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One of the true legends of Irish boxing: Barney Eastwood knew what it took to bring success to his fighters

David Kelly


BJ Eastwood tribute

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Absolute legend: BJ Eastwood loved boxing, was heavily immersed in the sport and promoted so many top fighters

Absolute legend: BJ Eastwood loved boxing, was heavily immersed in the sport and promoted so many top fighters

Absolute legend: BJ Eastwood loved boxing, was heavily immersed in the sport and promoted so many top fighters

When BJ Eastwood eased away from his central role in Irish boxing in the late 1990s you just knew the void would never be filled. His death, at the age of 87, copper-fastens the end of a unique era.

When the local scene barely had a heartbeat, BJ came along and defied not only the odds of developing a plethora of champions for the international stage but also the dark shadow of the Troubles. Those grim days were spliced with nights at the Ulster Hall and King's Hall promoted by Bernard J Eastwood.

By the time I came to know the godfather of Irish boxing he had just enjoyed the world title success of Panamanian Victor Cordoba. Next up would be Venezuelan Crisanto Espana whose World welterweight title fight was set for Earl's Court.

I had to be there.

As a naive freelance boxing writer travelling to London on my own for the first time the last thing I needed was for the lady at the box office to tell me I had not been left any accreditation. Pleading with the stern security guard seemed a waste of time. There was only one last manic plea to make as the clock ticked around to 20 minutes until fight time. "Look I'm from Belfast and Barney Eastwood will vouch for me, why do you think I've got this notebook!"

The security guard placed me into the hands of another who with KGB-like authority escorted to me to the changing room of Espana and upon asking BJ if he knew me the response was loud and clear.

"Take that man to his seat at ringside". BJ delivered and so did Espana.

It was the same result when travelling back together along with former European champion Ray Close from a Chris Eubank fight in Manchester. Explaining that the British Airways staff member had said I had no seat due to the flight being overbooked, BJ returned 15 minutes to say they were mistaken. It was sorted.

BJ made things happen and all his fighters knew it.

The boxing world is not for the faint-hearted. BJ had the financial clout, the pugilistic knowledge and cunning to make sure his fighters had an edge. Hence he could look back on a career of developing fighters to their full potential.

His investment in the career of Barry McGuigan was so all consuming that his sons felt they had discovered a brother. Nothing was going to stop him taking McGuigan to fame and fortune. He wanted that WBA World featherweight just as much as the Clones Cyclone.

The relationship may have acrimoniously broken down but on that balmy night at Loftus Road in 1985, the two men shared the fulfilment of a dream as McGuigan outpointed Eusebio Pedroza. It may have cost him a total of £1.3m by the time he bought out the promotional rights on McGuigan's next two defences, that Pedroza's promoter was entitled to, but it was worth it.

Voted the WBA's World Boxing Manager of the Year at the peak of his success, in the Castle Street gym in Belfast, above his bookmaker's business, BJ seemed to have found the golden recipe for success in the sport he loved from the moment he witnessed the American soldiers lacing them up during the war.

His passion for the sport never diminished. Indeed, two weeks ago I received a phone call from his hospital bed in which he eulogised the performance of World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury against Deontay Wilder. Son Peter had brought him up the fight to watch on his iPad.

His knowledge of the sport was second to none, for example, insisting to me how far Carl Frampton could go in the sport not long into what would be a glittering career.

It was one pearl of wisdom among too many to mention.

A straight-talking, no-nonsense businessman, BJ had an empathy for people that went beyond the ruthless dealings within boxing politics.

The boy from Cookstown created Irish sporting memories that only he could.

Personally, I'll always recall the late Sunday night chats about everything to do with boxing and much, much more.

RIP BJ.

Belfast Telegraph