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Tony Dunlop and James Tennyson on a mission to land British joy

By David Kelly

Published 27/04/2016

Big hitters: Belfast coach Tony Dunlop and featherweight James Tennyson can clinch the British title at London’s Copper Box Arena
Big hitters: Belfast coach Tony Dunlop and featherweight James Tennyson can clinch the British title at London’s Copper Box Arena

Before he had even taken his first step through a primary school door, Tony Dunlop was in love with the Sweet Science. This Saturday night he has the opportunity to enjoy a notable landmark on his boxing journey.

Belfast coach Dunlop, 52, will be in the corner of James Tennyson - as he has been since the featherweight turned pro in 2012 - when the 22-year-old challenges Ryan Walsh for the British featherweight title at London's Copper Box Arena.

Dunlop was born into a boxing family as dad Billy was an amateur for Star ABC and young Tony was regularly brought along while his father sparred and worked the bag.

It was a natural progression for him to don the gloves and would eventually rack up 152 contests with only 17 losses as an amateur, winning the Irish senior lightweight title along the way as well as a Commonwealth championships silver medal in 1983.

A brief professional career was then followed by him setting up Belfast ABC with his former coach Bobby McAllister - the club now known as Belfast Kronk due to a link-up with the late, great Manny Steward.

Tennyson, a member of Poleglass and then the St Paul's club, found himself at the Kronk with Dunlop at the tender age of 19, seeking to embark on a pro career that would one day come to this point, though along the way he had to bounce back from a shock loss to journeyman Pavel Senkovs in his ninth fight.

Dunlop insists he knew that was only a blip for a young man with the potential to win titles at feather and super-featherweight.

"That defeat was simply down to the fact that he was a boy fighting a man. He got caught and just couldn't recover but I never had any doubts he would come back from that. It happens in boxing - look at Muhammad Ali, he was stopped by Kent Green as a 16-year-old amateur and look at the career he went on to have," said Dunlop.

"James has matured physically, he has always been strong mentally and this fight with Walsh has come at just the right time. He still has some maturing to do but he has been progressing very well. I've known James since he was 12, I could see that he had huge potential and although some felt he was going pro too early at 19, I knew that if he was brought along slowly then he could do very well."

While Dunlop has worked with some top young amateurs, he has yet to have a professional with a major title but is convinced that will be put right on Saturday night.

"For both myself and James this would be a great milestone. For me to have a British champion would be special and for James to be British champion at 22 would be great and this can be just the start," added Dunlop. "Walsh is a good fighter, that's why he's British champion, but I believe James is a level above - you're going to see him outshine Walsh and take the title."

The bill, headed by heavyweight prospect Hughie Fury - cousin of World champion Tyson - also features Belfast's Jamie Conlan facing Anthony Nelson for the Commonwealth super-flyweight title.

Meanwhile, former IBF inter-continental middleweight champion Eamonn O'Kane has announced his retirement.

Belfast Telegraph

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