him in sparring. The sparring he’s doing with Tyrone McKenna and Gary Cully… You’d pay to watch it.

“In all fairness to Sean, he had a terrible camp for the Gwynne fight and I’m not being disrespectful to Danny Vaughan (his former coach). That fight was on and then off and I don’t think Sean knew where he was, he really shouldn’t have taken it.

“He wants to get a fight at Feile (August 6) and then get a rematch with Gwynne to rectify things. There’s no better man to do it than Sean because he seems to be in the right place in his head now. He’s a brilliant trainer and an intelligent boxer; he’s quality and I’m looking forward to seeing him out again.”

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POSSIBLE Michael Conlan opponent Isaac ‘Royal Storm’ Dogboe returned to action with a majority decision win last weekend. The former junior featherweight world champion edged Adam Lopez via 10-round decision (95-95, 96-94 and 97-93) to win the NABF featherweight title.

Dogboe (22-2, 15 KOs) jumped out to an early lead, but Lopez (15-3, 6 KOs) charged back in the second half of the bout, muscling Dogboe around the ring and buzzing him on more than one occasion.

The 10th round — a back-and-forth three minutes — was a phonebox battle that played out the previous nine rounds. After the final bell, both men thought they'd done enough, but it was the former champ who came out ahead.

Dogboe said: “I was pretty confident I’d get that decision because I controlled the fight for the first six rounds. I was posing too much and got a little too careless. Every now and then, I stayed in the pocket a little too long and forced too much. But, listen, Adam is a great guy. He showed the pedigree. We promised it would be a firefight. It takes two to tango.

“A lot of people wrote me off after those losses to Navarrete and said I was overhyped. People like me, we don’t stay down forever. We get back up. I have to thank my team. They’re not just trainers, they are family. God wanted me to be there.”

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