2 May 2010 – By Leonard Gunning
There is an old saying in boxing that a fighter is the first person to know when he should retire but the last one to admit it.
With those words resonating we now consider the anticipated return to the ring of one of Irelands favourite fighters as Wayne McCullough has decided to return to the ring and participate in the super bantamweight edition of Barry Hearns exciting and unpredictable Prizefighter Series on May 29 at the York Hall in London.
With the Belfast boxer fast approaching 40, news of his imminent return was greeted with collective heads shaking and eyes rolling with many feeling that he should preserve his health and hang the gloves up once and for all but McCullough still believes that he has plenty left in the tank to offer the fight game.
Wayne captured the imagination of the Irish public in 1992 when he and fellow amateur boxer Michael Carruth returned from the Barcelona Olympics with Irelands only medals. He went on to cement his position in Irish sporting folklore in 1995 when as professional he made the lonely journey to the backyard of Japanese WBC Bantamweight champion Yasuei Yakushiji and ripped the title away from the Nagoya native in a titanic tussle over twelve rounds that saw his name catapulted onto the world stage.
McCullough went on to successfully defend his title in Dublin and Belfast and face some of the biggest names in the super bantamweight and featherweight divisions including Eric Morales, Scott Harrison and Prince Naseem Hamed in a glittering career that has earned him a reputation as one of the most exciting fighters on the circuit.
However since those heady days the Las Vegas based boxer hasnt fought in almost two years, has lost his last three bouts, two of those ending inside the distance and is without a win in over five years.
On the face of it those statistics are somewhat alarming. However Wayne believes this isnt necessarily all negative and points to the quality of opposition he faced and explained that considering I’ve only fought three times in six years, twice for the WBC belt and once for the NABF belt, that’s not too bad! Many people, commentators included, thought I won the first Oscar Larios fight and I was ahead on the cards in my last fight but had to pull out on my stool due to a prior injury.
The Prizefighter Series format sees eight fighters compete over the course of a single night in four quarter-finals of 3 x 3 minute rounds followed by two semi-finals and a final with the winner taking away a prize of 32,000 not bad for a single nights work. In general the competition is seen in the trade as a chance for fading stars to climb back into contention or for relative novices to boost their profile – however Waynes appearance would be a major coup for the series that propelled fellow Belfast fighter Martin Rogan into the heavyweight spotlight following the inaugural Prizefighter in 2008.
It is a format McCullough is familiar with and he outlined, I’ve seen a few of them. I saw when Martin Rogan and Audley Harrison won their tournaments and I also attended live when Tony Oakey won. So when Barry Hearn Promotions approached me and asked if I’d be interested I jumped at the chance.
McCullough has fond memories of the proposed venue, in 2002 he stopped South African fighter Johannes Maisa inside four rounds there.
All I remember is I knocked Maisa out! The York Hall reminds me of the Ulster Hall in Belfast. It’s a small venue but the atmosphere is fantastic recalled the Pocket Rocket with fondness.
The line up for the tournament has yet to be finalised but names such as Scotlands Kris Hughes and Gavin Reid, Josh Wale and unbeaten Welshman Ricky Owen have been muted as entrants. The only other confirmed participant is Esham Pickering, who faced Bernard Dunne when the Dubliner won the European title in 2006.
As McCullough has been so inactive in the recent past questions will understandably be raised as to what condition he will show up in and his reasoning for getting back into the ring especially as he enjoys a comfortable lifestyle in America.
I want to get back into the ring and do something I love. I’ve been doing everything I need to do but then again I never stop training, he said.