Before tonight’s Cyclone Promotions show, the Waterfront Hall hadn’t witnessed professional boxing since Eamonn Magee and Shea Neary went toe-to-toe in the final round of their grudge match fourteen years ago. Much too long for a decent venue in a top fight city like Belfast if you ask me. Magee was given a contested decision back in 2000, and a furious Neary never fought again, but there was no such controversy this evening as the four big Irish names on the card came away with handsome victories.
Headliner Marco McCullough came through a 10 round battle against previously unbeaten Prague-based Slovak, Martin Parlagi, to claim the vacant WBO European Featherweight title. It was a pulsating fight with Parlagi intent in turning it into a bar room brawl at every opportunity. He was warned by referee Steve Gray throughout the contest for leaning, low blows and use of the head. It was probably only the spirit of the contest and a sporting touch of the gloves at the end of each round that saved him from losing a point.
Marco said afterwards that Parlagi’s power surprised him and indeed the Shankill man was stunned in a first round that I had him losing. In the corner his trainer, the venerable John Breen, no doubt had an immediate word and the instructions were clear: don’t fight him, box him.
McCullough did just that, operating behind a long jab to turn the contest into a skilled technician against a raw and rugged purveyor of haymakers. He had Parlagi down in the second, although it was scrappy and the Slovak protested, but was also absorbing some vicious body blows. In the fourth, a big left hook rocked Marco and before he could fully recover, Parlagi sent him to the canvas with a couple of scuffed shots.
When a clash of heads opened a wound on the bridge of McCullough’s nose that gushed more blood than Saw III, the fight was still evenly poised and there was fear that Parlagi would be spurred on by the sight of the claret flowing freely. Instead it was the cue for Marco to show his class and heart and box himself to victory in the final four rounds, despite the blood clouding his vision for much of them.
The judges scored it 97-91, 95-93, and 98-92. For what it’s worth, I had it 96-93 for the Belfast boy.
The undercard was rife with further Irish success, starting with Limerick’s Willie “Big Bang” Casey getting his career back on track. The featherweight had lost three of his last six fights but they were against Marco McCullough, a Dane in Denmark, and the untouchable Guillermo Rigondeaux so we’ll cut him some slack.
He had fought only once in a couple of years and you could smell the ring rust as he let his game Polish journeyman opponent start almost every round the stronger. It was an unfamiliar back-foot strategy from the Munster man but he had too much class and stamina and comfortably took the decision.
Carl Frampton’s stable mate, Conrad Cummings was next between the ropes. Shane McGuigan looks like he may have found himself another winner as a thumping left followed by a swift four punch combination ended the durable Hungarian Lajos Munkacsi’s night in the second round. Cummings is a proper athlete and looks like he is going to be an enormous middleweight when he’s fully matured. It should be a good ride watching the Coalisland man progress.
Finally, the sombreros were out in force for The Mexican, Jamie Conlan. The unbeaten west Belfast super flyweight defended his WBO European belt in style with a three round demolition of Gabor Molnar. That’s eight KOs in 12 fights now and on the ring apron after the fight a grinning Conlan said it’s always good for the wee men to have some power.
Speaking of wee men with power, the Jackal Carl Frampton was a ringside commentator for the night and did a sterling job. When someone finally puts Jim Watt out of our misery in about 15 years, Sky Sports need look no further for some decent in-fight analysis.
Before that, however, Frampton has a date with 20,000 Irish fans somewhere in Belfast on the 6th September as he bids to win his first world title. Expect to see Cummings, Conlan and McCullough continue their journeys on the bill as well. Irish boxing in Belfast is absolutely buzzing.