Sunday 24 September 2017

Boxing: Kenny's miami beat

Florida-bound Egan using 'fresh start' of World Series to escape spotlight and seal Olympic spot

Olympic boxing silver medalist Kenny Egan
Olympic boxing silver medalist Kenny Egan
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Ken Egan boards a flight to Miami this week to begin a journey that he hopes will lead all the way to an Olympic podium in London.

The Beijing silver medallist is the only Irish representative in the AIBA-sanctioned World Series of Boxing that gets under way in November. He will represent the Miami franchise in this global team boxing league, a concept designed to give the world's best amateurs a professional, salaried status without impinging upon their Olympic eligibility.

Egan will, thus, be based full-time in America until next February. He has had a release clause written into his contract, enabling him to then spend a full month at home as he bids to win an unprecedented 11th consecutive Irish senior title.

Backing

The move represents a massive leap of faith for Egan, yet one for which he has the backing of the Irish Sports Council.

Speaking exclusively to the Irish Independent, he explained: "I suppose this feels like a fresh start for me. I'm not going to know anyone over there and no one's going to know me. I'm just going over there to box.

"Sometimes living in Dublin can feel like living in a goldfish bowl. So this just feels like the right thing at the right time. And I'll be back and forth. The brothers are talking of coming over for a couple of fights.

"My mother is happy enough too. She knows the crap I've gone through over the last couple of years and she feels a change probably won't do me any harm. And if it all goes belly-up, sure I can still come home.

"At least I'll have tried."

Outside of Katie Taylor, Egan is Ireland's most decorated amateur boxer and has been a mainstay of the High Performance Programme on Dublin's South Circular Road since its inception under Gary Keegan and Billy Walsh.

He has been a medallist at every major tournament and, only this year, collected a bronze to help Ireland finish an astonishing second in the European Championships medal table behind host country Russia.

Yet since Beijing, he has found the media scrutiny of his private life quite suffocating and famously missed an international against the US in the Stadium last year after travelling, at short notice, to New York.

There was widespread speculation that he might turn professional after winning that Olympic silver and he admits that, in January 2009, he did come close to putting pen to paper.

"Two years ago, when the pressure was on to turn pro, I didn't know what I wanted," he reflected. "I came very very close (to signing). The contract was on the table and a promoter, Joey Winters, had flown in from America. Now he had no experience in promotion or management, but he'd just sold a company and had money to spend.

"His father was Irish and he wanted to bring an Irish guy over and turn him into a world champion. I was going to be based near New York, but I suppose the fact he had no experience made it all a little bit hairy.

"It's the old story. 'I'll turn you into a champion and make you millions.' It's sold as showbiz, the bright lights, Vegas and all that carry-on. All anyone can see is millions of dollars.

"But it's not as easy as that. Since I started boxing senior, a few lads that I have boxed with have turned pro and they are finding it a struggle.

"The thing about the pro game is you can't afford to lose. Because, if you lose, you're straight back down the ladder."

The World Series will take on much of the appearance of the professional game, with neither head guards nor vests worn in the ring and contests stretching to five rounds of three minutes. Within the team structure, there will also be an individual competition carrying a prize of Olympic qualification for the winner.

This means that Egan may, potentially, get three shots at booking a ticket for London, whereas his contemporaries in the High Performance Programme will get just two, starting with next year's World Championships.

In total, there are 12 squads competing in the World Series, incorporating 87 boxers drafted from around the world. The series is an initiative of AIBA president Dr CK Wu and has signed up IMG as a commercial partner.

All of the boxers' food, accommodation and travel requirements will be looked after and they will receive a salary at the end of each month.

Egan only heard of his destination last June while on a three-week stay in Uganda with the A-Z children's charity. He admits that some of the alternatives would have been less palatable.

Language

"I could have ended up being signed up to somewhere like Delhi or a franchise in Kazakhstan, in which case I might have had second thoughts," he reflected. "But at least there'll be no language difficulties in Miami and our head coach is an Irish-American, Pat Burns, who worked previously with John Duddy.

"I've been looking at some of the lads in the other franchises and they're mostly boxers that I know. If it had been pros, I wouldn't have known what I was getting into.

"At least, we're all more or less on a level playing field."

Miami will compete against the other Americas franchises, Boston, Mexico and Los Angeles, after which the winners will then meet European opponents in a semi-final. The contests will involve just five weight categories and Egan will box at 85 kilos, instead of the conventional light-heavyweight mark of 81.

This will, obviously, require some careful weight management approaching February and that bid for another Irish title.

Despite being in possession of the 42-page contract since March, Egan only signed last Monday morning at the Citywest Hotel, having had his legal people make numerous alterations. He admits, too, that some of his colleagues in the High Performance unit have expressed reservations about the move.

"I'm just looking forward to a different challenge," he said. "I've been in that stadium for so long. Don't get me wrong. I'm 100pc behind the High Performance. It's the reason I've got this opportunity to go to the World Series.

"Billy (Walsh) and Zaur (Antia) and the team are doing incredible work. You've just seen Katie (Taylor) doing the business again.

"We're flying at the moment and that's why I want to make it clear that I'm 100pc behind the High Performance. It's not as if I'm turning my back on them. I'm still going to be at the Seniors. I'm going to be, hopefully, at the World Championships.

"I just think it's a great thing for me now, especially where I am in my career. This will give me a taste of something different. A new beginning and, maybe, a different outlook on boxing."

He added: "Billy was a bit worried at the start, because he wasn't that sure what I was getting myself into. But I've told him that it's something I want to do, not something I feel I have to do. A change will be good for me.

"I think Billy understands now. We've been together for the guts of 10 years and, fair play to him, it's only natural that he'd worry. Because he treats us all like his own sons in the gym.

"But you can't be worrying about everything that might happen. If you start thinking like that, you might as well live in a phone box and not move anywhere. I know it's a big jump. Two years ago, I didn't know what I was doing. I was naive.

"Now I'm much more relaxed about what I'm doing in my life."

Egan believes that a Miami base might be especially advantageous too as the countdown to the London Olympics gathers momentum.

"The wheel is going to start turning again next year with the Olympic qualifiers," he reflects. "And what names will be coming up first? Myself and Paddy Barnes and Katie obviously. So there's going to be huge pressure there. And, maybe, this is a way of staying out of the spotlight.

"Because boxing is going to be our best sport in London again, I think we could have up to seven qualifying for the Games, and the media interest is going to be savage.

"So this could be a blessing in disguise. I'll be able to dip in and out of that. And that'll be good for me. I just need to keep the blinkers on. I know it's Miami and, maybe, people are going to be thinking 'women here, there and everywhere'.

"But right now, all I'm interested in is the boxing."

Irish Independent

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