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McCullagh Puts on Masterful Performance in Belfast

Posted on 10/06/2018

By: Oliver McManus

MTK Global and, in particular, Lee Eaton were over in Belfast last night (October 5th) as with a packed card of local talent and MTK super-stars; headlining the night was Tyrone McCullagh as he faced Josh Kennedy – both 11 and 0 – for the vacant WBO European Super Bantamweight title whilst Jay Byrne took on Paddy Gallagher in a contest for the BUI Celtic Welterweight title and Marco McCullough was involved in a scrap against Ruddy Encarnacion for the vacant IBO International Super Featherweight belt.

McCullagh, who claimed the Celtic belt with a points win over Joe Ham back in June, has been identified by Michael Conlan as one of his favourite boxers to watch and the silky smooth fighter was looking to make a statement against Kennedy, a former English champion.

Photo from @MTKGlobal’s official account

Kennedy whose career has stalled since leaving Goodwin Boxing immediately set about making it impossible to back him with a faux-fur waistcoat, leopard print shorts and sunglasses as he sang an inaudible song on his way to the ring – a talent fighter but perhaps looking to play the pantomime villain?

Tyrone started the fight in comfortable fashion with the 28 year old, from Derry in Northern Ireland, looking incredibly calm and composed as Kennedy looked to enthral him in a match of grabbing and holding; McCullagh stuck to his game plan and immediately settled into a rhythm of swift one-twos to the body of Kennedy and whilst the Englishman looked to advance on McCullagh, White Chocolate was able to keep his opponent at bay and any attacks that came were initiated by the Derry-man.

The second round beckoned and McCullagh showcased his natural footwork, working his way across the ring in a beautiful manner, escaping some of Kennedy’s more outlandish attempts to attack with a relative ease. Despite the fact Kennedy was seeking to push the pressure it was McCullagh, a full-time nurse outside of the ring, who was boxing to perfection with his movement reminiscent of a certain Mick Conlan, himself!

Patient in his punches, the home fighter was in no mood to rush his shots and instead preferred to establish control throughout the three minutes with intelligent shot selection as opposed to throwing speculative punches – something Kennedy was particularly guilty of.

Four rounds in and the job was looking comfortable for Tyrone who had got to grips with the nature of his opponent and was nullifying the threat convincingly – it looked as though McCullagh was working his way through the gears, gaining momentum and confidence with each round and appearing increasingly impressive.

Two short, chipping left hands to the head of Kennedy were perhaps the pick of the punches in the fourth round, coming out of a backwards shimmy from McCullagh and just exploiting the openings that the Folkestone-based opponent was leaving.

Cries of “easy” came booming in from the crowd as they made their thoughts known and McCullagh, boxing tremendously well, kept his control as we moved into the latter portions of the fight; doubling up on the jab of his, McCullagh kept a high left hand as he showed he wasn’t getting complacent and his smooth fight plan had him in cruise control.

The busy feet of McCullagh that never ceased to move seemed an almost bizarre compliment to his calm, composed upper body but the combination of both is ticking all the boxes and whilst Kennedy continued to push his case and seek to put pressure on the headline act, he could never penetrate the defence of McCullagh and nor could he avoid the constant presence of the southpaw’s punches.

Boxing and bamboozling, McCullagh really was working through the motions and looking like the real deal, his movement was fluid and free-flowing, his shot selection sublime and his work-rate commendable – all that was missing was a potential knockout but, to be frank, having pieced together a performance as comprehensively impressive as he did, I’m not even sure that would have made it any better.

To the scorecards we went with an obvious winner – 99-92, 91-92 and a ludicrously close 96-94 saw Tyrone McCullagh crowned the WBO European Super-Bantamweight champion and deservedly so with a career-best performance from the Derry fighter.

In the chief supporting bout of the evening Marco McCullough, 20 and 4, faced off against former EBU European champion Ruddy Encarnacion, a 69 fight veteran with 39 wins. Slated for 10 rounds, this was a change in opponent for McCullough who was scheduled to face Declan Geraghty initially.

Starting off in a tepid manner, uncharacteristically for the typically fast-paced McCullough, Encarnacion arguably looked the more fervent, dominant presence over the opening rounds with an extending jab being executed to precision but the home fighter was able to make good use of counter punches to temper the threat of his Spanish opponent.

Encarnacion landed a big body shot to signal his intentions and looked to maintain the pressure, fighting on the front foot, to retain his status as the busier fighter; McCullough, make no mistake, was doing the higher quality work.

Progressing towards the second half and the engine of Encarnacion refused to wilt, staying with his high-pressure tempo of fighting. McCullough continued to handle it well but in the sixth round, as Marco was relaxing into the bout, was caught by a clash of heads prior to being shimmied onto the ropes and dropped by an explosive flurry of shots to the body.

Almost fighting on adrenaline alone McCullough, never a fighter to leave anything in the ring, simply put the foot to the pedal for the remaining three rounds, seeking to land huge shots to catapult his man out of the ring; a classy left hook was followed by a thunderous overhand right before tides began to turn, Encarnacion looking off balance and, in the process, touching done. A count issued – much to the fury of the away challenger.

A frenetic finale was guaranteed with neither man confident of leading on the scorecards and, in the ninth, a smashing right uppercut whacked McCullough on the jaw before a clubbing left took the legs away, dropping him to the canvas who arose at eight only to be greeted by a, literally, sprinting foe who was doing his best to take the decision out of the judges hands.

McCullough was showing the guts he’s displayed across his career, we know he’s a warrior before, in quite farcical scenes, the referee appeared to call break with Marco stepping back before Encarnacion landed two clean shots on an, defenceless, McCullough. Looking physically dazed and through no fault of his own, McCullough was issued with a timely break.

Such was the enthusiasm of Encarnacion to get the stoppage, he was falling into his punches, putting every last ounce of energy into the bout but a leaping right hand from the super featherweight bought the crowd into raptures and with it a renewed sense of energy for the 28 year old.

If ever a fighter could be immortalised in a fight, this was it. This fight was Marco McCullough, pure and simple and we still had one round to go…

Somehow McCullough still had his youthful energy and set about the 10th and final round looking to put the fight to bed, to end on a stunning salvo and whilst much of the first minute was fought in hold, a smacking right hand followed by a looping left hand from McCullough showed that he was back with some snap and spite.

Encarnacion was tiring, that was clear, and with a minute to go the bout looked like it was going to the scorecards, McCullough stood in the middle of the ring, working the jab and looking for openings but, with an opponent seeking to avoid any engagement, it was hand to land any clean shots.

A simply sensational fight, the ninth round surely a round of the year contender and the winner, by unanimous decision, 96-92, 95-93, 97-91 and the new IBO Inter-Continental Champion… Marco McCullough!

In the welterweight clash Paddy Gallagher, returning from a fractured jaw that put him out of a British title eliminator in June, started cautiously to his contest with Jay Byrne as he sought to suss out the awkward style of his taller, rangier opponent and Byrne, an Irish native, landed a solid uppercut in the first round before, himself, being caught with clipping right hands.

Byrne, a former opponenent of Felix Cash, Anthony Fowler and Josh Kelly, made the most of the opening three minutes but in the second round it was Gallagher who pawed at his counterpart with a soft left before loading up on wild swinging hooks. A natural rhythm began to develop for Gallagher who landed some solid body shots and established a presence at the centre of the ring.

A shot, arguably low, took the stuffing out of Byrne who visibly fatigued through discomfort but Gallagher retained the pressure, landing several flush punches to the kidneys of Byrne as he continued to work the full range of the ring.

Pat-Man, 13 and 4 prior to this contest, was coming off the back of a hard fought split decision loss to Brad Solomon in April and the BBBofC Celtic champion looked to add the BUI equivalent to his collection. With that in the back of his mind an urgency picked up in the third round from Gallagher who kept the feet moving, teeing up openings with that stifling left jab of his.

Taking a beat before throwing the big shots, not rushing into anything, the two worked at each other in the middle of the ring, Byrne landing shots with bad intentions, pushing the punches before a swinging left from Gallagher got through to keep his opponent, now proving quite the aggressor, in check.

Testing the jaw of Gallagher with several strong uppercuts, this fight was growing into an absolute war when Byrne, attacked with a barrage of unanswered shots to the ropes, hopped away shaking his shoulder as if to suggest an injury but the fight continued, albeit briefly, until Gallagher again pressed his counterpart, sending Byrne sagging to the canvas with a wincing body shot and, whilst he got up, the combination of injury and knockdown proved too much for the defending champion as Paddy Gallagher returned to winning ways with a competitive fourth round KO.

And yes that is four rounds, don’t be fooled by BoxRec who have it down as a third round stoppage!

Hats off to MTK Global, then, for yet another cracking card of boxing and I think it’s fair to say that we were spoilt for choice – a gruelling and tenacious slug-fest between Marco McCullough and Ruddy Encarnacion, a flash-in-the-pan clash nip-and-tuck encounter with Jay Byrne and Paddy Gallagher and a, frankly, dominate performance from the silky smooth Tyrone McCullagh – what a night!

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