Boxing review of 2021: From Michael Conlan to Katie Taylor and the end of the road for Carl Frampton

Michael Conlan beat TJ Doheny on an unforgettable night at the Feile an Phobail festival in August. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker.

Michael Conlan (career: 16-0, 2021: 2-0)

TWO fights, two wins and a world title showdown with WBA featherweight champion Leigh Wood (see Fights to look forward to) at Nottingham Arena in March. Things have gone to plan for Belfast's Conlan who dipped temporarily back down to 122lbs when he beat Ionut Baluta to win the vacant WBO Inter-Continental super-bantamweight title in April before he returned to featherweight in front of his adoring fans at the Falls Park spectacular in August.

Conlan's craft was too much for former super-bantam world champion TJ Doheny that night. During a tetchy build-up to the fight, Laois native Doheny had claimed that Conlan “couldn't crack an egg” but the former world amateur gold medallist had him on the canvas on the way to a convincing points win.

Katie Taylor (career: 20-0, 2021: 3-0)

STILL the fighting pride of Ireland, Taylor defended her WBC, WBA, IBF, The Ring and WBO lightweight titles three times in 2021 in a trio of action-packed encounters against long-term rival Natasha Jonas, then Jennifer Han and finally surprise packet Firuza Sharipova in December.

Russian Sharipova pushed Taylor all the way and both women were swinging from the hips in a frantic end to the fight. Sharipova's spoiling tactics made it scrappy but the quality work came from Taylor who earned a unanimous 98-92, 97-92, 96-93 decision on the scorecards.

She wants to fight the best and next up is a global spectacular against Amanda Serrano (see Fights to look forward to).

Lewis Crocker (career: 14-0, 2021: 2-0)

FIGHTING out of studious Belfast coach Dee Walsh's in-form stable, Crocker made real progress last year and can't be far away from the breakthrough many good judges have predicted for him.

A knockout artist since his early days, he has added patience and ring craft to his skillset and showcased his development in two impressive defences of his WBO European welterweight title against formidable opposition. The first was against 22-2 Deniz Ilbay in Bolton last March and the second against Artem Haroyan (17-2-1) at the Ulster Hall. Still only 24, ‘The Croc' can look forward to a bright future.

Caomhin Agyarko (career: 10-0, 2021: 2-0)

LONDON-based Agyarko finished off last year by penning a promotional deal with Matchroom and the WBO International middleweight belt around his waist.

There were shades of Mike Tyson's vicious body-punching in how he dismantled Mexican Ernesto Olvera in June. Olvera retired after three rounds and ‘Black Thunder' built on that by stopping Noe Larios junior in December. Strong and powerful with quick feet and distance-control, the former Holy Trinity ABC star is a man to keep a close eye on this year.

Pody McCrory (career: 13-0, 2021: 2-0)

‘THE Hammer' puts bums on seats and he treated the Belfast fans to two crackers last year. The first lit up Falls Park in August when he battered Russia's Sergei Gorokhov into submission to win the WBC International Silver super-middleweight title.

The second was an unforgettable finish against Celso Neves in the Ulster Hall in November (see Knockout of the Year) and he is now targeting a showdown with Jack Cullen or Rocky Fielding.

Aaron McKenna (career: 14-0, 2021: 3-0)

A SPECIAL talent, Monaghan native McKenna cruised to three victories late in 2021 and signed off on another successful year by beating Carlos Gallego in London to win the WBC Youth World Middleweight title.

Totally dedicated to the sport and expertly trained by his father Fergal, ‘The Silencer' has the tools to go a long way. The tests will get harder in 2022 and he'll relish that.

Stevie McKenna (career: 11-0, 2021: 4-0)

‘THE Hitman' hasn't displayed the same slick boxing style as his brother Aaron yet but he is no less talented in his method. A devastating force of nature, he has battered a succession of opponents to the canvas and, in November, Richmond Djarbeng didn't even make it out of his own corner after McKenna charged at him after the first bell in Coventry.

With power in both hands, a seemingly unstoppable engine and unquenchable desire to improve and progress, former Smithboro ABC star McKenna is already formidable force. The calibre of opponents will improve this year and we will begin to see the best of him.

Sean McComb (career: 13-1, 2021: 2-1)

McCOMB steadied his ship in the second half of the year with wins against Vicente Martin Rodriguez at Falls Park and then, more impressively, beating experienced Scot Ronnie Clark in November.

Those two victories put McComb back on course because he faced an uncertain future after he came off second best against tough Welshman Gavin Gwynne in a Commonwealth lightweight battle in February. Gwynne had been blitzed by James Tennyson in 2020 but he is a determined character and McComb – who looked over-cooked and flat-footed – could not live with him in Bolton. The pace was relentless and ‘Public Nuisance' McComb battled it out for almost seven brutal rounds before he turned his back on Gwynne and decided that enough was enough.

Since then skilful McComb has hooked up with Pete Taylor and he came back impressively with those two wins in the second half of the year.

Anto Cacace (career: 19-1, 2021: 1-0)

ANOTHER quiet year for ‘the Apache'. His title defence against Leon Woodstock was postponed earlier in the year after Woodstock tested positive for Covid-19 but Cacace dominated the Englishman in Birmingham when they eventually met in August to retain his British Super-featherweight title. If he intends to step up, this is the year to do it.

Tyrone McKenna (career: 22-2-1, 2021: 1-0)

WON the WBO Inter-Continental Super-Lightweight belt with a trademark display of power, showmanship, bravery and ability against teak-tough Mexican Jose Felix at Falls Park in August. There has been talk of fight with former WBO and WBC champion Regis Prograis but nothing has been signed as yet. Whoever comes next, McKenna predicts a war.

“I've said ‘War McKenna' only from now on – and that's what I gave tonight,” he said after the Felix win.

“I could have gone out there, 6'1” southpaw and out-boxed the Mexican 100 per cent but I didn't because I wanted to entertain the fans. I said it since my last fight I'm never boxing on the back foot again – and I didn't for that whole fight.”

Tommy McCarthy (career: 18-3, 2021: 1-1)

I THOUGHT McCarthy had done enough to get the decision when (with Carl Frampton a surprise addition to his corner) he fought Shane McGuigan-trained Chris Billam-Smith in Brentwood. McCarthy put his EBU European Cruiser title in the pot against Billam-Smith's Commonwealth and British title belts. McCarthy stunned his opponent early on with an overhand right but then opted to box within himself and Billam-Smith closed the gap. Eddie Hearn agreed to a rematch after the Englishman took a split decision win but injuries meant McCarthy hasn't boxed since that July defeat.

Jason Quigley (career: 19-2, 2021: 1-1)

EVERY boxer dreams of fighting for a world title and so, after years of hard work as an amateur and 20 fights as a professional, Donegal's Quigley realised his when he got a shot at Demetrius Andrade's WBO title in November.

The result was a lesson that when opportunity knocks you have to grab your chance and caught-in-the-headlights Quigley came and went without showing what he is capable of. His big moment lasted just over five minutes and ended in humiliating defeat and a broken jaw.

Quigley had beaten Shane Mosley junior in May to win the vacant NABO middleweight title in May and called out Andrade afterwards. Power-punching southpaw ‘Boo' was 30-0 and had been dodged by the division's marquee names including Canelo Alvarez but gave him the shot.

Quigley, who had Wayne McCullough in his corner not coach Andy Lee, went in as an underdog who needed to produce the performance of his life to win in Manchester, New Hampshire.

The build-up was extraordinarily good-natured and Quigley gave the impression of a man just happy to be enjoying being part of a world title occasion. The hope was that we would see a different side of him in the ring but he was unable to shake himself into action and barely landed a meaningful blow.

Andrade took a couple of minutes to size him up before he dipped his head forward once, then dipped again while bringing through a left hook. Quigley was caught clean and, seconds later, he was on the canvas. A straight left put him down in the second and, although Quigley got back to his feet, it was all over in a flash before the end of the round. Disappointment for Quigley but he can use the experience to come back stronger.

James Tennyson (career: 28-4, 2021: 0-1)

JOVANNI who? That was the question before Tennyson stepped into the ring with unknown Mexican Jiovanni Straffon in Manchester Arena in May. The IBO lightweight title was up for grabs and, not for the first time in his career, Tennyson had struggled to make weight but he went toe-to-toe with Straffon from the first bell and this time the hammer-handed Twinbrook native came off second best.

‘Tenny' landed some solid shots but Straffron took them well and when the Irishman lunged in with a right hand and lost balance he was tagged with a left hook from the Mexican. A left-right from Straffon dropped him just over a minute into the fight and although he bravely beat the count and was allowed to continue, the unheralded Mexican pinned him to the ropes and clinically finished him off.

Will we see him again? Possibly but Tennyson has started a new job with Connected Health and, according to reports, is enjoying the change of lifestyle.

Paddy Donovan (career 7-0, 2021, 2-0)

ANDY Lee-trained Donavan continued to progress and scored two impressive wins in 2021, most notably at the Falls Park in August when he gave a pin-point display of slick movement and power punching to blow away Jose Luis Castillo. Oozing class, a left hook to out-of-his-depth Castillo's mid-section brought an abrupt halt to proceedings just over a minute into the contest. A proper prospect.

Kristina O'Hara (career 1-0, 2021: 1-0)

LAST year was a quiet one for women's boxing. Cathy McAleer had to deal with postponement after postponement and Kildare light-welter Katelynn Phelan (5-0) boxed just once. Belfast's O'Hara did make her professional debut though and looked the part in a composed points win in Sheffield against Maria Dayana Loyola.

Owen O'Neill (career 7-0, 2021 3-0)

THREE wins for O'Neill last year including two on the road and, according to reports, next year could begin with an all-Irish showdown against Cavan's Dominic Donegan (5-2-1) who lost two and drew one last year.

Brett McGinty (career: 4-0, 2021: 3-0)

DONEGAL super-welterweight McGinty (23) is trained by Ricky Hatton and managed by Mick Hennessy. He was busy throughout 2021 and recorded three wins over durable journeymen Pavel Albrecht, Teodor Nikolov and Dwain Grant.

Farewell to Frampton

A GREAT fighter and one of the good guys. There were unforgettable nights at the Titanic Slipway, when he beat Kiko Martinez to become world champion, and then in Manchester when he humbled Scott Quigg to unify his super-bantamweight title. Later that year he travelled to New York and produced what, in hindsight, was his best performance to dominate Leo Santa Cruz and become a two-weight world champion. Although he remained at world title level for the rest of his career, that was Frampton at the peak of his powers.

The following year he lost his world title in a rematch against Santa Cruz in Las Vegas and then there was the acrimonious split with the McGuigans.

With Jamie Moore in his corner, ‘The Jackal' beat Nonito Donaire, won in Vegas and at packed Windsor Park and fought like a lion against Josh Warrington back in Manchester but the end came when he stepped up to super-featherweight against Jamel Herring in Dubai in April. Herring was too big, too strong and Frampton soon discovered that the old magic wasn't there and the inevitable curtain came down on his brilliant career.

Short of work

THE Covid-19 pandemic has hit boxing hard and with small hall shows few and far between, work was hard to come by for many Irish fighters. We hope for better days ahead for the likes of Sean Duffy, Fearghus Quinn, Callum Bradley, Colm ‘Posh Boy' Murphy and James McGivern.

Among the newcomers, Dave Coldwell-trained Cork native Steven Cairns boxed his way to wins in Spain and Germany and we saw Kerry native Liam Walsh, Cian Lewis, Paul Ryan and Daniel Keating for the first time.

Knockout of the year

Padraig McCrory v Celso Neves KO R2

THE first round at the Ulster Hall had been all-action and the second had barely begun when ‘The Hammer' swung a right hook at Neves. Neves bent his knees to duck the shot and came up to counter but there was a left coming in the opposite direction. It landed clean. Game over.

End of the Road?

AFTER some soul-searching, Tyrone McCullagh returned to the ring for what was supposed to be a routine comeback win against journeyman Brett Fidoe in June.

McCullagh's stick-and-move tactics were working but his lack of a killer instinct caught him out when Fidoe landed with a haymaker left hook. The Derry southpaw stayed on his feet and even rallied but Fidoe tagged him again with another left hand. A right sent McCullagh tumbling to the canvas and the referee waved it off when he got back to his feet.

Former world title challenger James Tennyson is also considering his future and so is Paul Hyland who only appearance last year was a loss to Maxi Hughes.

Fights to look forward to

Katie Taylor (20-0) v Amanda Serrano (42-1-1)

THIS match-up has been bubbling under the surface for a few years now and it seems we'll see undisputed lightweight queen Taylor cross swords with featherweight force Serrano in the spring and bid to become an undisputed champion in two weight classes.

Seranno rounded off 2021 with a convincing win against Miriam Gutierrez and her engine, power and smart punch selection makes her a difficult proposition for Bray native Taylor.

"It's been a great year and this prepares us for all the big fights next year. Amanda Serrano, Jessica McCaskill, whoever else…,” said Taylor

“We're ready for a big 2022. Serrano-Taylor is going to be the biggest fight ever in women's boxing. This is a historic fight."

Michael Conlan (16-0) v Leigh Wood (25-2) WBO featherweight title, Nottingham Arena, March 12.

WOOD shocked China's Can Xu to win the title in July and he will have the edge in terms of punching power but switch-hitting Conlan's quick feet and disruptive fast hands make him so elusive that the Englishman will find it very hard to put his punches together, pin him down and catch him clean in Nottingham.

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