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Boxing: Dunne's final round

Yesterday boxer Bernard Dunne did something that shocked many of those who turned up for his hastily convened Friday evening six o'clock press conference.

The former WBA super-bantamweight champion counted himself out of boxing. Forever.

It was an evening of mixed emotions as Bernard, flanked by his beautiful wife Pamela, dressed in black, and his Belfast trainer Harry Hawkins, admitted to the boxing correspondents who've charted his sensational career, that he no longer had an appetite for the professional sport that has been described as "showbusiness with blood".

It can't have been as easy a decision as the slick media performer that Bernard has become tried to make it seem. Flanked by a new team of suited or booted management and sponsorship executives, the two-fisted media darling delivered a brief statement of intent and quickly got into his stride trading quips and one-liners with the press.

But was he apprehensive as he embarked on this new phase of his life as a 30-year old father of two young children?



OPTIONS

"It's exciting," he said. "Okay, we're going slightly into the unknown and if I face that the way I've faced boxing all my life I should be okay. There are so many options out there for us. It's going to be a minefield picking our way through them over the next few months."

Following his brutal demolition by Thai contender Poonsawat Kratingdeanggym in just three rounds in Bernard's defence of his world title last September, the popular Dubliner took five months to lick his wounds and weigh up his options.

"It was too big a decision to make over a week or two," he explained. "It's something I talked about to Harry (Hawkins, his trainer), Brian (Peters, boxing promoter), Pamela ( his wife), my father and everybody who's close to me. It's the right decision for me. It's time for a new challenge. I'm twenty-five years boxing. I've loved every minute of it but it's time to do something else with my life."

Acknowledging that his fans would have loved to see him fight on, Dunne declared: "The worst thing I could have done was go through the motions and get back in the ring. That would have been the easiest decision for me to make. But I've made tough decision. I'm content with my decision."

Having invited Brian Peters, the promoter who guided his career since he returned from America five years ago, to submit a strategic plan, Dunne the pragmatist overruled Dunne the pugilist. "It was Brian's plan to get me back to where I wanted to be if I wanted to continue boxing but I don't want to continue boxing," explained Bernard. "I looked at all options presented to me in terms of boxing. It's not a matter of getting back into boxing. It's the want and the challenge. It's not what I want anymore. I don't need that anymore.

"I put 25 years in. Thankfully I've still got some brain cells left in my head. I've two young kids and they're at the age now where they're starting to remember things and starting to remember daddy's going away (to training camp) and I just want different things from my life now."

As Bernard spoke, his former trainer Harry Hawkins looked crestfallen. Surely this wasn't a great day for him, losing a one-time world champion? The Belfast man recalled the remarkable odyssey he'd shared with Dunne.

"I was in Belarus with Bernard in 1988 at the European Championships when he was only a child," he recalled. "We've stayed very strong friends and have a great working relationship. I did have a part of the negotiations when Bernard went to America. We've always stayed in touch. When he came back and asked me to train him it was great for me as well. We brought everybody along on a fantastic journey. I didn't influence the decision. But I do believe he's made the right decision because you need to have a hunger in this game. Especially at the level that Bernard's at. Bernard's healthy and wealthy and maybe hasn't got that hunger. And you know you need to have the hunger because there are lots of guys in the world fighting for their breakfast."



CHALLENGE

Putting on a brave face, Hawkins admitted: "I'd love to have seen Bernard coming through my front door next month saying: "I'm ready for another challenge." But he's honest with himself and I'm quite happy that we'll remain friends."

Hawkins, a boxing realist, put things in perspective when he added: "Boxing's full of disappointments. The two defeats (by Kiko Martinez and Poonsawat) were disappointing. You accept that in boxing. That's part and parcel of it. Bernard bucked the trend of professional boxing in Dublin. Before that I'd always thought Dublin was a graveyard for professional boxing.

"It's more an amateur boxing city. Belfast is more of a professional (boxing) city. Bernard bucked the trend. The success of boxing at this time is a lot to do with Bernard Dunne. I don't think Bernard owes boxing anything. It owes Bernard a lot."

As he reflects on his boxing career, Bernard Dunne can take great heart from his marvellous record.

"From being a kid from Neilstown at five years of age going down to Inchicore and training with my dad and Peter Perry to working with Sugar Ray Leonard (in Los Angeles) when you're 21, and (coach) Freddie Roach. And then coming back and training with Harry Hawkins. Winning an Irish title in the amateurs and representing your country, you can't ask for more. Then going professional and winning a European title. Then my crowning moment, winning the world title in front of my home fans. Not a lot of people get to do that. That's the stuff dreams are made of. I regret nothing. I loved my career. I love boxing.

"I think I've achieved as much as any boxer can achieve," said Bernard. "And that was being world champion."


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