Friday 24 November 2017

Boxing: Big Bang's fall mirrors his rise

Guillermo Rigondeaux lands a body shot on Willie Casey during their WBA Super Bantamweight fight in Dublin on Saturday night. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Guillermo Rigondeaux lands a body shot on Willie Casey during their WBA Super Bantamweight fight in Dublin on Saturday night. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

So no new universe for 'Big Bang', just solemn thanks from Casey that he has a home to go to and a wife and family to share it with, the same environment he has always known and pledged never to deviate from regardless of the trappings professional boxing might provide for him.

These are the things that matter most to Willie Casey, the Traveller from Limerick's South Hill whose meteoric rise to the head of the queue for a shot at the interim WBA super-bantamweight title had defied boxing convention.

Ten months ago, very few outside that environment he inhabits knew his name. But a late invite to a Barry Hearn-promoted 'Prizefighter' night in York Hall changed everything and within six months he was a European champion.

Too much too soon? His 165 seconds in the ring with Guillermo Rigondeaux, one of the greatest amateur boxers of his time, probably confirmed that for those who harboured quiet fears that his fall could be every bit as hurried as his climb.

Casey and his team had skipped some chapters in a desire to finish the book, and the step up was simply too much. But then boxing is about opportunity, it's often a gamble.


In contrast, there are many who contended that Bernard Dunne's path to a world title was too laborious. He was 28 years old with 29 fights in eight years as a pro behind him when he finally got into the ring with Ricardo Cordoba on that famous night in March 2009.

Of course, Dunne became a world champion and those slow-burn tactics eventually paid dividends.

But Casey's journey has been so different, and at 29 grasping any chance that has come his way has been central to what he had achieved until Saturday night. He had come down from the heights of his changing-room in the rafters of the Citywest convention centre to a frenzy of excitement.

Before him, his entourage pumped their arms in a determined bid to compound a frenzy among the 5,000-strong crowd, many of whom had come from Limerick.

If they could generate a suitably hostile atmosphere for the champion, maybe his will would dilute, maybe the subtle skills and punching power would desert him. But within a minute of the opening bell the reality of the gulf in class was all too apparent.

Big Bang was going backwards. Fast. The go-forward perpetual-motion style that had taken him this far had been sapped from him with a devastating body shot that Rigondeaux is renowned for. At sparring, he crushed a French Olympic silver medallist with a 20lb advantage twice with this punch.

Casey had an ounce advantage and a lot less experience. From that moment it was a matter of when and how. A left hook to the head felled him the first time and much the same punch brought a second standing count.

Within seconds of the resumption they were opening the barriers at every exit to the arena and the rush to the doors resembled January sales. There was no need for a second glance.

It was that clinical, a reminder that boxing remains a sport where skill can still supplant everything else -- heart, strength, mentality, the lot.

Casey's recovery was quick and within minutes he was giving thanks for all those small mercies.

"What's going on in the world with Japan, I'm really happy to be going home to my wife and kids.

"I know it was a bad loss. I got knocked out. I'm happy though. Boxing is a nice sport, but all that matters to me is that I get to go home to them."

His conqueror does not have the same luxury, having defected from Cuba in 2009 and taken a pathway to professional boxing under the careful guidance of his Cork manager, Gary Hyde.

For Willie, there was no equivocation about this being too much, too soon.

"I'm fighting for a world title after 11 fights. Was it too soon for me? I don't think so. I think it was the right time for me. It was just unfortunate that I got caught. It was either him or me. It was me tonight.

"If another big fight came along next week I'd jump back on the bike again and take it again. Without a doubt. Without even hesitating. I'm in this game to try and box people and fight people and do the best I can. I went into every fight confident, 110pc confident that I was going to win. Nothing was going to stop me. But if you get caught with the big bangs, you get caught. There's nothing you can do about it."

For Casey, the road back will be longer and harder than the one he has just taken. The parallel with Dunne's recovery from his Kiko Martinez defeat in just 86 seconds in 2007 is easily drawn.

But somehow you felt on Saturday night, as the crowds spilled to the exits, that world title fights at this level might just be out of Casey's comfort zone.

Earlier, Dublin's Anthony Fitzgerald claimed the EBA middleweight title from Frenchman Affif Belghecham when the fight was stopped in controversial circumstances by the referee in the fifth round.

Belghecham was so infuriated he pushed the referee at least twice to vent his fury at the decision.

Irish Independent

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