McCullagh Puts on Masterful Performance in Belfast
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!
Michael Conlan Wins in Belfast
By: Oliver McManus
MICHAEL CONLAN made a sensational homecoming at the SSE Arena in Belfast last night as he boxed in his home country for the first time in some eight years – Adeilson dos Santos was the chosen opponent and Conlan was aware that even as the overwhelming favourite, he still had everything to prove.
Dos Santos, presumably, viewed this as his opportunity for a route straight back to the world title scene – having contended for Jessie Magdaleno’s Super Bantamweight crown last year – and came out with a high-tempo, something that Conlan predicted pre-fight.
A raucous atmosphere cheered on their homecoming hero and dos Santos started the bout rather oddly, crouching a couple of times in the middle of the ring, before setting about his fight rhythm in the centre of the ring but Conlan remained calm. After all, this was expected.
Conlan was scamperous with his footwork, bouncing from foot to foot and keeping his staunch guard. Firing in a few jabs in order to test the range, Conlan managed to evade the guard of dos Santos on a couple of occasions.
Switching stances periodically it was clear that Conlan was going to be the silkier of fighters and with the Belfast-icon finding his comfort zone early on it began to look like a long night for his Brazilian opponent. A leaning, leading, right hand set up the left hand to the body from Conlan and whilst the occasional big left hand managed to miss the target, the busy work was being done to perfection and keeping Adeilson at bay.
Patience was the name of the game as Conlan returned to southpaw for the third round and dos Santos looked to get on the front foot, seeking out pockets of activity in which to launch an attack but Mick Conlan’s superior movement saw him evade near-all of dos Santos’ shots.
The Brazilian began to get frustrated as Conlan’s fight-intelligence came to the fore with the constant stance-switching and ramrod jab causing real problems for the former world title challenger. At one point you thought dos Santos may start to have success against the ropes with a series of shots but, before you knew it, Conlan had slipped off the ropes and launched an attack of his own.
A display of technical brilliance as opposed to any ego-boosting needless aggression, Conlan was making dos Santos pay whilst remaining in first gear. Body feints from Conlan were all that was needed to throw his counterpart off the scent and the shoulder shimmy started to become a work of art, frustrating dos Santos whilst creating the opportunity for a 1,2,3 of Conlan’s very own.
An accidental cut to the head of Conlan made no difference as the relaxed Irishman simply upped the levels of frustration being felt by dos Santos, firmly in control, picking apart the Brazilian with ease without the need for reckless punches.
Conlan started to develop a neat counter punch which he landed with considerable success as we went into the second half of this, scheduled, eight rounder but the sixth round produced some real success for Adeilson dos Santos who used his reach advantage well to control portions from distance before slipping in up close and landing shots to the inside of the Irishman.
Success but nothing game-changing and, certainly, nothing that Michael couldn’t handle.
A tough cookie that refused to crumble, dos Santos was probably the ideal opponent for Conlan in that whilst there was no major threat to Conlan’s unbeaten record, he probably learnt a hell of a lot more in this fight than in all of his previous bouts put together. Conlan had to think but he didn’t have to test himself, this was a display of technical precision from a relaxed fighter who, without doubt, looks the real deal.
Bring on 2019.
On the undercard featured the most bitter of rivalries between Jono Carroll and Declan Geraghty, a contest for the Carroll’s IBF Inter-Continental Super Featherweight belt, and the tempestuous duo opened up with a tantalizing pace, Carroll the busier of the fighters but Geraghty causing the damage, cutting Carroll above the right eye and, indeed, on the bridge of the nose.
Into the second round of the bout we went with both men taking to the centre of the ring, landing at a furious pace, Geraghty appeared to be having the better of the exchanges, leaping from distance into the body of Carroll in order to earn the plaudits of the crowds. As the round continued, however, Carroll worked into his natural game, bringing the aggression and refusing to lie down and have his belly tickled.
Carroll began to prove why his record is an unbeaten one with an incredible pace tempo and, already, after a mere two rounds, Geraghty looked visibly fatigued and flustered when walking to his corner.
Pre-fight Jono had accused Declan of lacking stamina and it began to emerge why with the challenger huffing and puffing just a minute into the third and Carroll kept the pressure up, throwing repeated punches into the body of Geraghty whenever there was a lapse in the guard of Geraghty.
A barrage of sustained aggression with a minute left of the 3rd round saw Geraghty touch down, the legs of the fallen began to betray him, Carroll’s onslaught ever-hastening, but Pretty Boy, somehow, survived to see the end of the round.
The attacks began to flow from Jono – who won the previous encounter between these two southpaws – but Geraghty chipped in each salvo with a timely reminder that he was still here to fight. If not with punches but with his elusive movement to duck and weave his way from the never-ending work-rate of his nemesis.
Taking a significant time to return to the ring ahead of the fifth round, Geraghty was clearly struggling and the fight took a bit of a lull for that particular round with both men taking a breather but Carroll still remaining the busier fighter.
This fight began to turn into a pure beatdown as we extended into the second half of the bout, Carroll launching attack after attack into the body of Declan Geraghty, sapping the energy out of the game challenger who, he claimed, was the pre-fight betting favourite.
The seventh and eighth round was a familiar story with Jono Carroll keeping sustained pressure, with an evil smile on his face, varying shots from head to body but with a particular preference to the livers of Geraghty. By this point there was little doubt who would win.
Somehow Geraghty made it to the ninth round offering precious little in terms of resistence and Bob Williams, the referee, informed Geraghty that if he didn’t witness more in defence then he would call the fight off.
Bouncing around the ring, Carroll had the energy of a terrier spaniel, and looked set on finishing the job inside the distance, cutting the ring off and working on the inside of Geraghty – fighting up close and personal Geraghty fell to the ground, ruled a push, before a flurry of uppercuts from Jono Carroll saw his foe’s head bounce back and forth like a yo-yo, causing Williams to slide in and call the contest to a halt – a ninth round TKO for Jono Carroll in a case of repeat victory.
To rattle through some of the other major results from Belfast, Jack Catterall emerged the victor in tough contest with Tyrone McKenna by score-lines of 95-91, 94-93, 94-93, in a contest that, whilst entertaining, taught us very little about either prospect; Tyrone McCullagh comfortably outclassed, Scottish champion, Joe Ham to claim the vacant Celtic Super Bantamweight title with the well-mannered man proving he’s as brutal in the ring as he is polite out of it; Johnny Coyle and Lewis Benson produced an absolute war of a fight to leave pundits and punters in turmoil as to who deserved to win but, officially, the verdict was for Johnny Coyle by a single round.
Boxing and Belfast, it’s the perfect combination.
Boxing Insider Interview with Michael Conlan: Ready for Belfast
By: Oliver McManus
Michael Conlan is seldom a man who needs introducing, a living legend in his home city of Belfast quickly building his legacy stateside but for the prodigious professional his fight on the 30th June will mark his first fight back home since 2010, when he was at the start of his star-studded amateur career.
Bronze at London 2012, Gold at the World, European and Commonwealth Championships saw him enter the Rio games as one of the most successful amateur fighters ever to herald from Ireland and favourite for the title. A well-documented, and controversial, Vladimir Nikitin resulted in Conlan walking away from the amateur sport.
Photo Credit: Michael Conlan Twitter Account
His fire and hunger for success was galvanized and transitioned into the paid ranks where, promoted by Bob Arum and Top Rank, the Conlan world tour has only just begun; New York, Chicago, Brisbane, Arizona, Belfast, already ticked off the list.
Seven fights, seven opponents conquered, sharing the bill with Lomachenko, Linares and Pacquaio serves as a taste for the big fight atmosphere that Michael admits he is still to get used to – his fourth headlining show on June 30th, in front of that fabled Irish crowd, should see him settle into the spotlight.
Ireland awaits, the world awaits.
We’re just over a month away from your first professional fight in the UK, in Belfast no less, how are you feeling?
I’m really looking forward to it, you know, it’s a huge thing for me, a huge achievement in my career. For me to come home and fight in Belfast is something special, it’s something I’ve dreamed of all my life as a fighter, as a boxer. Especially as a professional I think it’s what I’ve always wanted to do, to fight in the Odyssey – sorry, SSE now – and it’s the first time I’ll be boxing at home since 2010 and I’m main eventing in the SSE Arena.
It’s really special and I’m really looking forward to it.
Are there any extra nerves because it is your first fight home in so long or is it just a case of getting the job done?
No I don’t think so, I honestly don’t, I feel the fact that I’ve headlined MSG twice now and then I’ve competed on such big cards, you know, Lomachenko-Linares, Pacquiao and I’ve had major billing on those cards. I think the atmosphere that’ll be generated in the Garden on St Patrick’s Day had prepared me for what to expect.
Maybe not so much as it’s only 5,000 at the theatre but it’s the same compact, crazy atmosphere we’re expecting in Belfast. That’s definitely stood me in good stead.
It will be your fourth headlining fight from eight bouts, have you got used to that yet?
No I still get excited, I don’t think anyone ever gets used to it unless you’re like a twenty world title veteran fight, then you can get used to it, but I feel that, for me, it’s still very fresh. Especially now it’s in Belfast, it’s even more exciting for me but I definitely find that I am getting comfortable with the situation more now and I think that’s the main thing, being comfortable in those situations and being able to put in performances and not letting the nerves affect your performance.
You’re fighting a former world title challenger, what sort of a fight are you expecting?
He’s kind of more a gate-keeper type fighter now, I’d say, and I expect him to come trying to win, he’s got good power and he’s dangerous but he’s been beaten in the past and he knows what the feels like. I think he’ll be expecting to feel it again but he’ll put it on me and try and take it away from me because he may see this as his platform to get back into the mix and I’m not saying he’s a warrior but I am expecting a tough test from him because after all this is my eight fight and it is a good step up from my recent opposition.
So I am expecting a tough fight and an early on acid test to see where I’m at now and that’s what it is because there’s an awful lot riding on this – it is a test, it’s in Belfast and if it all goes wrong, it all goes wrong. I am prepared, I’m not underestimating anybody and I know he’s a tough guy who comes in and fights to win. He’s got power so I am very aware of that.
And I ask that because some of your opponents have been quite negative in their style, does it frustrate you when you can’t showcase your ability because of the way they’ve came to fight?
Oliver, you know, this is something that really annoys me but at the end of the day I can’t complain because I’ve watched these guys pre-fight and I’m going “okay this guy is going to give me a test” and against other opposition he’s going forward, he’s trying to win the fight and they’re doing a job, winning fights and they actually look like they’re game and ready to go but then when these guys have stepped in the ring they’ve kind of shied away, they’ve got too nervous, the atmosphere has maybe tripped them up and I think that’s what has happened so far.
The last guy (Ibon Larrinaga) was a former WBC Mediterranean Champion and I watched his previous clips and he always came to win and then you’ve got that David Berna guy, 14 wins 13 knockouts something like that with two losses and he’s the only that came to win. He tried a little bit, I caught him with a body shot and that was it but everybody else they just seem to be taken away by the occasion.
At the same time I can’t complain because not everybody is going to be like that, a lot of people will be tougher and harder.
In terms of your development I’m assuming you’d rather have people who come and try and beat you as opposed to people who just tuck up and let you work around them?
Yeah, yeah, definitely, I like to describe myself as a trading puncher but a boxed fighter, almost, I can do the go forward stuff but it’s not my strongest point so I like to be in the pocket but at the same time counter punching so that would be how I like it – if someone was trying to connect then I’d make them pay and even then you can tee off and it’s always a very eventful style, I feel.
And what I have been doing is going Mexican-style sometimes on people and that’s not my kind of fight.
I want to talk about the undercard for June 30th – all 50-50 fights – what does it mean to you when you look at the card and it’s so solid?
It’s brilliant, I’m really happy about it and it was one of the main things we spoke about when we talked about having me come back because I don’t want to be part of shows, even if I am the main event, where it’s just about me. I want everybody to play their part and to have a solid card, I don’t want it to just be a great main event, I want it to be a great night in general and the whole card is really solid, I’m really happy to be a part of it.
Is there any particular fight that stands out, for you?
They all do! It is very tough to pick and I honestly can’t really pick between them because I’m really interested to see how Sutcliffe-McKenna goes, I WANT to see Jono Carroll vs Declan Geraghty again because there is so much bad blood between them it’s unbelievable.
Then even Tyrone McCullagh vs Joe Ham, that’s two undefeated prospects who are probably a bit further on in their career in terms of development and they’ve had more fight, they’re facing each other and someone’s 0 will go so that’s another fight I’d like to watch.
You are signed up with Bob Arum and Top Rank but we’ve seen Frank Warren and Top Rank sign an agreement for “enhanced partnership”, does that realistically mean we can see you in Ireland and the UK more often or is you career still mainly in America?
I think most of my career will still be in America but hopefully there’ll be some more, I always said I was going to box in Ireland at least once a year and that was what I wanted to negotiate before I became professional and signed with Top Rank and we got that sorted, I’m really happy with that and hopefully with Frank Warren and Top Rank coming to an agreement we can have me fight at home more or even elsewhere in the UK or Ireland – it’s definitely something that I would love to do and be interested in doing because I know Top Rank don’t just want me to be America based or just Ireland based, they want me worldwide and it shows already in where they’ve put me.
They’ve put me in Arizona, New York, Australia, Ireland now and it’s growing and growing and growing and hopefully we can keep it going like this.
How quickly are we looking at getting you to that world level, that world title shot?
I’m thinking towards the end of next year, the end of 2019 and that’s what I kind of said when I turned professional that 2019 would be the year that I’m going to be world champion or there or thereabouts so I think this year is definitely an important year with the level of opposition that I face and next year is the crucial year, I will do a lot next year and it just depends on how I develop through the next year but if everything goes to plan, I believe I will be world champion next year.
You’re still only 26, you’re still young, are we going to see you move up or down the weights as you get older and see a multi-weight champion or are you fully committed to feather?
At the minute I’m committed to featherweight but yes, I will be a multi-weight world champion, that’s always been my aim even before I turned professional – I’m not going to move down any weights because I tried super-bantamweight but I quickly gave that up. You know I’m a big featherweight and I get in the ring at 142(lbs), 143 so I’m really happy with that because I believe I am big enough to move up to super-featherweight and even lightweight.
For you what has been your best professional performance to date?
Best professional performance? When I think about learning and what I’ve done as a whole maybe the last one because the guy gave me rounds and I was able to work off him and do things that I’d practised. Maybe I didn’t look my best but it was the little things that I developed when I was in the ring and it was probably MY best performance so far based on learning that night and I probably learnt more than I did in the rest of them.
On performances maybe St Patrick’s Day this year (Berna) when I took the guy out with the body shot, just the way it happened it was nice, a left uppercut to the body and then that was it.
Absolutely mate, can I get a prediction for your next fight, sort of result and performance?
Just another win and I’m going to say a lot stoppage maybe, I think so, a late stoppage, definitely. Another victory in what is an entertaining fight while it lasts.
Thank you so much for speaking to us, been a pleasure.
Cheers Oliver, appreciate it.