When the moment came it was relief, joy and vindication coursing through his body. "MaCullaaaa!!" roared the Japanese MC to confirm a split decision world title victory was to be celebrated by the little warrior from Belfast. Wayne McCullough, WBC bantamweight champion, July 30, 1995.
Northern Ireland's winners of major world titles have been few and far between and McCullough - as so often in the highlights reel of his career - had done it the hard way. Arguably, on the 25th anniversary of his great achievement, the ring was never again quite as satisfying a place to be for the Pocket Rocket after 12 gripping rounds with hometown favourite Yasuei Yakushiji.
Yes, there would follow energy-sapping duels with Jose Luis Bueno and Erik Morales, a controversial loss to Daniel Zaragoza and a defiant duel with Naseem Hamed, but on a Sunday afternoon in the Aichi Prefectural Gym, Nagoya, Shankill Road man McCullough was at peak guile and grit.
One man who enjoyed the moment as much as anyone was co-trainer Thell Torrence, who worked alongside the late Eddie Futch - the legendary coach who developed a string of champions with the same precise touch of a master diamond cutter.
Torrence and Futch would prove to be a perfect combination and at the time they were guiding world heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe, along came McCullough on the back of a silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Having teamed up with American manager Mat Tinley, McCullough was to be placed into the wise hands of Futch and Torrence, who happily reflects on some great memories with the "young Belfast kid who had a great work ethic".
Torrence, who celebrated his 84th birthday last month, was there every step of the way to Nagoya when in his opinion McCullough became the undisputed No.1 bantam in the world.
Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph from his base in Las Vegas, Torrence said: "The moment I knew that Wayne would be a world champion was at the end of his fight with Victor Rabanales."
Mexican Rabanales was the acid test for a professional with only 12 fights in the bank and McCullough would later reveal in his autobiography how he scribed in his diary, 'I got busted up. My eye is black and my face has been swollen for days'.
Torrence and Futch could see the danger unfolding in the early stages of the 12-rounder and action was needed.
"At the end of the fourth round I looked straight into Wayne's eyes and saw something I hadn't seen before - he had been hurt by Rabanales. He had to box and I told him he had to use his jab and be smart, he had to box the guy and that's what he did. He was in many ways a unique fighter because he could listen and take in what you wanted him to do when under fire and that's rare.
"Everyone recognised Wayne as a slugger and the pressure he could bring but he could box and I would always bring him aside in training and work on his boxing and tell him that he needed to be able to do that. We always believed in Wayne but at the end of that fight I knew and I told him he would be champion of the world.
"I felt then Wayne was the whole package… and Eddie felt the same. Eddie and I were always on the same wavelength, so much so that sometimes we didn't have to speak because we knew what each one was thinking."
Just 12 months later, McCullough was in preparation for the moment he had been waiting for all his life. A million dollar purse bid by manager Tinley was beaten by double the sum lodged by the Japanese who naturally decided to stage the fight in the city where Yakushiji had won and successfully defended his bantamweight title four times.
Having to travel to Japan, the consensus within the boxing fraternity was that McCullough would be the underdog - even if purely judging on ability the 25-year-old had a great chance of victory. Torrence and the team had no doubt the title would be his.
"At that time I genuinely believed that Wayne could beat anybody in the world at bantamweight. Yakushiji was a real good fighter, he was at home and we knew it would be tough, but we also knew that Wayne was ready. We all felt good about the fight," said Torrence.
"The only annoying thing leading up to the fight was Wayne getting harassed a bit - he would call me because he was being wakened in the middle of the night but I just told him to keep everything focused on the objective and that was the world title.
"Wayne fought like an animal that night, he was not going to be denied. He was a brilliant kid, he was so focused and there wasn't a moment when I didn't feel he was going to win. For us as a team, it was one of the big highlights… after the fight the Japanese treated us really well and presented Wayne with different trophies, some of which we weren't able to take back on the plane."
McCullough soared to one of the all-time great British victories as he not only brought relentless pressure but greater precision with his punching than many felt he was capable of. "A lot of people underestimated how smart Wayne could be in the ring," said Torrence.
Recalling the night in his autobiography, McCullough wrote: "During the last few rounds I was so close to Yakushiji that I could hear him moan and groan as I landed body shots…"
After his heart missed a beat at the sound of a split decision verdict, McCullough could finally celebrate.
"Mat was in tears, he was so proud. I hugged him and my brother and then kissed Eddie and Thell."
Torrence remembers the moment with real joy and believes the Pocket Rocket can look back on a career with great satisfaction, despite the second world title at super-bantam or feather eluding him. His relationship with Tinley would eventually turn sour and further title opportunities came when the timing suited the champions much more than McCullough, whose bravery and granite chin remained.
"Here was a young kid who did it the hard way. He had a good attitude and deserved everything he got from the game. He can look back on his career and be very proud. He was a true warrior," added Torrence.
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