Sport

Conlan, Taylor, McCrory, Cacace... Irish boxing review of 2022

Michael Conlan lands a right hook on Miguel Marriaga at the SSE Arena in August
Michael Conlan lands a right hook on Miguel Marriaga at the SSE Arena in August Michael Conlan lands a right hook on Miguel Marriaga at the SSE Arena in August

Fight of the Year 1

Michael Conlan v Leigh Wood (WBA featherweight title, Nottingham Arena)

A SCRAP for the ages. When a booming left hand put Wood, the reigning WBO featherweight champ, down in the first I was briefly concerned that I wouldn’t have enough action to report on.

I needn’t have worried. Home advantage played a part as the local boy hung in there and survived and the fight see-sawed back and forth until he knocked Conlan out in the final half of the final round.

Watching Conlan fall out through the ropes was a distressing sight but he has come back from the loss impressively with wins against Miguel Marriaga and, in December, a first round blast-out of Karim Guerfi.

Despite losing to Wood (who hasn’t fought since), Conlan begins 2023 in better shape than he did 2022. Dropping his last four opponents backs up his assertion that he is punching harder these days and he remains absolutely and focussed on becoming a world champion.

Fight of the Year 2

Katie Taylor v Amanda Serrano (IBF, WBA, WBC, WBO lightweight titles, Madison Square Garden)

WHAT a battle. From the first bell to the last, these two warriors threw absolutely everything they had at each other over 10 action-packed rounds. Taylor started well enough but Serrano’s front foot pressure created openings and the Bray native came perilously close to getting stopped in the middle rounds. A ramrod left cross left her on unsteady legs but she used her experience, class and fighting heart to get through the toughest test of her career to date and win on split decision.

Everyone wants to see a rematch and there was lots of talk about Croke Park. But 2022 has come and gone and nothing has been announced.

Why not Belfast?

LIMERICK welterweight Paddy Donovan rightly described Belfast as “The capital of Irish boxing” recently so why not bring Katie Taylor north of the border for her next fight? It would be a crying shame if Taylor didn’t box on home soil before her brilliant career comes to an end. The SSE Arena was big enough for Carl Frampton and Michael Conlan. Let’s get Katie up here too.

Celebration of the Year

THIS one goes to Brian Peters, Katie Taylor’s manager and cornerman, for his high-steppin’, fist-pumpin’ jig in the ring when Katie’s split-decision win over Serrano was announced.

Making his Mark

Mark Dunlop

A TIRELESS worker behind the scenes. The Belfast man, boss of MHD Promotions, staged five shows in 2022 and, after years of hard work bringing through fighters from all over Ireland, finally landed a TV contract with TG4. Getting boxing back on free-to-air TV is great news for the sport and the first live show on the Irish language channel was headlined by Eric Donovan at the Europa Hotel.

The next – at the Girdwood Community Hub – included the furious Celtic title battle of Owen Duffy and Owen O’Neill (see knockout of the year) and Dunlop has already announced his opener for this year – back at the Europa in February – includes the Celtic title light-heavyweight battle of Kerry’s Kevin Cronin and Limerick’s Jamie Morrissey.

Well done Mark, keep up the great work.

Coach of the Year

Dee Walsh

I BUMPED into Dee Walsh on a rainy Saturday night at an amateur show at the Annaclone GAC social club in rural county Down back in March. The astute Belfast coach puts in a lot of hard graft with all his fighters – amateur and professional – and he deserves the success he had last year.

What a 2022 he had. Walsh fighters Pody McCrory, Owen O’Neill and Colm Murphy all won titles, Lewis Crocker will surely follow suit and Conor Quinn’s slick skills make him one to watch next year and beyond.

Knockout of the Year

Owen O’Neill versus Owen Duffy (Vacant Celtic super-welterweight title)

CAVAN native Duffy (6-3) fought brilliantly and was ahead on points when the final round began at Belfast’s Girdwood Community Hub. Duffy had gone after O’Neill (10-0) from the start and, although the flame-haired local man had hung in there, it seemed the Breffni county fighter just had to stay on his feet to take the title.

Easier said than done.

Duffy continued to attack and walked onto a right-hook from O’Neill. He took it well enough but O’Neill had found his range and timing and he landed another seconds later which he doubled up with a left hook.

Duffy went crashing down and there were distressing scenes as he lay unconscious on the canvas. Thankfully the ringside medical team were into the ring quickly and Duffy fully recovered.

Two to watch

Conor Quinn (2022: 2-0-1)

‘THE Magnificent’ spent a couple of years doubting whether he would ever fight again but thankfully his medical issues have been cleared up and he returned to the ring this year. A controversial draw in his comeback fight was a setback but flyweight Quinn put it behind him with a brilliant display against Mikey Young that showed why he is so highly-rated. Handspeed, power, movement, ring craft… He is one to watch this year.

Steven Cairns (2022: 2-0)

CORK super-featherweight Cairns is trained by Dave Coldwell in Sheffield. Tall and strong, he is blessed with long arms and has an eye-catching amateur pedigree and good temperament. His two wins last year included knocking out experienced Jose Hernandez with a freight train of a right hand. Keep an eye on him.

Performance of the Year 1

Pody McCrory v Leon Bunn (IBO light-heavyweight title)

THERE are notoriously slim pickings for foreign fighters in Germany. McCrory gambled by stepping up from super-middleweight to light-heavy and challenging defending champion Bunn in his Frankfurt backyard. With his power ‘The Hammer’ always had a chance but this turned out to be a walk-in-the-park victory for the Belfast fighter.

A static Bunn was completely out-gunned and the fight should have been waved off long before his corner threw the towel. It was a career-best from McCrory which topped his display against former world title challenger Marco Antonio Periban in August. Now 16-0 with nine knockouts, McCrory is set to be a headline act himself at the Ulster Hall. An exciting year is in store.

Performance of the Year 2

Anto Cacace v Michael Magnesi (IBO super-featherweight title, Manchester Arena)

HE’S been written-off more than once and there were a few times we wondered if we would ever see him fight again but Cacace keeps coming back and he did it again last year. Cacace has fought four times in the last five years and his sole outing of 2022 won him the IBO world title against Italian Magnesi in Manchester. Cacace was absolutely superb on the night and used his advantages in height and reach to break down the game Italian and win the title on split decision (the Italian judge went for Magnesi).

The night before Cacace’s win the WBC and WBO titles became vacant after Shakur Stevenson failed to make weight for his defence and was stripped of the belts.

The Fighters…

Tyrone McKenna (2022: 1-1)

A FAVOURITE with all fans, the ‘Mighty Celt’ lost out to hammer-handed former world champion Regis Prograis in Dubai in March but won a shoot-out against Chris Jenkins on home soil in August. McKenna has stepped up to welterweight now and it was a disappointment that he didn’t feature on the Conlan-Guerfi undercard in December but we’ll look forward to what 2023 brings for the Pete Taylor-trained warrior.

Tommy McCarthy (2022: 2-1)

HAVING come close to beating Chris Billam-Smith in 2021, McCarthy got the rematch he wanted in Manchester in April but this time the Englishman was a clear winner. A thumping right cross ended the fight in the eighth round.

McCarthy has recovered some of the ground he lost with two wins since then and is confident he’ll get “right back in the mix”.

“It’s not like I got beat by some eejit,” he said.

“I got beat by Billam-Smith who is right there on the cusp for a world title now. So I’m not too far away and I need this win to get back into the big leagues.”

Gary Cully (2022: 2-0)

SPEED and power are a potent combination for Cully who ended 2022 with a 15-0 record after two impressive stoppage wins. The first was on the undercard of Conlan-Wood in Nottingham and the way the Pete Taylor-trained lightweight dealt with experience Frenchman Jaouad Belmehdi at Wembley Stadium in October promised big things ahead for the Naas native.

Colm Murphy (2022: 5-0)

A BUSY year for Belfast’s ‘Posh Boy’ who beat city rival Ruadhan Farrell to win the Celtic featherweight title and successfully defended the belt against Liam Gaynor in November. Superbly-fit, Murphy is a non-stop, volume puncher who is steadily improving under Dee Walsh.

Sean McComb (2022: 2-0)

LAST year was a rags-to-riches story for McComb. He began the year with the memory of his loss to Gavin Gwynne hanging over him but he finished it as WBO European super-lightweight champion after producing a masterclass of stick-and-move boxing that bewildered Zolt Osadan at the SSE Arena. Tall, elusive and a box of tricks, McComb has the tools to go a long way.

Caomhin Agyarko (2022: 2-0)

HE was unfairly criticised from some quarters after Juan Carlos Rubio took him the distance in March. It was a frustrating night against an opponent that refused to engage and Agyarko has since dropped down to light-middleweight and won the WBA International title in July.

Was due to fight undefeated American fighter Peter Dobson on the undercard of Katie Taylor v Carbajal at Wembley Arena in October but had to withdraw because of a hand injury.

Paddy Donovan (2022: 2-0)

ANDY Lee-trained Donovan progressed to 9-0 and will look forward to a title breakthrough at some stage this year. Has also established himself as an astute TV analyst on TG4’s boxing coverage.

Kieran Molloy (2022: 4-0)

GALWAY native Molloy made his professional debut in February and the Conlan Boxing prospect finished the year with a 4-0 record that includes three stoppage wins. Manager Jamie Conlan says Molloy is “a superstar” in the making and the southpaw welterweight is an exciting, ambitious talent who could headline a show in Galway this year. Experienced journeyman Alexander Zeledon quit on his stool after taking a battering from Molloy in December.

Kurt Walker (2022: 5-0)

WALKER’S debut year as professional went to plan and the Lisburn Olympian showed signs of improvement with every fight. Training with Adam Booth in London, Walker has a classic hit-and-move style. He doesn’t look for knockouts but stopped Jaroslav Hriadel on his debut in Glasgow and had an unpleasant experience in Germany (on the undercard of McCrory v Bunn) when his Columbian opponent Yin Caicedo bit him. Finished the year with a shut-out points win against granite-jawed veteran Yader Cardoza.

Fearghus Quinn (2022: 2-0)

THE South Armagh man had been out of the ring for a year when he made his comeback in August. He kicked on impressively to win the Celtic middleweight title by blasting out defending champion Graham McCormack from Limerick. McCormack could not live with Quinn’s workrate or accuracy and was hammered on the night when Quinn’s body-punching was particularly impressive.

Brett McGinty (2-0)

THE Donegal native hopes to be more active next year. He finished a frustrating 2022 on a relative high with a points win in front of his fans at Dublin’s National Stadium. Trained by Ricky Hatton in Hyde neat Manchester, super-welterweight McGinty is now 6-0.

Aaron McKenna (2022: 1-0)

JUST the one outing for Monaghan’s classy middleweight which was a disappointment. ‘The Silencer’ stopped David Benitez in Coventry to move to 15-0. Still only 23, he has made considerable progress in a short career and we’ll hope to see more of him this year.

Stevie McKenna (2022: 1-0)

LIKE his younger brother, ‘The Hitman’ had just one fight in 2022 and it was a stoppage win – the 11th of his 12-fight carer. A Tasmanian Devil of an all-action fighter, McKenna will be hungry for action this year.

Tiernan Bradley (2022: 1-0)

A QUIET year for the Tyrone fighter whose sole appearance was a KO win at the Europa Hotel. Another who needs more work in 2023.

Female Boxing

DESPITE the success of Katie Taylor, women’s professional boxing in Ireland has yet to really find its feet. Belfast fighter Kristina O’Hara scored two points wins in England and is now 3-0 but Cathy McAleer, after a frustrating two years’ out of the ring, lost her comeback fight in Dublin.

Elsewhere, Katelynn Phelan didn’t see any action in 2022 but the success of the likes of Amy Broadhurst and Kellie Harrington at amateur level suggests that a new wave of Irish women is on its way.

Farewell to Eric Donovan

AFTER capturing the European title he craved, ‘Lilywhite Lightning’ decided to hang up his gloves and who could blame him? A brilliant career as an amateur was derailed by addiction issues but the Athy native regained control of his life and returned to boxing as a professional with unfinished business. He had to dig deep against Khalil El Hadri at the Europa Hotel but his fighting heart got him through some difficult passages and, with the belt won, he announced his retirement.