UNION Jacks, Israel flags and messages promising his defeat from Lewis Crocker supporters regularly appear on his Instagram feed but Tyrone McKenna insists that Saturday night’s battle of Belfast isn’t boxing’s Auld Firm grudge match.
West Belfast welterweight McKenna and Crocker, from the East of the city, come from contrasting backgrounds but both want the fighting to stay in the ring and neither pulled their punches in a verbal sparring session when they met at the pre-fight press conference at the Europa Hotel.
Fireworks are guaranteed when they meet for real at the SSE Arena.
“I don’t like to bring politics or religion into it,” said McKenna.
“It’s a big enough fight that you don’t need that, but it is coming into it a wee bit. I’m getting mails with certain flags and I’m getting tortured on Instagram a bit. I get messages saying: ‘Crocker’s gonna knock you out’.
“It’s expected when you’re fighting someone from the other side of town, from the other side of the wall, but it’s a big enough fight that we don’t have to bring that into it and I hope there won’t be any drunk idiots shouting stupid stuff on the night.
“It’s a big night for the city, for the Belfast fans and hopefully it’s a peaceful fight.”
His exchanges with Crocker haven’t been anything but peaceful. Crocker says he “just wants to hurt” McKenna who countered by saying he wants to “rip his head off”.
“He can say what he wants,” said McKenna.
“If he wants to hurt me that’s fine, I just want to beat him, I want to batter him.
“I’m sure he does want to hurt me, he’s been 10 weeks’ away from home and his family and dieting and training hard…
“Every man wants to hurt the other man when they get in the ring. I mean, I want a quick knockout, I want to finish it in a round or two so I’m the same mind frame – I want to batter him and rip his head off.”
During the press conference, natural showman McKenna (23-3-1) talked about how he had fought at a higher level than Crocker (17-0).
“Aye and you got dropped,” chipped in ‘the Croc’ and he’ll be determined to prove he is ready for this step up in quality and exposure on Saturday night.
“He hasn’t earned his stripes to get where he is now,” said McKenna.
“I took this fight because I don’t want to be a hypocrite and say ‘I fight for the fans’ and then turn down a fight the fans would love to see. I took the fight because I wanted to, I didn’t need to and he’s not ready for this.”
The animosity between the rivals got physical at Wednesday night’s open workout and McKenna says that Crocker’s apparent willingness to engage in trash talk is a sign that “the man is nervous” and that the pressure is getting to him.
“He is acting completely different – being boisterous and shouting in my face like an 11-year-old girl,” he said.
“It seemed rehearsed, like he’d said it 40 times in front of the mirror. He is proper, proper nervous.
“He was disrespectful so I gave him an oul shove to get him out of my face – I didn’t feel any strength, I felt I weak man, a drained man. I was surprised, I was expecting him to be more solid but I don’t read too much into it. I don’t read too much into any of the fight-week antics, we’re getting into the ring on Saturday night to punch each other.
“This is a massive fight, there’s a good buzz about the city, everyone is talking about it and I’m enjoying that.”