Boxing

Taxi driver Owen O'Neill going the extra mile for success as a prizefighter

Owen O'Neill moved to 6-0 as a professional with victory in Alicante, Spain last Saturday night
Andy Watters

TAXI driver Owen O’Neill moved to 6-0 with a decision win over well-travelled Bulgarian journeyman Petar Aleksandrov in Alicante, Spain last weekend.

The north Belfast super-welterweight had to rely on the generosity of his sponsors to pay for a slot on the bill but getting to the half-dozen mark unbeaten is another milestone for the ambitious Dee Walsh-trained fighter which he hopes will pay dividends in the future.

O’Neill had a short amateur career (18 contests in total) which included plenty of tear-ups, a few finals but no titles and the former Antrim select fighter admits his focus was on soccer, not boxing, until he reached the age 19. By that stage he was boxing out of the Dockers Club and was part of the squad that made the bi-annual trip to London’s renowned fighting stable Repton ABC.

“I was always an exciting amateur,” says the 25-year-old.

“I was always in great spars and great fights and I got ‘fight of the night’ plenty of times on club shows. I always had that aggressive, come-forward style; that’s the way I’ve always boxed.

“I don’t know when the switch went and I thought: ‘I’m gonna turn pro here’ but I always wanted to be a professional boxer and when I was 22 I realised that if I wanted to have a go at it then I needed to do get going. I’ve given it my all since.”

O’Neill trains at the Gleann gym with Walsh these days. His stablemates include Lewis Crocker and Padraig McCrory who are both making waves on the professional scene. Sean Crowe, the Ireland power-lighting coach, is his strength and conditioning coach.

“I couldn’t ask for training to be any better,” he said.

“It’s just perfect. I’m in a good routine with Dee and Sean, I’ve got a good structure and I train twice-a-day from Monday to Saturday when I’m in camp.”

He says “the sky’s the limit” and at some stage he hopes to be a full-time fighter but, for now, he combines training with driving a taxi.

“I train at Gleann in the morning and then go up to Crowe’s after that and then taxi in the evenings,” he explained.

Of course he’d be the wrong man for a fare-dodger to mess with but he says he hasn’t “had any runners yet”. He’s still in the early days of his boxing career to and concedes that he is learning his craft as a prizefighter. Last weekend’s win in Spain was his second victory of the year – the first came in Holland in March.

“I take something out of every fight,” he said.

“I don’t have a big amateur background so I need these learning fights before I can take on anything title-wise but I’m 6-0 and that was another tough fight in Spain. The guy was awkward and it was 30 degrees or more in the arena.

“I didn’t expect it to be that hot, I’d be one of the fittest in the gym and I do loads of rounds but I was getting it tight – when we got to the arena I was putting my boots on and there was already sweat dripping off my forehead before I even started warming-up!

“It was an awkward fight, I didn’t really get a chance to show my work off but it’s all in the pipeline and it was a good experience.

“I didn’t turn pro to go: ‘Look at me, I’m a professional boxer’ I want to come out of this sport with a house, some money and a few titles. I’d like to take the traditional route – fight for a BUI title, then Irish, then European… That’s the way I’d love to do it, build myself up and build my support up as well.”

Comeback hopes dashed for McAleer

CATHY McAleer’s hopes of a comeback fight last weekend were dashed when her opponent pulled out at the eleventh hour.

Belfast’s McAleer hasn’t boxed since December last year when she unexpectedly lost in Sheffield and the former Down Ladies’ GAA star trained hard for her return to action. However, she was left frustrated when Martina Horgasz was ruled out of their proposed meeting in Alicante.

"To commit, dedicate, sacrifice, train daily and then book travel and Covid tests and have three opponent changes in final week…” said Kellie Maloney-managed McAleer.

“Finally a third opponent, Martina Horgasz, agreed to the fight and we booked and paid for her flights and Covid tests.

“I was relieved that Boxing Ireland Promotions and my manager Kellie Maloney had worked so hard to get me sorted and then my promoter got texts saying Martina has a temperature and could not fly.

"Unfortunately you couldn’t write this journey. Frustration, emotional rollercoaster and huge disappointment."

Lomachenko targets Lopez rematch 

VASILY Lomachenko is targeting a rematch with Teofimo Lopez after his dramatic return to action against Masayoshi Nakatani in Las Vegas last Saturday night.

The former pound-for-pound king and three-weight world champion knocked out Nakatani in the ninth round of their lightweight main event at The Theater at Virgin Hotels.

Lomachenko (15-2, 11 KOs) faced a hint of adversity when a headbutt opened up a cut in the opening round, but that would be the extent of his troubles. It was one-way traffic throughout, as Nakatani (19-2, 13 KOs) showed an incredibly sturdy chin but little in the way of offense.

In the fifth round, Lomachenko floored Nakatani with a left-right combination and proceeded to lay a savage beating on his Japanese opponent. The end came in the ninth round when Celestino Ruiz called an end to the carnage.

Lomachenko now sets his aim on a rematch with Lopez, who won their first meeting last October in Las Vegas.

“I’m happy because I won. All the strategies that we developed with my team {worked}. I reached all my goals. I won and now I’m back on track,” said ‘Loma’.

“Everybody saw how I won this fight, and everybody is waiting for the rematch {with Lopez}, so let’s make a rematch.

“He has a fight in the future with (George) Kambosos, but how about after, in the beginning of next year? December, January, February, I am waiting.”

Top Rank chairman Bob Arum added: “In case there was any doubt, Lomachenko proved he is still one of the very best fighters in the world. He is healthy and ready to fight any of the lightweights.”

Meanwhile, the middleweight division has a new boogeyman in Janibek ‘Qazaq Style’ Alimkhanuly. The 2016 Olympian bludgeoned and ultimately stopped former world champion Rob Brant in eight rounds to retain his WBC Continental Americas and WBO Global titles.

The southpaw Alimkhanuly (10-0, 6 KOs) found a home for his straight left hand all evening, knocking Brant (26-3, 18 KOs) down in the sixth. After the eighth round, Brant's corner saved their man from additional punishment, capping a one-sided exhibition.

Alimkhanuly said: “Tonight, I showed the world what ‘Qazaq Style’ is about. Rob Brant is a former world champion for a reason, but I came here to showcase my full arsenal, and that’s what I did.

“I am highly ranked, and I have the confidence to fight any middleweight in the world. I had a great training camp with Buddy McGirt, and this was the result of all the hard work we did in camp.”

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Boxing