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Tommy McCarthy channeled inner Bruce Lee to beat Bilal Laggoune and join Ireland's select band of Europen champions


On the attack: Tommy McCarthy takes the fight to Bilal Laggoune at Wembley Arena

On the attack: Tommy McCarthy takes the fight to Bilal Laggoune at Wembley Arena

Dave Thompson Matchroom Boxing

On the attack: Tommy McCarthy takes the fight to Bilal Laggoune at Wembley Arena

There came a point in the ninth round when it seemed Tommy McCarthy realised he had to take a lesson from the great Bruce Lee. He had to be the water. The Belfast man desired to express his skills but he and Bilal Laggoune found themselves sliding into a waterfall of fatigue.

By this stage of their vacant European cruiserweight title fight at London's Wembley Arena on Saturday night, McCarthy had built up a good lead as he found enough quality blows to edge rounds four to eight. In the ninth he went for broke and punched himself out. Now it was no longer about ability but sheer will to succeed - to come out the other side of the trench warfare that ensued.

Belgian Laggoune was digging in with equal grit and closing the gap as the energy reserves of both men hit the red line. Rounds 10 and 11 were clearly won by the Belgian. McCarthy has always been noted for his laid back counter-punching flow but now he was out of his comfort zone and called upon to show a mental fortitude with the finishing line in sight.

Entering the final three minutes the Belfast man, who turns 30 on Wednesday, escaped the shackles of what may lie ahead and found a final fling of smart boxing on his toes filled with zest to close the deal. The Belgian judge maybe have scored the bout 114-114 but thankfully the other two reflected the 12 rounds with much more clarity, scoring it 116-112 and 116-113 in McCarthy's favour.

He had joined a select band of Northern Ireland boxers to have lifted the EBU belt and the first to win the European cruiserweight title - 23 years on from when fellow Belfast man Darren Corbett won the Commonwealth title.

"I was sent a list of European champions and I'm the 15th in the history of Irish boxing so it's a real honour to be in the same conversation as some of the greats who have come from here," said McCarthy, who is coached by Katie Taylor's dad Pete.

"Considering I had been out of the ring for a year I felt it was a very good performance and I had to really dig in because I have to admit I was feeling exhausted after the ninth round. I had tried to finish it because he was hurt and earlier in the fight he looked like he wanted out when he turned away in the sixth round, complaining about his eye.

"When I walked back after the 11th round I actually challenged myself 'Do you really want this?' and then after Peter spoke to me in the corner and called on me to have a big round I just told myself, 'right go out and win this, you've got three minutes to do it'.

"I went out and had a great final round and the way I boxed just showed me what I can do. When I sat down with Pete after the fight he was honest enough to say that, while he was obviously very happy with the win, there were still things to work on.

"I know that as well, I know there is a lot more to come from me because I have shown it in the gym. Pete knows I have the footwork and skills to be a threat to anyone in the division. But, I also feel I showed that I could dig in when needed because it would have been easy for me to fold in rounds 10 and 11."

Feeling like "the King of Europe" it was only natural for McCarthy to call for a word title opportunity, expressing a desire to face IBF champion Mairis Briedis but maybe those deep waters can wait until he has endured another white water river adventure.

McCarthy added: "Ideally I would love a world title fight next, that's up to my manager Mark Dunlop and promoter Eddie Hearn. After the fight Eddie did say that it would be big fights from here on in.

"Eddie is keen to bring a show to Belfast with me and James Tennyson next year."

Across the pond, American Gervonta Davis produced a vicious knockout of Leo Santa Cruz to win the WBA World super-featherweight title.

Santa Cruz needed a trip to hospital following the sixth round stoppage in what had been a competitive bout up to that moment but Davis always carried the greater power.

Belfast Telegraph