AND THE NEW – Tommy McCarthy grabs European Title in London

Tommy McCarthy is the new European cruiserweight champion following a breakthrough win in London tonight.

The big Belfast boxer defeated game Belgian Bilal Laggoune on a majority decision to pick up the vacant continental crown following a nip-and-tuck fight at the Wembley Arena.

One of the support fights on the Oleksandr Usyk v Dereck Chisora pay-per-view undercard, McCarthy showed skill and grit to overcome Laggoune, banking enough early rounds and withstanding a spirited fightback to see out a career-best win.

There were moments of worry but many more of admiration as McCarthy threw every shot in the book and saw out a notable win against a wily operator.

For McCarthy, it was his first fight since the sensational win in Italy over Fabio Turchi just over a year ago. Turning 30 next week, this was the chance for the Lenadoon favourite to transform his career further after saving it on that glorious night in Trento.

Laggoune had last fought in November in a keep-busy, with his most recent title fight being a narrow IBF Inter-Continental title win over Englishman Simon Barclay. This was one of ten previous title fights for the fighter of Algerian descent. However, perhaps his two most notable opponents provided him with two of the blots on his record – a 2015 draw with Ukrainian Dmytro Kucher for the European belt and a split-decision loss to Congolese fighter Doudou Ngumbu in 2017 during a trip down to light heavy.

Having had the vast majority of his fights in Belgium, a self-confessed short camp, and described by many as ‘merely’ a solid European-level opponent, Laggoune was a huge opportunity for McCarthy out of the home corner – and an opportunity the Ulsterman didn’t let pass him by.

McCarthy looked supremely confident during the ringwalks but it was his foe who started the busier – and timed a few nice right hands.

They traded jabs, fencing, at the start of the second. Laggoune’s right hands were landing as McCarthy looked to explode into counters and, then, fired in some uppercuts.

McCarthy was beginning to invest in the body, catching Laggoune on the way in, and was starting to get his timing going into the third, his best thus far. Eye-catching combos upstairs proved encouraging as the first quarter was completed.

Laggoune came flying out at the start of the fourth but McCarthy was able to slow the pace before using his handspeed to good effect.

The Belgian continued to work but the higher-quality output was coming from McCarthy and looked like they could be the difference in a competitive fight. ‘The Mac Attack’ did, as the fifth closed, managed to exert his physical superiority as well, pushing Laggoune to the ropes and it, perhaps, looked like he had taken the bout by the scruff of the neck.

The visitor looked to be tiring slightly as we entered the sixth and McCarthy was, by now, the aggressor. Then, with 30 seconds to go, it got weird, with Laggoune turning his back and explaining that he had something in his eye. Obviously distressed but unable to have water or a towel applied, Laggoune re-entered and got on his bike as McCarthy chased to the bell.

With nothing obviously untoward – bar a perfect McCarthy uppercut – the fight went into its second half. Laggoune was not comfortable as McCarthy looked to land big shots. Teeing off as Laggoune sought to survive, McCarthy had his foe hurt at the bell and it did not look like there would be long left in the fight.

Superior in all areas, it was McCarthy’s fight to lose and the Commonwealth silver medallist didn’t look like letting up – although Laggoune would then prove that he had plenty of heart and nous as the fight threatened to swing either way.

Forcing Laggoune to stumble to the ropes in the ninth, McCarthy went in for the kill, flurrying the Flemish fighter for an extended period, somewhat inefficiently, before taking a big counter and then taking a quite obvious rest.

Reasserting control, McCarthy finished strong but big Bilal continued to press into the tenth, his best since the early stages.

Perhaps sensing he needed a stoppage, Leggoune forced the pace at the start of the scrappy eleventh as a tiring McCarthy boxed clever and targeted the body.

Laggoune was in the ascendency going into the final round and Pete Taylor was urging McCarthy to go ‘all guns blazing’ – and the Irishman did land plenty in an exciting three minutes to perhaps rubber-stamp the win

Going to the cards following a prolonged break it was a majority decision with a 114-114 card being overruled by 116-112 and 116-113 ledgers to crown McCarthy the new champion of Europe.

Irish-Boxing.com scored the bout 116-112 to McCarthy who now moves to 17(8)-2(1) while Laggoune falls to 25(14)-2(0)-2.

Ranked #13 by the WBC beforehand, winning the WBC-affiliated EBU belt should inflate this massively – as well as garnering him positions with the other bodies, with Laggoune’s IBF #7 standing also up for grabs.

However, regardless of where and what next, it was a major night for McCarthy and Irish boxing as he became just our fifteenth European titlist, joining the likes of legendary world champions Rinty Monaghan, Barry McGuigan, and Carl Frampton

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]