The 13th Round: Belfast can emulate Cardiff’s Boxnation success

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On Saturday night at the Ice Arena, Cardiff secured its place as a staple on the Boxnation circuit.

Boxnation and Queensbury Promotions have admittedly struggled with attendances for many of their shows in the past, with both Liam Smith’s Liverpool homecoming and Andy Lee v Billy Joe Saunders at the Manchester Arena both sticking out in the memory.

Therefore it will have been music to the ears of Frank Warren to see a near full arena in the Welsh capital and an electric atmosphere for the headline fight between home boy Liam Williams and Gary Corcoran.

So impressed with the turnout, Boxnation have already stated their intentions to come back to Cymru on September 17th and continue to build around Williams as they look to turn the Rhondda Valley light middleweight into a new Joe Calzaghe of sorts.

From an Irish perspective, looking at the show on Saturday, one could not help to think that Boxnation would have similar results if they were to make the short trip across the Irish Sea for a show in Belfast.

Ireland’s fight capital is the perfect location for a show packed to the rafters with vocal and knowledgeable fans. Unique across Britain and Ireland, Belfast is a boxing city. Tiny in size, it is home to countless top fighters and a large number of fans of the sport.

Starved so far this year, boxing fans in the Titanic City would come out in their droves for a show and the media coverage that would accompany a Boxnation Belfast bill would be huge.

In a city with the Telegraph, the Newsletter, the Irish News, and the various guises of the Belfast Media Group, all of whom cover boxing extensively, there’s no chance of a show going under the radar. Add to this the likes of ourselves here, Kev Byrne with the Sun, and the unique Belfast Boxers Facebook fan group, the card will definitely garner publicity. Additionally, a show in the Autumn or Winter would come following the Rio Olympics and, hopefully, the medal-winning exploits of the likes of Paddy Barnes and Mick Conlan, meaning that boxing mania in the city will be on a high.

In terms of venue, the +10,000 capacity of the Odyssey Arena is probably too big . On the other hand, the atmospheric Ulster Hall is probably too small with a capacity of 1,000 (although we would love to see boxing make a return to this venue in the near future). The Cardiff show sold around 3,500 tickets, a near-capacity crowd, and a somewhat comparable venue in Belfast would be the Waterfront Hall with a boxing seating plan of around 2,400.

The modern city-centre amphitheatre is great for atmosphere and television cameras and has played host to two Cyclone shows in the past two years.

Selling tickets should not be a problem. Again, for comparative purposes, the recent Cardiff show featured six Welsh lads, with an amazing 1,100 tickets sold personally by Williams. The previous Cyclone show at the Waterfront, which going purely by eye was at half-capacity, had five Belfast boys and two Tyrone fighters – and a Boxnation show has the scope to be a lot bigger considering Warren’s links.

Headlining, of course, would be Jamie Conlan, who hasn’t fought in Belfast since September 2014. In that period he has become the most well-known professional fighter in the city after Carl Frampton, and his homecoming would probably sell out half the venue by itself. In terms of opponent, many would love to see a Fight of the Year rematch with Anthony Nelson for the Commonwealth title, while a defence against Jay Harris, who had a stunning stoppage win on Saturday in Wales, also appeals.

Another Warren fighter, James Tennyson, would also put bums on seats with his big-punching style. The well-supported Tennyson is looking to rebound from his British title loss to Ryan Walsh and is stepping up to super featherweight.

Last week’s BBBoC circular could be of interest for this hypothetical show. With Pat Magee having won the purse bids for the Tommy McCarthy-Matty Askin British cruiserweight final eliminator, a link-up with Warren seems possible. Indeed Askin is a Warren fighter, as is champion Ovill McKenzie who will defend his belt against Craig Kennedy in September, so it would make a lot of sense to work together on this one.

Also on the circular was an order for Celtic champion Anto Cacace to face Warren’s George Jupp in a British super featherweight final eliminator, another fight which seems to fit perfectly onto the card.

Warren lightweight Joe Fitzpatrick, and his huge following from the Divis, would also most likely be on the card, and a mooted bout with the similarly well-supported Feargal McCrory from Coalisland is a no-lose match-up for the two prospects.

Ciaran McVarnock is another Warren fighter due a Belfast homecoming. The Manchester-based super featherweight has not fought in his home city since February 2015, and would help further pack the place out.

The well-supported featherweight Marco McCullough, now a promotional free agent, could make a return on the card, and a live television debut for lightweight Paul Hyland Jr wouldn’t go amiss either.

The white to Tommy McCarthy’s whiskey, Tyrone McKenna, is also a natural fit for the card, as are the three Belfast-raised Upton Brothers. Irish light middleweight champion Pauly is of particular interest, and a title defence against Immaculata’s Alfredo Meli could be an instant classic, as could a rubber match between Donegal’s John Hutchinson and Belfast’s Ger Healy.

Spots for Dublin duo Sean Turner and Deco Geraghty would bring some travelling support, while an Irish debut for Gary Sweeney is also a good shout alongside run-outs for some of Warren’s other prospects – and it would be a great gesture to pit them against Ulster journeymen like Alec Bazza, Casey Blair, and Ben Mulligan.

It may seem like a pipe-dream, but it is very do-able. Jamie Conlan was nowhere near as big a name as he is now when he headlined in Dublin, at a smaller venue, last July, and the Irish title clash which headlined the November Dublin show between supposed journeymen Dean Byrne and Peter McDonagh was one of the best fights aired on the channel last year.

Why not Belfast?

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: [email protected]