By Dermot Bolger
It’s a great shame that the Lee v Saunders fight will not take place on Irish soil, but thankfully for Irish fight fans the bout is still going ahead. As venues go, the cards new home, the Manchester Arena, hasn’t been the worst hunting ground for Irish fighters over the years.
The Arena itself has a capacity of 21,000 and has staged some huge nights of boxing since it first opened in 1995.
Andy Lee will become the fourth Irish fighter to feature in a main event. Down the years, many Irish boxers have featured on supporting cards. Here’s a look back at some of those standout occasions for Irish boxers.
July 1996, saw Steve Collins, the reigning WBO Super-Middleweight Champion, lock horns with the Dark Destroyer, Nigel Benn. Benn was a real fan’s favourite and hungry for another stint as World Champion. After some tasty exchanges and just as the fight was warming up, Benn went over his ankle and retired after 4 rounds.
The inconclusive ending meant they went at it again that November on a huge bill that also featured Ronald “Winky” Wright and Naseem Hamed in World Title action. After 6 rounds, Benn retired again, this time with his spirit broken. He hit Collins with his best shots but Collins didn’t budge and was starting to find the target more frequently with his own punches when Benn’s corner saw it best to retire their man.
On the 10th April 1999, New Ross native Derek “The Rebel” Roche won the British Welterweight Title with a 7th round KO win over Charlie Kane. The bill featured Naseem Hamed in world title action and saw the legendary Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns make his sole appearance on this side of the world.
27th October 2001 saw Eamonn Magee in the first of 4 fights that he would have at the arena. He beat Matthews Zulu over 12 rounds to win the Commonwealth Light-Welterweight title. In Feb 2002, he defended his title with a 6th round win over Jon Thaxton on a Ricky Hatton feature. Four months later he was in the opposite corner to Hatton in the main event. He dropped Hatton in the first and rattled him again in the third before Hatton regained his composure and close out a points win over 12 rounds. 3 months later he was back on another Hatton bill and recorded a 5th round KO win over Alan Bosworth.
Brian Magee lifted the IBO Super-Middleweight title with a 10th round KO win over South African Andre Thysse in June 2003. The win saw Magee improve his unbeaten record to 19-0.
Glenn McClarnon went down bravely over 12 rounds against David Barnes when attempting to win the British Welterweight title in April 2004.
Martin Rogan got a slot on the Hatton v Tszyu undercard and bagged a 2nd round stoppage win in 2005.
April 2011 saw Paul McCloskey battle Amir Khan for the WBA Light-welterweight title. A clash of heads in the 6th round left the Dungiven man with a nasty gash over his left eye. The referee somewhat controversially halted the bout in Khan’s favour. Further down the card, Cavan’s Andrew Murray extended his pro record to 24 – 0 with a points win over 8 rounds. Jamie Kavanagh also extended his record to 6 – 0 with a points win over 6 rounds.
Andy Lee got a taste for the arena in November 2013 on the Froch v Groves undercard. He KO’d Hungary’s Ferenc Hafner in 2 rounds. It was a lively affair for the time that it lasted.