While Roy Keane was touching down in Manchester at the weekend another combative Irish man was making final preparations for his business trip to the city. If the now ex Irish soccer captain has had enough of the World cup then he can always take his mind off it by heading for the nearby M.E.N. Arena next Saturday to see Eamonn Magee challenge Ricky Hatton for his W.B.U. welterweight title.
Indeed Magee may well have sympathy for the fiery Corkman having ended his own international amateur career on a sour note back in 1992. Back then as National Senior light welterweight champion Magee felt that he should have been representing Ireland at the Barcelona Olympics. Senior officials at the Irish Amateur Boxing Association felt differently and mandated a box off between Magee and Waterford’s Neil Gough. The Belfast man refused and sat at home while Michael Carruth and Wayne McCullough picked up medals. Embittered by the controversy Magee’s amateur career petered out and he abandoned the sport for two years.
When Magee did decide to return to the ring in 1995 it was as a professional. Veteran Belfast fight figure Mike Callahan snapped Magee up and installed John Breen as his trainer. Since then the Ardoyne man has his share of up’s and down’s in compiling a record of 23 wins and 2 losses. Next Saturday though will undoubtedly be the biggest night of his career and in an interview with Irish-Boxing.com Magee spoke about the long awaited clash.
Q – Until the actual fight date was announced there was some confusion as to when if it all the fight was going to happen, where do you think that came from?
A – Well Hatton said that Billy Graham (Hatton’s trainer) didn’t want the fight and Frank Warren didn’t want the fight but he said he wanted the fight but I think from a manager’s point of view it’s definitely the wrong fight for him to take. I was sick of waiting so I got onto the papers and claimed he was running scared and all of a sudden the fight was set for the first of June.
Q – How do you think Frank Warren feels about the fight?
A – The last time he filled the M.E.N. Arena was Nigel Benn and Steve Collins and that was the last time that arena was full with 22,000 people in it. He can see all the money coming in through the doors and he’s grabbing it with both hands.
Q – Many people commented that Hatton did not look in the best of shape at the press conference to announce the fight, do you read anything into that?
A – I know he was away on holidays for three weeks before then but I have my own scouts out and I know that he blows up to around eleven and a half stone between fights. Another thing I noticed at the press conference is that I got him rattled. I’ve never heard him say anything bad about anybody at any press conference but I rattled his cage at that one and you could see that he was all shaken up
Q – How did you manage to rattle him?
A – I told him all he’s been doing is fighting blown up lightweights, it’s either that or old men. He won the W.B.U. title from Tony Pep who was Barry McGuigan’s sparring partner fifteen years ago and he thinks that was the best fight of his career. His last opponent (Mikhail Krivolapov) couldn’t miss him with the right hand and he was only a lightweight. It’s going to be similar to the Shea Neary fight two years ago, it’ll be his first time fighting a fully blown light welter weight who’ll hit him back
Q – Can you tell us a little more about your training camp?
A – All in all I’ll have been in camp for seven weeks, I usually only do six. It’s in Slieve Gullion, which is on the Newry border. It’s actually up in the forest, it’s a holiday home but it’s really quiet up there. The people that let it to us can’t do enough for us. They’ve set up a gym there all kitted out with heaters and mirrors so I can use it at night.
Q – How are you going to cope with Hatton’s bodypunching? We’ve heard about a bizarre training ritual you do where you have guys hitting you with flagpoles wrapped in towels.
A – (At this point Magee shows me the bruising around his ribs) You’ve got a guy of fourteen and a half stone and a guy of thirteen and a half stone hitting me as hard as they can (with the flagpoles). If I can take that from then how can a twenty three-year-old kid hurt me? That’s all he has is his body punching, I don’t think he’s any power though. I’ve never been on the floor in my life and I don’t think a twenty three-year-old kid can floor me.
Q – How big is the fight for you?
A – This is the like of Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn. Hatton’s been built up like Naseem Hamed and he’s the cream of the crop at the minute. When I beat him the worlds my oyster. I’ve already signed my contract for when I beat him and for six defences afterwards and I can tell you it’ll be enough to retire on.
Q – You’ve always been up front and honest and said that you’re in boxing for the money rather than the titles. Have you made an exception for this fight?
A – No, I’ve always treated boxing as a business and this is no exception. You have to fight for the titles to get the money. At the very start of my career I set myself a target to reach and after my next contract that’ll be it.
Q – Is there a rematch clause in the fight contract?
A – If I win there’s a rematch if Ricky wants it but I’m going to insist on a rematch anyway just to bring it back to Belfast to show the public that it wasn’t a fluke.
Q – What about if you lose?
A – I suppose it would really depend on how the fight goes on the night. If it’s a one sided fight the publics not going to want it. But if it’s a really good toe to toe fight they’ll certainly want it.
Q – Will you get the same amount of time as Hatton for your entrance?
A – Well at the end of the day if I want to do a ten minute walk in I’ll make it a ten minute walk in. I know they try and force you in but a lace can come loose all of a sudden…..
Q – Your only two pro defeats have been pretty controversial points decisions. By fighting in Hatton’s hometown does that play on your mind?
A – I’m telling you now if I win all twelve rounds one sided, I still don’t expect to get the decision in the M.E.N. Arena. I know that I have to go out there and win by knockout. There’s no way that they’re going to give me that fight over there. I’ve seen guy’s get their ass kicked for twelve rounds and still get the decision.
Q – Does the fact that Hatton may be susceptible to cuts come into your thinking?
A – It’ll certainly be coming into my thinking. Jonathan Thaxton is a southpaw like myself and he cut Hatton to shreds. In my opinion the referee should have stopped it. It was the worst cut I have ever seen in boxing. Both eyes were cut to ribbons.
Q – You’ll upset an awful lot of people in the M.E.N. Arena if you win the fight, does that bother you?
A – Well I’ll be hoping to upset them before I even get into the ring, just wait until you hear my entrance music. It starts with you’ll never beat the Irish then it goes into a warrior dance. That will let him know he’s going to war and then finally it’ll go into who let the dogs out. You never know I might just walk in with a couple of bull terriers in front of me!