When Jon Slowey withdrew from Friday night’s All On The Line card in the Waterfront Hall, it looked like the Marco McCullough curse was still going strong. The likeable Shankill featherweight hasn’t had the best of luck in 2015, with injuries, cancellations and shock defeats combining to make this year look like one he’d quickly wish to forget. Slowey’s untimely withdrawal appeared merely the sarcastic icing on his annus horribilis cake.
Boxers tend to be strong believers in fate, however, and after some fancy promotional footwork from Cyclone Promotions’ Blain McGuigan, McCullough once again has an opponent for the Waterfront. And truth be told, he’s a better, higher ranked, more experienced foe that should prove an even sterner test than the original Scotsman promised to provide.
Sergio Prado hails from the Spanish capital where he is universally known as Schuster. In a profession more associated with bombastic nicknames hinting at the power, speed, skill or whatever other attribute one fighter is going to use to defeat another, Schuster stands out as a particularly odd sobriquet. It is the only place, I feel, to start our interview.
“El futbol!” he answers with a laugh. “Everyone calls me Schuster because I played for Real Madrid from the age of 9 until 12 while Bernd Schuster was one of the stars of the team. To be honest I walked out on Madrid because I didn’t like the type of kids there, I’m from the barrio (tough neighbourhood) and they were all pijos (posh kids). But now I think about it and wonder what could have been!!”
It would be impossible for him not to. The twin behemoths of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona dominate Spanish life in a way that few football teams around the world manage to do. Football is the all-powerful king in Spain and it leaves little room for other sports to enter the spotlight. The sweet science suffers more than most and it is for this reason that the affable Prado can’t wait to fight in Ireland.
“Ireland and England are like the cradle of boxing and what I love is the respect fighters receive there. Here in Spain we are not even regarded as sportsmen but you can see in the eyes of the Irish and English people that they really respect the boxers. I love that.”
Prado is following in the footsteps of several of his countrymen who have made Ireland versus Spain a regular fixture in the boxing calendar. In addition to Carl Frampton’s great battles with Kiko Martinez, the likes of Santiago Bustos and Roberto Palenzuela have also graced a Belfast ring in recent years. I wonder has Sergio been in touch with his compatriots for some advice on what to expect in the Emerald Isle.
“I know that a few Spaniards have recently fought in Belfast, Kiko is the famous one, but I haven’t spoken to them to be honest. I already know what to expect in terms of atmosphere. I fought Kid Galahad for 12 rounds in his home in England and Dennis Ceylan for 10 rounds in his home in Denmark. So I’m experienced fighting overseas.”
In addition to those two big fights, the 32-year-old Prado was also European champion at super bantamweight back in 2013. Most of his important outings have, in fact, been at 122lbs but he assures me the step up to featherweight will not be an issue.
“It’s not a problem, actually I’m a natural featherweight. That’s my weight. I had good opportunities to fight at super bantamweight and I took them, but I’m a featherweight.”
Here in Spain, Prado is known as an accomplished fighter and a very tough man. Only once in his seven-year career has he not heard the final bell and that retirement in 2011 was more due to a leg injury than any punishment his opponent inflicted. But watching him fight, he is a difficult man to pigeon-hole in terms of approach such is the variation in his performances.
“I don’t have a style,” he tells me with a smile. “I prefer to see what happens in the ring and adapt. Sometimes that means attack and sometimes I need to fight on the back foot. I’m a complete fighter and can do it all. I don’t like to go into the ring with special plans. Mike Tyson has a famous quote about that!”
And so what of his opponent, has he done much research on McCullough?
“I’ve watched videos of Marco. I can see he is a very brave fighter and he loves a war. So do I so anything can happen in this one. I know we are going to put on a great show and I’m convinced I’m going to win. I’m in great shape, I’ve prepared really well, I just can’t wait to get over there and fight.”
It will actually be Prado’s first visit to Irish shores but, armed with information from the youngsters he helps train for the Spanish amateur squad who have fought several times north and south, he’s delighted to be making the trip.
“This will be my first time in Ireland but I’m looking forward to it. Everyone says it is green and beautiful like the north of Spain! And the Spanish and Irish people are similar I think – we tend to get on well together.”
Very true, Sergio. The natural affinity between the Irish and Spanish ensures he’ll be warmly greeted in Belfast and, win, lose or draw, there’ll be a few celebratory Guinness bought for him after the event. He knows as well as anyone, however, that for the duration of this latest Irish-Iberian war in the ring, all pleasantries will be firmly placed on hold until the best man wins.