Thursday 13 December 2018

Boxing about to jump back into mainstream consciousness with Last Man Standing

10 January 2018; Former boxer Joe Egan poses for a portrait following a press conference to promote the upcoming Last Man Standing event at the National Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
10 January 2018; Former boxer Joe Egan poses for a portrait following a press conference to promote the upcoming Last Man Standing event at the National Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Ian Gaughran

THE Irish public has always enjoyed a special relationship with the noble art of boxing and, until very recently, big nights of professional pugilism would, like big World Cup qualifiers or All-Ireland finals, provide the foundations of our sporting calendar.

Think Collins v Eubank, Dunne v Cordoba, hell even Willie ‘Big Bang’ Casey had us buzzing for his world title shot against none other than Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2011.

Since those heady days, however, the pro scene somewhat fizzled away while the amateur game shot to the fore, led by Katie Taylor and Messrs Conlan, Barnes et al.

Granted, recession crippled the country and professional boxing was one of the big losers as RTé quickly pulled the plug on its coverage of the sport.

Of course, the sickening attack during the weigh-in of MGM’s ‘Clash Of The Clans’ show in early 2016 at the Regency Hotel certainly didn’t help pro boxing’s reputation or standing in Ireland, and it has taken time to rise back up from the doldrums.

However, 2017 saw a resurgence as promoters such as Red Corner, Boxing Ireland, SK Promotions and MTK Global (formerly MGM) hosted shows in Dublin and Belfast, as well as Matchroom and BoxNation, with plenty of success.

Boxing fans have turned out in numbers, but now it’s time for the general public to get back into the swing of things.

Enter ‘Last Man Standing’, the brainchild of Red Corner and Assassin Promotions, a tournament style, eight-man event with over €50,000 up for grabs, as well as the lure of live terrestrial television coverage.

That broadcaster will be announced in the coming days, with sponsorship from major bookmakers also in the pipeline.

Taking inspiration from the Prizefighter tournaments which enjoyed so much success on Sky Sports, the event promises fireworks.

Red Corner and Assassin have brought together eight thrilling fighters to go at it on March 3 hoping to bag the big bucks.

The Dublin promotion consists of Jonathan Graham, alongside brothers Andy and Paddy Jennings, who have enjoyed massive success over the past year or so, and Graham told the Herald how ‘Last Man Standing’ came to pass.

“We were progressing along nicely,” said Graham. “We had a couple of shows and our fighters were going places.

“What we wanted, though, was a concept that would capture the imagination of the casual fan and the broader public.

“We thought that ‘Last Man Standing’ could also bring a broadcaster back in and it turns out we were right.

“We’ve had lengthy conversations with broadcasters and they’ve never really wanted to wade in behind one boxer but they bought into this concept and what we are trying to do.

“Hopefully, this will take us to the next level where we can broadcast shows regularly and hopefully where we can bring on the next Bernard Dunne.”

Graham is a Sinn Fein councillor for Clondalkin, and it was through this role that he got back into the game. Having competed as a junior and being involved in amateur boxing as a teen, he had moved away from the sport, only to be brought back in on a council level.

“I hadn’t been involved in boxing for a while but got a call from the Jennings brothers to come in from a council point of view to try and set up an amateur club in Bawnogue.

“From there we thought we could give promoting a go and here we are.”

At the National Stadium on March 3, the eight fighters vying for the inaugural ‘Last Man Standing’ title are Chris Blaney, Bernard Roe, top class amateur Roy Sheahan, Henry Coyle, Seán McGlinchey, Pádraig McCrory, Thomas Finnegan and Alfredo Meli, and Graham can’t wait to see how the night pans out.

With prize money on offer on top of the €50,000 for knockouts, Graham is expecting fans to be given plenty of bang for their buck.

“There’s a grand for each knockout, and five grand for knockout of the night, so that will see the lads sitting down on their shots more and will make for some excellent scraps.

“That’s what we want from this competition and that’s what the fans want, so we’re really looking forward to it and can’t wait for March 3.”

An intriguing member of the eight in the line-up is MTK Global fighter Alfredo Meli. The Belfast 27-year-old will be the first MTK Global fighter to fight in the Republic of Ireland since the Regency attack and he is coming in to take the top spot.

He said: “I’m delighted to be in the tournament. It’s a good, strong competition and I expect there to be a few great fights.

“I think the format will suit me – three fights in one night to win it. I just have to put the hard work in in the gym.

“I’ve never really had the experience of fighting in this style of competition, but I helped Éamonn O’Kane when he went for Prizefighter, so I have the experience of sparring for it.

“He won the Prizefighter in Belfast, so I have that experience behind me. We were sparring in the Mac. I’ll be able to talk to Éamonn and get his advice.

“A win would tee up big fights after this. It’s all about putting my face out there and putting the hard work too. It’s been hard when I’ve been working away as a mechanic too, so a win would really help with that.”

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