Tony Considine: After an exceptional year, here's the Irish boxers who should be making headlines in 2019
2018 proved to be an eventful year for Irish boxing. From former world champion, Andy Lee’s retirement in February to Carl Frampton's thrilling but potentially career ending defeat to Josh Warrington in December, the sport was rarely off the back pages.
But 2019 looks like it could be even better as a number of the graduates of Ireland’s renowned amatuer boxing set up look to develop their professional careers even further and world stars such as Katie Taylor seek to cement their domination.
Here’s a closer look at those who should be creating the headlines over the next twelve months.
Michael Conlon saw 2018 off with a commanding win over Jason Cunningham on the Frampton Warrington undercard as he plots a course towards a title shot, most likely in 2020.
Intriguingly, it’s possible that a bout against Vladimir Nikitin, the man who ended his Rio Olympic dreams in such controversial circumstances may be made.
"I have a big year planned, including fights in New York and on St Patrick’s Day. And then in Belfast next August," Conlan revealed before the Cunningham fight.
"Hopefully Nikitin keeps winning and then we can meet with two unbeaten records on the line."
While 27-year old Conlan has time on his side to fulfil his world title ambitions, the same can’t be said of his former Olympic team-mate, Paddy Barnes.
With Barnes a latecomer to the professional ranks, his management gambled earlier this year by getting him a WBC flyweight title shot after only six paid fights.
Having lost that fight to a devastating Cristofer Rosales body shot at Windsor Park back in August, Barnes was due to make his first steps on the comeback trail on the Frampton undercard only for the bout not to go ahead after other fights ran beyond their scheduled time.
At 31, the Belfastman will be looking to get back on the title trail as soon as possible and a potential late summer date may be on the cards if Barnes comes through a couple of warm up fights, the first probably in March.
"I hope for maybe two more fights after this and then hopefully I’ll have another shot at a world title. Then I’ll simply take it from there" Barnes had said before the Frampton card although his lack of rounds since that title defeat won’t help his prospects.
The third Ulsterman potentially eyeing a world title in 2019 may never have fought in the Olympics but he did medal at both the World and European Championships before turning pro. Donegal middleweight Jason Quigley has built an impressive 15-0 (11 by KO) record while based in America with Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions.
Quigley moved back this side of the water earlier this year to be closer to home and is now boxing out of Dominic Ingle’s gym in Sheffield.
A bout against WBA belt holder Ryota Murata was mooted in 2018 only for the governing body to step in and insist Murata fight mandatory challenger Rob Brant instead. Quigley's loss was Brant’s gain as the challenger took a unanimous decision against an out of sorts Murata.
While Quigley was top 10 in the WBA rankings at that time, his best current rank is 7 with the WBC. While Canelo Alvarez is the king of the division, a shot at WBO champ, Demetrius Andrade or the aforementioned Brant would represent the most likely path to glory.
In the meantime, a fight on home soil is an ambition with Quigley recently telling SecondsOut.com: "I want to fight back in Ireland.
"We're going to bring Golden Boy to Ireland, 100 percent, Golden Boy in the Republic of Ireland, it's going to make headlines for sure.”
Yet another Ulster boxer who’ll be hitting the comeback trail is Belfast’s Ryan Burnett. Burnett came into 2018 as a world champion and was desperately unlucky to lose his WBA bantamweight crown after sustaining an injury in round 4 of his defence against Nonito Donaire.
The tear to his abdominal muscles meant the former youth Olympic champion couldn’t continue and his rehab is ongoing.
"This is not a career-ending injury but is one that will require intensive treatment and rehabilitation," Burnett said afterwards.
"I will pick myself up, make myself strong again, and get back to where I believe I belong, as champion of the world."
Few would back against the impressive 26-year old becoming a two-time champ if a title shot can be made.
On the other side of the coin, Laois native TJ Doheny came into 2018 under the radar yet ends it as a world champion. The super-bantamweight has been fighting out of Australia since turning pro and was given little chance by the experts when given a shot against IBF champion, Japan’s Ryosuke Iwasa.
But a gritty courageous display meant that he upset the odds to emulate Wayne McCullough and become the second Irishman to go to Japan and claim a title by beating a home champion.
A recent management change to MTK Global should mean an increased profile on this side of the world for Doheny (particularly if MTK lift their Irish media embargo) with his next move eagerly awaited.
Another Irish fighter taking the road less travelled is Kildare’s Dennis Hogan. Like Doheny, Hogan has built his career down under and recently confirmed his status as the WBO light middleweight mandatory challenger with a comfortable points win over Jamie Weetch in Brisbane.
Undefeated Mexican Jaime Munguia is lying in wait with Hogan hopeful a March date can be scheduled.
Dubliner Jono Carroll’s world title bid however, remains in the balance. The former Prizefighter winner had a final eliminator for the IBF super-featherweight crown in December only to see his momentum stopped by a draw with French veteran Guillaume Frenois.
With champion Tevin Farmer due to face the winner, a rematch with Frenois may be required before Carroll gets his shot.
Of course, Ireland’s best loved and best known world champion is Bray’s golden girl, Katie Taylor. The latest defence of her WBA and IBF lightweight titles against Eva Wahlström was at boxing mecca, Madison Square Garden on the undercard of 2018’s superfight between ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin.
At this stage, unification is the name of the game for Taylor after she added the IBF belt to her WBA crown in 2018. With Rose Volante and Delfine Persoon holding the WBO and WBC straps, they’re clearly the fights that Taylor wants.
But making them is proving difficult with Taylor’s manager responding to a purse offer from Persoon’s camp last week with a terse "Katie wouldn’t get out of bed for that kind of money."
While it’s likely that money will talk and one, if not both fights will get scheduled, an alternative could be a bout against Amanda Serrano, who’s sister Cindy was one of Taylor’s beaten opponents in 2018.
Domestically, 2018 also saw TG4 follow up their Last Man Standing card with a professional bill from Mayo in December when Ray Moylette and Spike O’Sullivan had differing fortunes on a three hour live broadcast. While Moylette will need to go back to the drawing board after his defeat to Christian Uruzquieta, O'Sullivan got back to winning ways after his September defeat to David Lemieux.
With the channel looking to expand their coverage in the new year, 2019 promises to be a fascinating year on both the local and international stages.