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Carl Frampton

Wayne McCullough is my No 1 Irish fighter

Carl Frampton


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Wayne McCullough. Credit: Mike Cooper/ALLSPORT

Wayne McCullough. Credit: Mike Cooper/ALLSPORT

Wayne McCullough. Credit: Mike Cooper/ALLSPORT

With no boxing on the cards for the foreseeable future, I've decided to share with you my selections for the top 10 Irish men's professional fighters between 1990 and 2020.

The past 30 years have seen some great nights for Irish boxers with many world, European, British and Commonwealth champions. It wasn't an easy task to pick out the 10 (excluding me) and the order they should go in. I tried to weigh up achievements with ability and the level of opposition each fighter faced because there are many ways to win titles. So here goes…

1. Wayne McCullough

After winning an Olympic silver medal in 1992 in Barcelona, Wayne McCullough won the WBC World bantamweight title in 1995 in one of the greatest wins on away soil by any Irish or British fighter, defeating Yasuei Yakushiji in Japan.

It's a shame that it often tends to be overlooked by many, probably because Wayne is from Northern Ireland.

Wayne got his chance at the title the hard way as only a year earlier he won the North American crown after a war with former world champion Victor Rabanales to put him in position to face Yakushiji.

The level of opposition he faced was top drawer - having memorable battles with the likes of Daniel Zaragoza, Prince Naseem Hamed and Erik Morales as well as a brutal title defence with Jose Luis Bueno in Dublin. Wayne's my top pick because at three different weights he fought the best and that win out in Japan was special.

2. Steve Collins

Steve Collins was a really tough fighter who mixed it with some of the best around. He will primarily be remembered for his two victories over Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn.

I know many argue they were past their prime but they were still great wins and he was the first man to beat Eubank - even though some would argue that should have been Michael Watson or Belfast's Ray Close.

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Steve Collins lands a punch on Chris Eubank 1995. Credit: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Steve Collins lands a punch on Chris Eubank 1995. Credit: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Steve Collins lands a punch on Chris Eubank 1995. Credit: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Collins learned his professional trade in Boston and went the distance with the great Mike McCallum and Reggie Johnson in two WBA World title fights before going on to win the WBO title from Chris Pyatt and then stepping up to win the WBO super-middle belt.

3. Dave McAuley

After an epic battle with Fidel Bassa, Dave McAuley lost again to the Colombian before in 1989 he caused a big upset by defeating Duke McKenzie to win the IBF World flyweight title. Guided expertly by the great Barney Eastwood, he then created a British record for world title defences, defending his belt six times.

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Dave Boy McAuley fights Fidel Bassa 1987. Credit: Pacemaker

Dave Boy McAuley fights Fidel Bassa 1987. Credit: Pacemaker

Dave Boy McAuley fights Fidel Bassa 1987. Credit: Pacemaker

That was only beaten when the WBO belt was created in the early 1990s and it was mainly British fighters holding the strap. After losing controversially in his second fight with Colombian Rodolfo Blanco in Spain, he retired following a great career. Dave had a very mean left hook and was in some very good fights.

4. Andy Lee

Andy Lee fought some top quality opposition throughout his career and had some spectacular knockouts.

He learned so much in the Kronk Gym under the guidance of Manny Steward, training alongside Wladimir Klitschko.

His knockout of Carl Daniels is worth checking out on YouTube. He was a terrific puncher and often that was the equaliser when he was behind in fights.

His big moment came when he stopped Matvey Korobov to win the WBO World middleweight title. He had a never-say-die attitude and has also become a real student of the game and will go on to become a very good coach.

5. Brian Magee

When you look down Brian Magee's record, the level of the quality of opposition he faced stands out. He had a good win over Hacine Cherifi early on in his career, lost by late stoppage in a nip and tuck fight with Carl Froch, had good wins over Mads Larsen and Rudy Markussen in Denmark and won the WBA World title in Costa Rica before losing to the great Mikkel Kessler.

His best years seemed to come after he teamed up with Bernardo Checa. Sometimes that happens with a fighter - they just click with a coach and it pays off.

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Brian Magee cleebrates beating Rudy Markussen. Credit: INPHO/Presseye/Lars Moeller

Brian Magee cleebrates beating Rudy Markussen. Credit: INPHO/Presseye/Lars Moeller

Brian Magee cleebrates beating Rudy Markussen. Credit: INPHO/Presseye/Lars Moeller

A British, European and world champion, Brian had a great career.

6. Ryan Burnett

It's hard to say if we ever saw the best of Ryan Burnett because his career ended quite abruptly last May after a routine win in the Ulster Hall.

Before that he had that defeat to Nonito Donaire in the World Super Series, losing his WBA title when suffering that freak injury.

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Ryan Burnett

Ryan Burnett

�INPHO/Lawrence Lustig

Ryan Burnett

He did win the IBF title and became a unified champion after a hard battle with Zhanat Zhakiyanov in the SSE Arena, which was a great feat. Not many can say they were unified world champions. That's why he is in at No.6 but I would have others ranked above him because of the level of opposition they faced.

7. TJ Doheny

TJ Doheny is a quality, slick southpaw and he got the better of me in the amateur ranks.

But, to make it as a professional, he moved to Australia and quietly learned his trade. He moved through the ranks and then when his chance came to win a world title he took it in 2018.

After a successful defence he lost in a unification fight to Daniel Roman. Although he suffered a shock defeat in his last fight, he has time to reset and look to move up the rankings again.

8. Matthew Macklin

I have Matthew Macklin in here at No.8 because he was a guy who should have been a world champion only for a terrible decision in Germany.

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Matthew Macklin

Matthew Macklin

Matthew Macklin

In 2011 he lost a split decision to Felix Sturm when most people believed he had clearly done enough to win the WBA super-middleweight title. He was European champion and had two big fights with Hall of Fame guys Sergio Martinez and Gennady Golovkin. Matt also lost in one of the best British fights ever to my coach Jamie Moore.

9. Bernard Dunne

After spending a time training and fighting in America, Bernard Dunne was cleverly guided by manager Brian Peters to European and world title success.

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Bernard Dunne

Bernard Dunne

Bernard Dunne

The night he won the WBA World super-bantam title in 2009 will be remembered as one of the most exciting ever in the history of Irish professional boxing. Down twice, he came back to stop Ricardo Cordoba in the 11th round. Having been knocked out by Kiko Martinez in the first round, it was a terrific achieve-ment to be world champion 18 months later.

10. Ray Close

After losing in a European super-middleweight title fight in 1992 in France, Ray Close won the title with a stoppage win over Italian Vincenzo Nardiello in Italy a year later on St Patrick's night.

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Ray Close battles it out with Chris Eubank in 1994

Ray Close battles it out with Chris Eubank in 1994

Getty Images

Ray Close battles it out with Chris Eubank in 1994

He should have been a world champion two months later but the judges scored his first fight with Chris Eubank in Glasgow a draw. The second fight in the King's Hall was also very tight, Eubank winning on a split decision. The third encounter was all set to take place in Belfast but then it was discovered Ray had a problem with a brain scan. Steve Collins stepped in and grabbed his chance to become a two-weight world champion.


Those who didn't make the list but deserve honourable mentions are: Commonwealth champion Eamonn Magee, who only scratched the surface of his potential due to his demons, Neil Sinclair who won the Lonsdale belt outright, British, European and Commonwealth champion Damaen Kelly, European champion Paul McCloskey, Commonwealth champion Jamie Conlan and British champion Mark Winters.

Current fighters Michael Conlan, James Tennyson, Anthony Cacace and Tommy McCarthy all have the ability and time left in their careers to be ranked high on the list in future.


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