Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Pocket Rocket still talking a good fight

Wayne McCullough tells the media why he can upset the odds and defeat European super-bantamweight champion Kiko Martinez on December 1 at the King's Hall

Fame may be a fickle mistress, but she's again in Wayne McCullough's warm embrace.

After two long summers without a fight, and only one win in five years, some of us could have been excused for thinking a 37-year-old 'Rocket' had reached the age of boxing burn-out, but we would have been wrong.

He's still talking a good fight, hopeful, if not 100% certain, that a 10-round King's Hall top-liner on December 1 will be the springboard to another world title shot.

Nothing penetrates McCullough's pre-fight calm, but in facing Kiko Martinez, an unbeaten European champion, he is certainly living dangerously. This could be his last throw of the dice and, like a proud old gunfighter hanging on to the past, he probably knows it.

"Sure, I'll be the underdog," he confessed at a reception in the Ramada Hotel, his home for the next 10 days.

"I'm fit and confident, and delighted to be back in Belfast. Two big shows in one week at the King's Hall? That's what I like to hear. The clock is being turned back 40 years!"

It was after taking a cruel beating from the then world No.1, Oscar Larios, last time out that we hoped McCullough would hang up his gloves, but this lion-hearted little warrior is still fuelled by the love of a good fight.

He could have picked an easier opponent than Martinez, the Spaniard who crushed Dublin idol Bernard Dunne in one round, but that would have done little to restore glory to a career that, in truth, seemed over after his defeat by Scott Harrison in the spring of 2003.

"To quit as a loser would not be Wayne's style," says promoter Pat Magee.

"Think of what rewards lie in store if he licks Martinez - a return match for the Spaniard's title, should he go the European route.

"Or, better still, another world championship bout, his ninth since he won in Japan 12 years ago. What a fighter!"

Brian Magee, no kin to Pat, and heavyweight Martin Rogan are in a supporting role on this seven-fight December 1 card, Magee back in the 12-stone division against Francis Cheka, Tanzania's champion.

Rogan clashes with the Ghanaian George Ahmed, and Pat Hyland, too, meets a Tanzanian, Ajibu Salum.

The 2008 National Senior Championships will begin on Tuesday January 8 and run over four days at the National Stadium in Dublin.

The change in format for the Championships is to facilitate the Irish senior squads participation in the two final Olympic qualifiers for European boxers in February/March and April next year.

These qualifiers will take place from the February 24-March 2 in Pescara, Italy, and from April 7-14 in Athens, Greece.

With a minimum of four and a maximum of six Olympic qualification places left, a semi final finish may suffice in the weight categories that have six Olympics berths remaining.

However, a last four finish in Pescara and Athens could mean that beaten semi finalists will have to box-off for a place in the Olympics.