Ireland has known some great boxers in its time. Men like Steve Collins, Barry McGuigan, Tom Sharkey, Billy Conn and John L Sullivan enjoy a place in boxing lore, loved and admired for their skill and fighting spirit.
The tradition is strong and hearty. If SA promoter Rodney Berman has his way, we’ll soon be able to add Gary Sweeney to that illustrious list.
The 21-year-old from County Mayo in Ireland landed in South Africa on Tuesday and went straight to the gym. He’s teamed up with Golden Gloves and will make his professional debut under the tutellage of top trainer Colin Nathan onSeptember 19.
It’s an unusual path for an Irishman to follow, but Sweeney has the attitude that he will fight anywhere at any time. With a long and successful 300-fight amateur career behind him, he wants to get cracking as a pro. There are boxers to beat, titles to be won.
“It’s just fantastic to be here,” said the former Irish amateur champion on Wednesday. “I’m settled in, 100 percent happy.”
Berman signed him up on account of his excellent amateur pedigree and his evident skills. Nathan took one look at him during a workout in June and said: “This kid’s got it.”
Sweeney flew in from Spain where he was training in Marbella at a camp that was a hotbed of Irish fighters. “Felt just like family,” he said.
As he prepares to make his pro bow on the “Uncivil War” tournament, he will be sparring primarily with Ryno Liebenberg, who also features on the show.
Berman won’t be keeping him wrapped in cotton wool. The plan is to feature him often. He will next fight in December and January and will then likely be shipped off to the US for an appearance on an Art Pelullo tournament.
The US has a natural affinity towards Irish boxers and early reviews of Sweeney suggest an all-action fighter who can stand and box or hit and move, whatever the occasion demands. The portents are encouraging.
“I’m very excited,” said Berman. “Irish boxers are tough guys and never less than entertaining. I think the sky is the limit with Sweeney and I look forward to watching him develop.”
The 21-year-old cruiserweight, who is in town with his brother Michael, an established pro, has no illusions about the demands of the professional game.
“It’s gonna be tough. It’s gonna be difficult, like everything. But I work hard and I hit hard. It all depends on me,” says the fighter who ranks Gennady Golovkin and Tyson Fury among his favourite boxers.
Nathan likes what he sees. “Gary’s punches are crisp; he hits with authority. Technically, he’s very sound and has good foundation with his feet. He’s well-schooled and possesses great tools. I’m just going to be polishing his skills.”
Given Berman’s intention to develop Sweeney into a major star, the encouraging news is that Irish TV will be taking the fight. There will be pressure on him to perform, but the way he sees it, he wants to make a statement anyway.
“I can’t wait. You walk down the road in Ireland and everyone’s a fighter. Fighting is what I do,” he says confidently.
With fast hands and a good dig, it promises to be a cracking ride.