Million dollar man Aaron McKenna determined to hit Prizefighter jackpot after Terence Crawford training camp

Ambitious McKenna vows to reach the very top after sparring pound-for-pound king in Los Angeles

Aaron McKenna progressed to 15-0 in Coventry last Saturday
Aaron McKenna will fight for a $1million jackpot in Japan next month

THREE weeks of hard training that included sparring with pound-for-pound superstar Terence Crawford in the house-of-pain gyms of Las Vegas and another in Los Angeles have prepared Aaron McKenna for next month’s million dollar Prizefighter competition in Japan.

Unbeaten Monaghan middleweight McKenna, AKA The Silencer, has been avoided and sidestepped over the past two years. 18-0 with nine early wins, he has fought just three times since 2022 so he decided to take matters into his own hands and along with brother Steven and his father and coach Fergal he travelled to the USA to seek out the best sparring he could get including ‘Bud’ Crawford, the man McKenna rates as the best on the planet.

“You literally couldn’t get better than that,” said McKenna.

“I rate him as the best in the world and being in there with him, you can see why he’s so good – he’s so smart, you can see he’s thinking all the time, he never switches off and he’s always trying to set traps for you.”

McKenna also sparred unbeaten super-middleweights Lester Martinez and Steven Nelson in Crawford’s camp. All-in-all he completed 10 four-minute rounds with just 30 seconds’ rest in-between and says Crawford was impressed with what he saw from the ambitious Smithboro native.

“When I was sparring the other guys he was telling me what I was doing well in-between the rounds, he was saying: ‘Good work, keep doing that’,” he reported.

“His coach said after it that he wants to work with me and Steven again in the future and I’d be up for that because it takes you to the next level. To be the best you have to prepare yourself properly and the better the sparring the more you improve as a fighter and I definitely improved over the last month. I have sparred a lot of world champions but sparring with Crawford is by far the best I’ve had yet and I’ve picked up a few things so you’ll see improvements in my next fight.”

That next fight is against unbeaten American Jeovanny Estela on July 15 at the Yamota Arena in Osaka, Japan. It is one of the quarter-finals of the lucrative Prizefighter tournament which includes Ainiwaer Yilixiati (19-1) v Kieron Conway (20-3-1), Kazuto Takesako (16-2-1) v Mark Dickinson (6-0) and Riku Kunimoto (11-1) v Eiki Kani (8-4-3).

The winner walks away with the $1million jackpot and McKenna says that’ll be him.

“I’m really looking forward to the tournament,” he said.

“It’s a life-changing tournament and it’s going to propel me to the next level when I win it. It’s a big prize and there’s also a knockout bonus of $100,000 in every fight so that will make things interesting, I always go for the knockout so that will make the fights even more exciting. Winning it would be unbelievable and it will set me up to fight anyone in the world.”

McKenna’s hard work in the States will be time well spent if his career goes the way he intends it to. Irish fighters from Barry McGuigan to most recently Pody McCrory have found the step up to fighting in America a demanding one but McKenna has done a lot of spadework and is in a good place to grab his opportunity when it comes - and it will if he keeps on winning.

“I always work as hard as possible and this camp has been the best one yet,” he said after arriving home on Monday.

“There’s always room for improvement and that’s why we go where we can get the best possible work and training so we’re prepared to the fullest for every fight we go into. If you want to make it to the top, I believe America is where you need to go. You need to get used to that style – all the dirty stuff, the low blows, the punches to the side of the head… It’s a totally different style and I’m well used to it.

“The last month we were in the lion’s den and that’s what you have to do if you want to make it to the top in this game. You have to go out of the comfort zone and my aim is to become a world champion and I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Monaghan wrecking ball Stevie McKenna fights in London on Saturday night
Monaghan wrecking ball Stevie McKenna has won 13 of his 14 fights by stoppage

ONE man out of 14 has managed to go the distance with Steven McKenna so far. ‘The Hitman’ is a ferocious punisher with an off-the-chart workrate and a seek-and-destroy style who is looking forward to a returning to action live on Sky Sports in August.

McKenna’s opponent has yet to be announced but after a quality month-long camp in the USA, the affable now super-welterweight feels he is great shape to hammer whoever is in the other corner.

“I’m raring to get at it and get back fighting,” he said.

“We’ve had really big trouble getting fights. The big problem is guys turning down fights but finally I’ve got a good one. I’ll be up at 154lbs and I feel a lot stronger at the weight, I could still do 147lbs but none of the boys in that division would fight me so I’m going up to super-welter and make a name for myself.

“It’ll still be all-out action – I go for the kill every time I fight. I don’t take any risks with it going the distance – I like early nights and that’s why I do all the work in the gym.”

How many KOs did Steve Collins record during his professional boxing career? 
'One night in Millstreet' recalls Steve Collins's famous rumble with Chris Eubank in March 1995

STEEPED in intrigue and drama, the iconic world super-middleweight title battle between Dublin’s ‘Celtic Warrior’ Steve Collins and inimitable defending champion Chris Eubank on March 18, 1995 is part of Irish boxing folklore.

The famous WBO title fight in county Cork which Collins won by unanimous decision is recalled with a screening of ‘One Night in Millstreet’ at Belfast’s Odeon Cinema (Victoria Square) at 7pm on Thursday, June 20 as part of the Docs Ireland Film Festival (June 18-23).

Laced with dark humour, rare archival footage and exclusive new interviews from icons of the sport including Collins, Eubank, Barry McGuigan and promoter Barry Hearn ‘One Night in Millstreet’ is directed by Andrew Gallimore and tickets are available from £4.50.