Ireland’s North American Champions

(By Dermot Bolger)

When Gary O’Sullivan defeated Melvin Betancourt last May, he claimed in the process the NABA middleweight title. This is the WBA’s version of the American middleweight title. More importantly for Spike as his Team is the weighting it carries in terms of that organisations world ranking which puts the holder in touching distance of a world title shot.

In truth, there are numerous variations of the title on offer with the various organisations – NABF, USBA, NABO, WBC Continental Americas etc. The organisations will claim that the demand for titles comes from the TV networks who want titles on the line for televised shows. Needless to say, where ever there is a chance of claiming a sanctioning fee for a title fight, the ruling bodies are only too happy to oblige.

However, you value the title, there is no getting away from the usefulness of their purpose, which is that world ranking. They have proved a very valuable stepping stone for fighters progressing through the ranks towards the ultimate prize. Irish fighters have done well from them on that front.

Andy Lee, the current WBO Middleweight champion, defeated Alex Bunema in Illinois in May 2011 to claim two tiles – the NABA and the NABF Middleweight titles. Two fights later, he had a world title shot against Julio Cesar Chavez jnr.

Derry native John Duddy made New York his base for the duration of his career. On St Patrick’s weekend in 2006, he blitzed Shelby Pudwill in one round to claim the WBC Cont. Americas middleweight at the famous Madison Square Gardens. He successfully defended his title twice at the same venue. A seventh round KO win over Alfredo Cuevas in June of that year, and on another St Patricks weekend the following year, a ninth round KO win over Anthony Bonsate. Though he never fought for a world title proper, he was as high as no 3 in the rankings with the WBC as well as being in the top 10 with the IBF and WBO.

The Pocket Rocket, Wayne McCullough, was a one-time NABF Bantamweight Champion. In January 1994 in Nebraska, he scored a seventh round KO win over Javier Medina. 18 months later he was winning the WBC world bantamweight title in Japan.

May 1989, Steve Collins then 13-0, defeated Kevin Watts on points in Atlantic City for the USBA middleweight title.

He repeated the trick over the “Punching Postman” Tony Thornton in a title defence back in Atlantic City two months later. Those wins earned him his first world title shot in February 1990 against the “Body Snatcher” Mike McCallum.

There are several other Irish fighters that are worth an honourable mention for their efforts in American title fights. Rosmuc’s finest, Sean Mannion, lost a USBA Light middleweight title in 1982. Like Steve Collins he too went on to share the ring with Mike McCallum in a world title fight.

In June 1990, Seamus McDonagh challenged modern great Evander Holyfield for his WBC Cont. Americas heavyweight title but was over powered in four rounds.

Kevin McBride was defeated in 6 rounds when he fought Andrew Golota for the IBF North American heavyweight title in October 2007. That year also saw Oisin Fagan on the wrong side of a split decision for the vacant USBA lightweight title.

Arklow’s James Moore was also on the wrong side of the judges when he fought Yuri Foreman for the NABF light middleweight title in 2008. Foreman’s next fight was an eliminator for the IBF title.

There is no doubting the opportunities these titles can open up. With several Irish fighters punching for pay in the US, they will be hoping to add these belts to their resume as they progress their careers.

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