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McCloskey’s now ready to take on the very best

Remember Clinton McKenzie? He was the fleet-footed Jamaican who won two Lonsdale Belts outright in a six-year reign as British champion at the same weight in which Paul McCloskey now rules the roost.

Turn back the clock 30 years, and for those who saw McKenzie knock out Ulsterman Jim Montague at Maysfield, the parity with McCloskey sticks out a mile.

The pair could be twins, their boxing styles are so much in harmony, as Paul celebrates Christmas as Ireland's ‘Fighter of the Year.'

The pride of Dungiven has the manners of an altar boy, says top wordsmith David Kelly, but to Paul, winning isn't everything ; it's the only thing in an unbeaten run that began three-and-a-half years ago.

Believe it or not, Belfast-born Des Rea was Britain's first 10-stone champion. Then, the division was axed for a spell before Pat McCormack, from Dublin via Brixton, seized his chance by demolishing Des Morrison in an eleven-round thriller in London.

"McCormack and Rea were both good fighters," declared Barney Eastwood with a hint of nostalgia. "But McCloskey is more skilful - a special talent.

"To have stepped in against Lynes, once Europe's No.1, at a week's notice, and win so convincingly, shows he has class. This was his 18th straight victory as a pro, and he can only get better. His days of boxing journeymen must be over. From now on he fights only top-rate guys like himself.... the same route McAuley and McGuigan took before winning world titles!"

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Ricky Hatton is the world's best light-welterweight right now, but Junior Witter and the Ukraine's Andrea Kotelnik are the only other Europeans in the top ten, something that hasn't escaped John Breen, McCloskey's trainer-coach.

"Breen will know when his champion is ready to make the assault on Everest," says Eastwood. "If it's five fights, or a year from now, so be it. Nothing will be left to chance.

“By then, Paul will be stronger at the weight, and good enough not just to fight for a world title, but hopefully win it."

Unlike cheese and wine, prize-fighters rarely improve with age, but try telling that to heavyweight giant, Martin Rogan.

He is 37 and now clearly centre-stage among Britain's big men after chopping a stick-in-the-mud Harrison down to size in only his eleventh pro contest.

Rogan may be all fists and risk, a potent mix of magic and mayhem, but as a crowd-puller with a heart to match his punch, he is every promoter's dream at a time when somebody with magnetism is needed to pack the King's hall.

Pencil in McCloskey, Rogan and Brian Magee for a triple-header there, and, as in Warnock's day, they'll be queuing for admission from lunchtime.

What impressed me most about Magee's return to championship status was his appetite for throwing body punches.

It gave a new dimension to Brian's work, and aged a belly-soft McGuire cruelly before he was counted out in the eighth.

Magee is 33, but still looks out at the world with a sense of privilege and awe.

With Harry Hawkins' help, he could be challenging for a European crown in the New Year.

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