Bring it on... Monaghan mauler Aaron McKenna returns to centre stage

Aaron McKenna returns to action at the Coventry Skydome, live on Sky Sports on Saturday night
Aaron McKenna returns to action at the Coventry Skydome, live on Sky Sports on Saturday night

AARON McKenna doesn’t care who he fights in Coventry on Saturday night. The Monaghan middleweight is just delighted to be back in action after a six-month break and to be making his debut on Sky Sports.

Smithborough native McKenna was sparring in Birmingham and Manchester last week and says he feels sharp as a razor as he counts down the minutes to the opening bell at the Skydome on the undercard of Sam Eggington’s challenge for the vacant IBF super-welterweight title against unbeaten Pole Przemyslaw Zysk.

Now 11-0, McKenna will be the headline act himself soon. Skilful and spiteful, the down-to-earth 22-year-old has all the tools required to go to the top as a pro and he is determined to get there.

“It’s been a while since I last fought but I haven’t left the gym,” he said.

“We’ve been training all year and thankfully this fight came up and I’m really looking forward to it. I want to put on a good show, I’ve been training that long and I want to let it out now and prove to everyone what I can do.

“And what better platform to do it on than Sky Sports? It’s big in Ireland in the UK so it’s great that’s I’ll have a big audience watching me.”

Last time out, in December 2021, McKenna out-pointed Mexican Carlos Gallego Montijo to win the WBC Youth World title in London. He boxed his way to a clean-sweep points win, bossing every round on all three judges’ scorecards and since then he has been sharpening his skills alongside his brother Stephen under the watchful eye of his dad and coach Fergal.

“Me and Stephen have been working hard,” said Aaron.

“We’ve been working a lot with each other, working on things we need to improve on. I’m getting a lot stronger, I’m filling-out more so I’m a really big middleweight and everyone is going to see all the improvements in this fight. I’ve been working hard, six months in the gym, so there’s be a lot of improvements now.

“I’ve been disciplined in how I train and I’ve been the same over the years. I always know there could be a fight around the corner so I always keep my head up and stay focussed. That’s the best way to be, you have to be training all the time and once the big opportunity comes you’ll be ready.

“I’ve felt great in sparring and this is the best I’ve ever felt going into a fight.

“I don’t worry about who I fight, I just worry about me and focus on my skills and what I do best.”

He’s 22 and he’s still growing. He now stands 6’3” and will graduate to super-middleweight and maybe even cruiserweight over the next few years.

“You wouldn’t know,” he says, half-joking: “I could maybe end up heavyweight!”

Meanwhile, welterweight Stephen McKenna (11-0) is training for a fight in early July. Cut from the same fighting cloth as his younger brother, the ‘The Hitman’ has incredible reserves of stamina and power and goes out to do damage from the first bell. Only one of his 11 fights have gone the distance.

“I’m always ready no matter what,” he said.

“I’ve been in the gym since last December (first round TKO against out-gunned Jack Ewbank) and I’m always training to get better.

“Every day I’m getting stronger – I’m a 6’1” welterweight and hard-hitting so there’s not many fighters out there like me. I want to step it up and hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be sitting at 15-0.

“I know what I can do, I’ve sparred with the world’s best and a lot of my fights have been over very quickly. I’m coming for them all in the welterweight division and over the next couple of months it’s going to be exciting.”

LIMERICK southpaw Graham ‘G-Train’ McCormack takes on Dominic Donegan (5-2-1) for the vacant BUI Celtic middleweight title in the headline act of another stacked card at the Europa Hotel on Saturday night.

McCormack (7-1) impressed on the last MHD Promotions show at the Belfast venue in May and aims to win the first championship belt of his career against Cavan’s Donegan (5-2-1).

On the undercard, Colm ‘Posh Boy’ Murphy returns to action after he came through a thorough examination of his credentials against experienced Nicaraguan Brayan Mairena last month. The action-packed four-rounder was described by some savvy fight fans as the best small hall scrap they’d ever seen and Murphy showed the fighting heart to match his slick skills. He moves up to six rounds on Saturday night against former Eric Donovan opponent Engel Gomez (8-11-1).

Also on the undercard is unbeaten Belfast super-welterweight Owen O’Neill (7-0), Dubliners Cian Doyle and Daniel O’Sullivan and Limerick’s Jamie Morrissey.

Europa Hotel line-up:

Vacant BUI Celtic Middleweight title: Graham McCormack (7-1) v Dominic Donegan (5-2-1)

Featherweight: Colm Murphy (3-0) v Engel Gomez (8-11-1)

Super-welterweight: Owen O'Neill (7-0) v Justin Menzie (5-6-1)

Featherweight: Cian Doyle (2-0) v Tatenda Mangombe (0-1)

Super-middleweight: Jamie Morrissey (2-0) v Seamus Devlin (1-30)

Middleweight: Daniel O'Sullivan (debut) v Luke Middleton (2-16-2)

OLEKSANDR Usyk will put his IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO world titles on the line against Anthony Joshua in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Saturday, August 20.

One of the biggest heavyweight rematches in the history of the sport, Usyk-Joshua 2, ‘Rage on the Red Sea’, will take place nearly three years on from the historic ‘Clash on the Dunes’ event at the Diriyah Arena that saw Joshua reclaim his heavyweight belts against Andy Ruiz Jr.

Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs) was dethroned by Ukrainian pound-for-pound star Usyk in September 2021 in London and since then former undisputed cruiserweight world champion Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) has put the rematch on hold to support his home nation on the front line during their ongoing conflict against Russia.

Out-thought and out-boxed in his first duel with Usyk, Joshua has vowed to reclaim the belts he lost, and then won back, against Andy Ruiz junior before losing them again to the Ukrainian last year.

“I won the belt, unified the division won another belt, lost the belts, became two-time unified heavyweight champion and now have my date with history set to become three-time Unified heavyweight champion of the world. What an opportunity,” said the English challenger.

“Fighting championship level back to back has had its pros and cons, but I decide every day to get stronger, to learn from my experiences and grow. A happy fighter is a dangerous fighter and I am the happiest and most motivated I have been.

“Thank you to the organisers, to 258MGT, Matchroom Boxing and to all the boxing fans across the world, with a special shout out to the Ukrainian fans who have been through a really tough time.”