Tommy McCarthy on revenge mission against Chris Billam-Smith * Eric Donovan targets EBU champion Jordan Gill
A YEAR has passed since they first met and you can bet that Tommy McCarthy will have had Chris Billam-Smith on his mind at some point of every day since. Will he have his vengeance on Saturday night?
In a rematch not to be missed, the cruiserweight rivals get it on for the second time at Manchester Arena and there is much more than the EBU Cruiserweight title up for grabs.
In the first meeting McCarthy, who had Carl Frampton in his corner, stunned the Shane McGuigan-trained English favourite with a thumping overhand right in the opener and on top in the early rounds. But with McCarthy hampered by a clash-of-heads cut over his right eye and slowing down, Billam-Smith fought his way back into it and took a disputed split-decision win.
Billam-Smith says he expects better from McCarthy this time and it's obvious from his pre-fight interviews that he underestimated him last year.
“I've always said I'm happy to take the rematch and right a few wrongs I did in that fight,” he said.
“Tommy was better than I thought he was going to be. He didn't do anything different to what we expected he was just a bit quicker, a bit fitter and a bit harder to hit clean - but that was my fault; that was me taking my eye off the ball. These are things we're ironing out now and that's part of the process of professional boxing.
“He caught me with an overhand right in the first round and buzzed me for a split-second but I've been hit harder in fights and in sparring. That probably swung that round for him because I was in control before then. It was pretty much the only shot he landed.
“This time I'm demanding a lot more for myself. I'm looking at world level and looking at things I've got to improve on to beat the top guys. I always demand a lot from myself and after the McCarthy fight I was back running within a week.
“I'll expect a better version of him, this is his last hurrah in a way. It's his last opportunity to really kick on because if he loses back-to-back fights it's a long way back. He's going to be training hard for this fight and he's going to have to make adjustments.”
There should be much more to come from the Lenadoon native and there'll need to be. His coach Pete Taylor described last year's effort as “a poor performance” and McCarthy will need to leave it all in the ring on Saturday night.
“Landing that shot in the first round pretty much threw me off the gameplan because then I was looking for a big one-hitter-quitter for the next lot of rounds and during that time Chris was picking up points,” said McCarthy.
“I need to stay focussed and disciplined and stick to the gameplan.”
JORDAN Gill, the EBU European featherweight champion, is Eric Donovan's first-choice opponent as he prepares to end his career on a title-winning high.
Gill is being linked with a summer rumble against Michael Conlan but ‘Lilywhite Lightning' Donovan, who reckons he has two, possibly three, fights to go before he hangs up his gloves, says the Englishman would also be top of his wish-list.
“I would love that fight,” said Donovan.
“That would be amazing, that would just be something else. But it's all up to Mark (Dunlop, his manager) he's going to be dealing with all of that. There are four European titles out there – two at featherweight and two at super-featherweight - you have the EU and the full European.
“I'm just hoping I can get a shot at one of them. The most appealing one is the one against Gill – that would be absolutely incredible but it's all out of my hands. If I could pick, I would pick Jordan Gill though, what a fight that would be.”
Dunlop has a proven track record of making things happen for his fighters. His fighter James Tennyson has twice fought for a world title and this weekend his stablemate Tommy McCarthy squares up against Chris Billam-Smith in an eagerly-awaited EBU European cruiserweight title rematch. Donovan is confident MHD Promotions chief Dunlop will deliver for him.
“The first fight he got me was Zelfa Barrett and I nearly pulled it off,” he said.
“Mark came good on his word – he got me the fights – he got me Barrett and (Robesiy) Ramirez and I just hope that he can get me another one. I trust him, I believe in him and I hope we can get it done this year.
Cuban exile Ramirez stopped Donovan in the third round when they met in February and the Kildare native admits that he thinks about the fight “probably only every second of every day”.
“I'm thinking: ‘I should have done this, I should have done that…'” he admitted.
“We had a strategy and you stick to your plan and your tactics but it just never happened for me. My plan was to navigate the early rounds, keep moving away from his dangerous left hand and push him back. Hindsight is a great thing! Maybe I should have locked horns with him from the start and had it out with him? Ah, you go through all these emotions.
“The Zelfa Barrett fight was like that. That fight lived in my head for a few months afterwards but I've made peace with it. That's the nature of professional sport.”
A decade ago, Donovan was, in his own words, “a broken man”. After his amateur career had come to an end, he fell into a cycle of alcohol and drug abuse but he has turned his life around and is now a health and well-being advocate and was a leading light in the ‘Hi Garda' initiative.
“That's where my true passion lies,” he says.
“As much as I'm very proud and grateful for the boxing career I've had and everything I've achieved, my greatest achievement is my recovery. The fact that I can stand up on my own two feet, independently and not need to self-destruct or put any foreign body inside my body. I'm a tee-totaller, I live a good healthy life and I travel around Ireland and speak to students in schools and I'm in my element when I'm there talking to them.
“I often say to guys in schools because there might be a bit of messing going on, I say: ‘Look, I wish I had somebody who came and shared with me what I'm gonna share with you when I was at school and if I did maybe I mightn't have made the mistake I made. You have that luxury today'.
“Then they're tuned-in. I speak from the heart about real-life experiences and the teachers always say at the end: ‘Oh my God, you had 100 or 200 students there and you could hear a pin drop… We never see that'.
“That happens in every single school I go to. I'm living a purposeful, meaningful life and it's amazing. I'm also passionate about coaching and I'm working with one of the best young prospects in the game in Jude Gallagher from Tyrone. I believe that he is going to be a real star in the future – keep your eye out for him.”