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Liking look of the Irish

All around the world people are talking about a new golden age for professional boxing.

And nowhere is the mood more expectant, more exhilarated, more ready to rumble than in Ireland. Never before has this little nation been as primed to punch above its weight.

As 2010 unfolds, the gloves are laced (in a manner of speaking) and we're ready to rock.

"A world champion and two European champions last year, it wasn't bad going, was it?" proclaims promoter Brian Peters, his eyes burning with the conviction of his sporting beliefs.

The wiry ginger-nut from the Royal County isn't one for grandiose statements. He knows mere words are just flim-flam compared to the blood-splattered punishment that's the coin of the sporting realm his clients operate in.

If you stand close enough to Peters on fight night you'll sense the charge that courses though him. In London in December of 2008, there was enough energy coming off Peters to spark the Christmas lights on Oxford Street as he got his crew together for a bout in Dagenham.

Paul McCloskey, who'd complained to me of pains in his fists following a points win over Nigel Wright in Limerick the previous July, was in with a shout of clinching a BBBofC British light welterweight title. Peters sensed history in the making. And sure enough, with referee Mickey Vann in charge, McCloskey's opponent Colin Lynes retired in the ninth of 12 rounds. Peters had himself another champion.



PUNCHED

Then last November, the Dungiven man punched his way to an EBU (European) title in Magherafelt. His opponent, Daniel Rasilla, went down twice in the ninth. The accomplished McCloskey won on a TKO.

Peters was in seventh heaven. On the night before, his powerhouse boxer Matthew Macklin had claimed the vacant EBU (European) middleweight title in sensational style with a first round TKO of Amin Asikainen.

Two European titles in two days. This was something to write home about.

Swings and roundabouts. In September, the Irish boxing community was in collective mourning following the demolition of Bernard Dunne by Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym. Dunne's third round defeat saw the popular Neilstown man lose the WBA world super-bantamweight title he'd won in such spectacular fashion at the O2 in March.

But Dunne had been world champion. His name would forever be in the record books. A world title and two European titles in a year? Surely things couldn't be expected to get much better for Irish boxing. Wrong!

Peters, the promoter whose enthusiasm for the sport has been largely responsible for the change in the fortunes of professional boxing in Ireland over the last decade, is convinced we ain't seen nothing yet.

His bill at the National Stadium on Saturday February 13 is sure to contribute another chapter of the sport in Ireland. In what he's hyping as 'The Civil War', Peters is staging not one, not two, not three, but four Irish pro title bouts on the one card.

"This is a great value-for-money bill," he states. "This is the first time ever there have been four Irish title fights on the same bill. This brings it to a new level.

"These boys are great," he insists of the men who contest the famous green belts on another Yanjing Fight Night. "They're the next generation. They're the up-and-coming."

It's sure to be explosive stuff as Cavan's Andy Murray, who's recovered from a broken collarbone received in sparring, takes on the all-action Dublin terrier Oisín Fagan in an Irish lightweight decider.

"Andy is five now in Europe and will probably move up into the top three," says Peters. "So I'd say a European title shot will be imminent in the next nine months."

It's not that anyone is writing off Fagan, whose tenacity and courage is legendary. But the European ratings are currently considering moving Murray up a few places in their table of excellence. An Irish title won't fast-track him to international stardom but it'll be a start. "The way it is," says Peters. "Is that on February 13 one man moves up and the other slips back. That's the way it works."

Also disputing belts that night will be heavyweights Coleman Barrett and Colin Kenna (yes, the footballer's brother). Patrick Hyland will defend his featherweight tile against Mickey Coveney. And Dubliner Anthony Fitzgerald will contest the super middleweight belt with Lee Murtagh.

Mel Cristle, president of the Boxing Union of Ireland, has no doubts about the excitement that lies ahead for Irish fight fans.

"It's being predicted that 2010 will see an explosion in professional boxing," he says. "I've no doubt that Ireland will play its part in the resurgence. These four fights are all fat-free fights. This is a show for the boxing afficionadoes. You're getting highly competitive 10-round championship fights in each of the four weight divisions. This bill will regenerate interest in the Irish titles. We're going to see a lot of activity on the Irish professional titles from this year."



broadcasts

RTé will be televising the event on February 13. Station executive Ciaran Craven is impressed with the viewing figures for Irish professional boxing. "We started off tentatively enough," he says referring to the early Fight Night broadcasts. "But then Bernard (Dunne) did a whole lot for the sport. He had two big figures. Over 600,000 and 700,000. What that did was like the rising tide lifting all boats. This show on February 13 will get a good audience. The figures have been rising."

Brian Peters is thrilled with the progress boxing has been making. "The figures have been outstanding," he says. "Matthew Macklin averaged 271,000 for the two hours. Andy Lee averaged 291,000 for two and a half hours. Andy peaked at 350,000. They are huge figures. Bernard Dunne had a 49 per cent market share. Almost one in every two watching telly watched Bernard."

Peters prefers to deal with matters in hand but he's genuinely optimistic for the future of the sport here. "There are great names in Irish boxing at present," he says. "The Hyland brothers are all fantastic. They're knocking on the door. I foresee big things happening for them this year, challenging for major honours.There are some great fights down the line for Coleman Barrett, Martin Rogan and Tyson Furey."

Peters also sees a bright future for the other high-profile Irish fighters. "Paul McCloskey has a bit of a niggle at the moment," he reveals. "He'll probably just be out once before the summer. We'd have liked to have got a few more fights in this year and be homing in on a world title by the end of the year. But possibly not. He'll be close enough to it though.



eliminator

"You have Matthew Macklin who's in a very tough fight next," he notes. "A 50-50 fight on April 9 with Pirog who's rated four with the WBC. Matthew is rated eight. Pirog is two with the WBO and Macklin is four with them. This will be a world title eliminator. The bout will be in Birmingham. It'll be a cracking fight with two top-ranked contenders. It's a clash of the contenders. A real toss of a coin."

What's ahead for Macklin? "When we come through that bout, we'll have one fight left with Hatton Promotions," says Peters. "We'll probably do a voluntary and then god knows what could happen. There could be great things happening there with Matthew."

Bernard Dunne, the man whose charisma and athleticism has made pro-boxing big box office in Ireland, is still to make a decision on what to do next. Don't rule out a return to the ring later this year.

Limerickman Andy Lee has some business dealings to take care of. "Andy is sorting out a few things," says Peters. "He'll probably get out again in April. We have Martin Lyndsey as British champion," he adds. "And (New York-based) John Duddy is fighting at the end of the month. He's still a fantastic draw."

As he thinks back over the big pro-box shows he promoted six years ago, Peters indulges in a moment's reminiscence. "It's been great," he says. "Thanks to a lot of support we've had from the public, the viewing figures have been great. I'd love to say I sat down and devised this plan but I didn't.

"You just keep on going and jump each fence as you come to it. You keep on driving on and then worry about it later."

The major regret that causes him to miss a few winks of shuteye was undoubtedly Bernard Dunne's defeat by Poonsawat. "It was unfortunate that we had to fight Poonsawat," he says. "It was sickening. But that's life. What can you do? The talent is there. When we got the title shot with Cordoba we were delighted.

"Then you agree to terms. It's like Matthew Macklin fighting for the vacant against Akasinan. We had to fight against Pirog. They allowed us a fight in December.

"Don't forget, the only two defeats Bernard Dunne has had have been two mandatorys," he adds.


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