McCloskey wants World title tilt
The perverse nature of boxing often means that only by going through a hellish experience does a man feel the divine rose petal plaudits fall upon his weary shoulders.
After 12 brutal and exhausting rounds in the Odyssey Arena on Saturday night, Paul McCloskey's face was a road map to the well boxers can only go to on a handful of occasions, if even that.
Colombian Breidis Prescott had broken the Dungiven man's nose but not his spirit.
At the end of this WBA light-welterweight title eliminator Prescott sank to his knees in celebration but the judges decided otherwise, handing a tight unanimous verdict to McCloskey 114-113, 115-113, 114-113.
On my card, assuming one scored the first round 10-8 due to referee Howard Foster giving McCloskey a count for a disputed knockdown, Prescott was a winner 115-113.
McCloskey may have been the undefeated European champion — and lost controversially to World champion Amir Khan — but he never received such praise as he did after one of the finest fights Belfast has seen in recent years.
Even Khan tweeted his admiration and suggested a re-match was now possible should McCloskey come through a likely WBA title fight with Marcos Maidana.
Promoter Eddie Hearn initially wanted the fight for December but McCloskey needs a long rest after this torrid encounter and it would not be a surprise if a date in March was more likely.
Never before had he taken so much punishment and while Prescott's gas tank seemed to be leaking from the midway point his telescopic arms were still handing out punishment right up to the final bell.
Indeed, the last two rounds when both men appeared to be running on empty were the most damaging to the point that even in celebration McCloskey had to be helped up on to the ropes to salute the 6,000 fans who were put through the wringer by their hero.
McCloskey survived a nailbiting sixth round when his legs shuddered more than once from Prescott's spiteful right hand which was a source of pain for the 31-year-old all night.
The second half of the fight largely belonged to McCloskey whose short body shots took their toll on the Colombian and then we had those final six minutes which were all about desire and an iron will — which both possessed in abundance.
There must be something about Ulstermen and Colombians when they do battle as many fans left the arena recalling the night 24 years ago when Sky analyst Dave McAuley clashed with World flyweight champion Fidel Bassa at the King's Hall in arguably the greatest fight ever seen in Belfast.
“I know Bassa and he always talks to me about the fight — what a fight,” smiled Prescott who now has his own tale to tell even in defeat.
For a relieved McCloskey it was a victory that has now almost certainly guaranteed another shot at a World title.
Promoter Eddie Hearn said: “In my opinion Paul won the fight and he proved that he has the steel and determination. It was a fight that showed his heart, guts and desire and he showed that he deserves another World title shot and that will be his next fight.
“We will do whatever it takes to make that happen and there's no reason why we can't get Marcos Maidana to Belfast for that fight.”
Reflecting on his performance, McCloskey admitted: “For attrition and heart that was my hardest fight. He drew me into a fight I had not been thinking about.
“I felt technically it was a s*** performance but I dug deep and I felt that I won the last few rounds clearly to win the fight.
“It was tough because there was so much blood in my nose I was struggling to breathe.
“But I have so much desire, I want it so much.
“I showed I have what it takes to mix it with the best. I want that world title fight now and I don't care if it's Amir Khan or Marcos Maidana. Maidana has been in touch with me through Twitter and seems like a good lad so let's get it on.
“I know that I can box a lot better but you have to do what you have to do to win. This game is all about winning and if that means you win ugly then you win ugly.”