By: Oliver McManus
Following in his Uncle’s footsteps at Holy Trinity Boxing Club was always going to see Caoimhin Agyarko held in lofty regard and, fortunately for Agyarko, his natural ability positioned himself nicely in the Irish amateur scene. Having first set foot in the gym aged seven, he would find tangible success by winning his first national title aged 14 – the first of six such titles – flash forward eight years and the middleweight is quickly finding his rhythm as a professional; the 22 year old boasting a 3-0 record, thus far.
Explaining the background for inking a professional contract with Frank Warren, Ayarko told me he was always going to turn professional in 2018 but it simply a matter of how much he could achieve beforehand.
“In 2016 I gave myself a two year plan, after I hadn’t qualified for the Olympics, and I planned to qualify for the Commonwealth Games in 2018 – but I lost in the semi-final of the qualifiers – but I was always going to turn professional in 2018 regardless of whether I went to the Commonwealth’s or not. I was never going to wait until Tokyo, that just felt too long and, it would just be lost time because of the momentum I was getting having boxed in the WSB (in which he completed for Italia Thunder) and winning a senior title.”
Despite the frustration of failing to qualify for the Commonwealth’s in Gold Coast, the disappointment appears to be a blessing in disguise with it thrusting Agyarko into the World Series of Boxing – a fight that took place just a day after he would have been due to box in Australia. As it happens, his fourth round stoppage proved pivotal to turning professional with the first offers appearing in the aftermath.
“The WSB was a real proud moment for me and I think it was the highlight of the reason why I turned professional,” he explained, “I was normally a slow started and losing the first round wasn’t unusual for me but In the WSB I started off so fast and my coach had to tell me ‘you’ve got to remember this a five round fight’. I knew I would have to fight out of my skin (against Clemente Hong Sik Kee, 2015 Indian Pacific light heavyweight champion) and I had trained harder than ever before so to feel so comfortable and get the stoppage felt amazing.”
With his signature drying on the professional contract it was time for Agyarko to set about settling at a new gym. Options were limited with “just two relatively inexperienced coaches nearby” and Agyarko soon found himself calling London ‘home’.
“I’m friends with the Upton brothers and I was playing Fortnite with them and Lerrone Richards so I ended up telling Lerrone my plans and he basically said I was always welcome in the gym. Al Smith was out in Northern Ireland for Johnny Coyle’s fight against the Scotsman (Lewis Benson) and we arranged a meeting where we discussed the logistics of everything but it all came about thanks to Lerrone Richards.”
Having left his family behind you’d understand any difficulties in settling in but, Agyarko told me, the well-established “nice guys” of the gym have made the move “an easy one” and it’s safe to say he’s thriving as a result of the shoulders he rubs.
“I was welcomed with open arms and the coaching is unbelievable (from) Al, Eddie Lam and Paul Taylor but especially from the lads like Bradley Skeete and Johnny Garton because they’ve helped me out from the start; they’d actually take me out for food and show me around the area when I first moved over. That’s made it easier outside of the ring but obviously the sparring is quality, you can’t buy experience and alongside the more experienced guys you’ve got Jake Pettitt and Dennis McCann so the gym is constantly buzzing with talent.”
It hasn’t always been ‘sunshine and rainbows’ for the talented middleweight with life spun on its head, in May 2017, when Agyarko found himself the victim of an unprovoked stabbing on the streets of Belfast; a horrific attack in which he was pounced on by around 30 people. The story has been told time and time again, so he didn’t need to repeat it, but the 22 year old’s speech was noticeably more thought-out when we discussed the impact of the assault.
“It affects every day, to be honest, I don’t ever shy away from it and boxing was my make-or-break. If it wasn’t for boxing I know for a fact I would have tried to get my own back or gone after the guys but boxing kept me level-headed and it was all I wanted to do, all I looked forward to, when I was in the hospital. It hit the media and I felt like I was violated so it did damage my pride but I knew if I didn’t go back to boxing then I wouldn’t achieve what I set out to and if I didn’t stay calm then it would make me easy to beat.”
“It gets tougher when I’m in camp”, he continued, “because I’m busy when I’m back home, doing stuff with my family and friends, but after and in between training I obviously have time to think and time by myself where it’s the only thing that’s on my mind. It is hard to have that stuff running through my mind but it just means I keep busy and I’ve got to look at how far I’ve come in the last two years and realise I can’t go back there.”
Focussing on the positives and his first ever fight at Ulster Hall, on June 21st, and his first professional fight back in Northern Ireland in what he described as “a dream come true”. Reflecting on his previous fights, though, it was his second contest (a 60-52 victory over Yasin Hassani) that Agyarko felt encapsulated his desire as a fighter.
“I don’t think anyone really wants to fight an unknown, unbeaten opponent in their second fight and there was actually a video of Yasin kicking trees on YouTube that kind of scared me – that’s the only footage we could find of him. He didn’t live up to the billing on the night but he looked like he was able to bang and not many people would want to take that risk but I’m happy putting myself out there to try and test myself.”
“Until I step up to the national level of fights that people will really come to fight me because they seem to tuck up into a shell as soon as I hit them. Hopefully this next fight can set the tone; one day I’ll be topping these bills in Belfast as a world champion and that’s a fact.”