21 March 2009 – By Mark Doyle
On a historic day for Irish sport, Bernard Dunne realised his world title dream in stunning fashion, the Dubliner claiming the WBA super-bantamweight belt with a brutal 11th-round stoppage of Ricardo Cordoba before a raucous crowd at The O2 on Saturday night.
In arguably the finest fight ever staged on The Emerald Isle, Dunne finally secured victory after dropping his Panamanian rival – for the third time in the round, and the fourth overall with just one second to go in the penultimate stanza.
It was a quite remarkable turnaround given that Dunne had been on the verge of being stopped himself after twice being felled in the fifth, only to be saved by the bell.
Dunne fought majestically thereafter, though, and it had become obvious by the tenth that Cordoba had nothing left the give.
Indeed, when the 24-year-old southpaw was dropped for the first time in the 11th it appeared to be more out of exhaustion than anything else, the South American stumbling backwards and onto his backside after a seemingly innocuous exchange whilst backed up on the ropes.
However, it quickly transpired that Cordoba was out on his feet, Dunne flooring him again moments later, and this time with cracking left hook.
Cordoba, showing a warriors heart, somehow managed to scramble to his feet but he was merely postponing the inevitable and Dunne finished the bout with a sickening left to champions temple as he lay defenceless against the ropes.
Cordoba immediately slumped forward onto the canvas and hit it hard. The bell sounded a millisecond later but by that point the referee had quite rightly waved the contest off. Indeed, Cordoba required immediate medical attention after momentarily losing consciousness but, happily, the early reports were that he was merely suffering from dehydration and exhaustion.
No sooner had Cordoba fallen for the final time in an epic bout, Dunne himself dropped to the canvas, out of sheer ecstasy and perhaps relief but certainly not disbelief.
The Dubliner had always said that his moment would come. Even after his 90-second capitulation at the hands of Kiko Martinez in August, 2007, the one blemish on his record. Even then, in his lowest moment, Dunne never lost faith in himself even though countless others did.
Indeed, he entered the ring as a massive underdog against Cordoba, a man who could count the super-bantamweight division’s supposed number one, Celestino Cabellero, amongst his former victims.
However, Dunne did not look fazed beforehand. There was a confidence in his eyes. And it proved justified.
After the widely expected cagey opening between two slick counter-punchers, Cordoba tried to force the issue in the third. But that only played into Dunnes hands. He boxed expertly on the outside and dropped Cordoba for the first time in the fight with a beautifully-executed left hook. Dunne went looking for the knockout but he did not have sufficient time with which to finish the job.
The hometown favourite pressed again in the fourth but the whole momentum of the fight shifted when an accidental clash of heads reopened an old wound in Dunne’s forehead.
It affected Dunne badly and very nearly proved decisive. With Dunne struggling to keep the blood out of his left eye, Cordoba capitalised, unloading on the Irishman until he eventually slumped on to his knees in submission.
Dunne rose to his feet and tried to keep his distance but ended up on the deck again moments later after walking into an awesome right hand from Cordoba. It felt like Martinez all over again.
Cordoba charged forward, unleashing another flurry of hooks as Dunne lay helpless on the ropes once more.
The Irishman was throwing nothing back but before the referee could intervene, the bell did and just in the nick of time, from Dunne’s perspective.
Unsurprisingly, the challenger opted to stay on the outside in the sixth, and succeeded in frustrating Cordoba with some quick-fire combinations. Dunne’s head had cleared.
The seventh was desperately close, one of the rounds of the fight, but Dunne was looking the far more efficient and far more effective fighter.
He continued to land the cleaner, sharper punches in the eighth, too. Indeed, Dunne’s shots were undoubtedly carrying the greater power, a surprise given that he has never been considered a particularly heavy-handed fighter.
As a result, Cordoba, although still pressing, was looking unsure of himself and increasingly unsteady on his feet as we entered the final third of the fight.
Dunne sensed this. Indeed, such was his confidence now that he was stepping in and letting fly with far greater regularity. He knew that his punches had the greater pop.
In the tenth, he even appeared to deliberately let Cordoba pin him against the ropes to draw the champion onto him before reclaiming the centre of the ring after counter-attacking with impressive ferocity.
Whether Dunne’s version of the rope-a-dope was intentional or not, Cordoba was undoubtedly exhausted and one round later, after a measured and sustained assault from Dunne, it was all over.
Dunne, against all the odds, had proven himself him a true champion. Unsurprisingly, he had done it the hard the way and he had flirted with defeat. But, like the Irish rugby side which had claimed an RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam earlier in the day, there was no doubting the worthiness and significance of the triumph.