‘This is the place where dreams can come to reality’: Fists of Fury see Martin McDonagh edge closer to Olympic spot

Irish super-heavy Martin McDonagh celebrates victory over Turkey's Yusuf Acik on Wednesday. Picture by Ben McShane/Sportsfile
Irish super-heavy Martin McDonagh celebrates victory over Turkey's Yusuf Acik on Wednesday. Picture by Ben McShane/Sportsfile (Ben McShane / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)
Boxing: World Olympic qualifier

THE pumping jab, the loose limbs, the rolling shoulders, that innate ability to control time and distance - the last thing Martin McDonagh needs is a hype train gathering pace, but there were occasional flashes of Tyson Fury-esque quality as he moved within two steps of achieving his Olympic dream.

At just 21, and with only a handful of elite fights beneath his belt, McDonagh is by far the least experienced of the Irish boxers bidding to seal their spot in Paris this summer.

Indeed, while others have grown up in the sport, the towering super-heavy reckons it is “around three years” since he first stepped into a boxing ring. Yet he has been the success story of the World qualifier so far.

McDonagh had the pressure of being the first Irish boxer between the ropes in Busto Arsizio on Sunday – it rolled right off him as he breezed beyond the experienced Ferely Ali Feliz from the Dominican Republic.

Could he back it up against Turkey’s Yusuf Acik, a man who has 15 years’ experience as an amateur? A man who has shared a ring with the likes of Joseph Parker and Filip Hrgovic?

It is only in the last 12 months that McDonagh has exploded onto the scene, picking up national titles at novice, U22, senior and elite level. Still, given Ireland is hardly renowned for producing big men of international quality, making the step up was a huge ask.

But it was the 6′6″ Crumlin BC man who looked like the veteran.

With his Irish team-mates, family members and club coach Phil Sutcliffe roaring him on from the bleachers inside the E-Works Arena, McDonagh kept the shorter Acik at bay, a series of sickening first round body shots setting for the tone as he cantered to a second unanimous victory on the trot.

“That was the plan. We wanted to slow him down from the start, I did that great.

“I could see him blowing in the first round so I thought ‘I’m going to keep him there now, work the body as much as I can’.

“But I’m not really surprised. I had the game-plan, stuck to the game-plan – these are very knowledgeable coaches, and that’s what you want in the corner with you.

“I’m so pleased... to even be boxing for your country like, it’s a massive honour. It’s been a while since we had a super-heavyweight.”

It doesn’t get any easier, though, as he guns for the semi-final spot that would send him to Paris.

In Saturday’s afternoon session, McDonagh faces Tokyo 2020 veteran Danis Latypov, a Russian-born boxer representing Bahrain at this qualifier.

But the Tuam man isn’t about to start worrying about names and records now.

“If it was all about experience, I’d be gone in the first round,” he smiled.

“I have to focus on myself, the coaches come up with a game-plan. Look, all these guys have more experience than I have, but it’s just... talent.

“It shouldn’t be possible for me to boxing at this standard for the amount of fights I have – I’m just thankful. This is the place where dreams can come to reality - if you dream big enough and you push yourself every step of the way, you’re going to get to where your dream is.”

Meanwhile, Aidan Walsh is the only Irish boxer in action on Thursday, and the west Belfast man is facing a major step up in class against Brazil’s Wanderson de Oliveira.

In his first competitive bout in over a year, the Olympic bronze medallist proved far too strong for the UAE’s Husain Alkandari, forcing three standing counts in the first round of Tuesday’s opening encounter before the referee waved the contest off.

While Alkandari was relatively inexperienced at international level, the same cannot be said of de Oliveira – a Tokyo Olympian, like Walsh, he reached the quarter-final stage, coming up short against Cuban superstar, and eventual light-welterweight champion, Andy Cruz.


World Olympic qualifier, Busto Arsizio


Round of 32

71kg: A Walsh v W de Oliveira (Brazil) – morning session


Round of 32

66kg: G Walsh v S von Berge (Germany) – morning session

80kg: K Cassidy v W Trujillo (Guatemala) – morning session

51kg: D Moorehouse v T Cedeno (Venezuela) – afternoon session

57kg: J Gallagher v H Mohammed (India) – evening session


Round of 16: M McDonagh v D Latypov (Bahrain)