Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

One ring war too far for Wayne McCullogh

Bono handed him his sunglasses just before he was on his way to a Dublin hospital. It wasn't to be Wayne McCullough's last visit after a ring war.

The Pocket Rocket's courage was beyond reason and his chin seemingly carved from Persian granite allowed him to go into dark corners where no ordinary man would contemplate.

The pounding he took against Scott Harrison five years ago when challenging for the WBO featherweight title was blood-curdling in the extreme. The hospital awaited once again, this time in Glasgow.

In light of these moments of peril throughout an amateur and professional career spanning close to 30 years you know McCullough's retirement on his stool against Juan Ruiz in the early hours of Saturday morning spells the end.

As the sun set in the Cayman Islands, the Rocket's fire burned out.

The night in Dublin when he pushed his body through the normal physical boundaries came in 1996 having just retained his WBC bantamweight title - sensationally won in July 1995 with an exhilarating points victory over Yasuei Yakushiji in Nagoya, Japan.

McCullough would never again be world champion but he never stopped trying.

A defeat to Daniel Zaragoza followed when challenging for the WBC super-bantam title - a championship he would suffer further losses trying to gain against Mexicans Erik Morales and Oscar Larios.

In between there was a points defeat at the hands of Prince Naseem Hamed.

McCullough swarmed all over opponents and whatever came his way he just kept coming back for more.

Having competed at the 1988 Olympics, Commonwealth Games gold followed in 1990 and then came his crowning moment as an amateur in Barcelona two years later.

His immense resolve had its first global screening as he went toe-to-toe with Cuban Joel Casamayor in the bantamweight final despite a fractured cheekbone which led to blood streaming from his eye socket.

Despite this he won the last round and his words "won silver as opposed to missing gold".

A lucrative deal awaited in the professional ranks and while many felt he should have stayed at home with Barney Eastwood, American Matt Tinley came with an offer he couldn't refuse. An apartment, regular televised fights and legendary coach Eddie Futch.

His path to glory was set. The kid from the Shankill made good in Vegas, conquering the world.

Now he must move on, leaving behind the combat which he craved and a legacy of one of British boxing's finest.

"I believe we're all put on this Earth for a reason. I believe God gave me the talent to box. By the time we are born God has already chosen the day for us to die... if I am meant to die in the ring then so be it."

It was that desire that took him to the top and to the brink.

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