Dreams Dashed

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The world title dream of Dungiven boxer Paul McCloskey ended in questionable and highly controversial circumstances after he was cut in a clash of heads with WBA light-welterweight champion Amir Khan in a packed MEN arena in Manchester last night.

The fight was sent to the judges’ scorecards in round six after Khan’s head thudded against McCloskey’s, leaving him with a gash over his left eye. As the McCloskey camp reacted with fury to the decision, Khan got a unanimous decision, leaving Dudey’s hopes in tatters.

There were angry scenes in the ring and the arena was filled with booing from McCloskey’s large and vocal support. Barry Hearn, McCloskey’s promoter, described the decision as “total ineptitude” and said his fighter could certainly have continued.

“This was Paul McCloskey’s dream, and it has been taken away from him,” he said, adding that he would be making complaints to the WBA and the British Boxing Board of Control, and asking for a re-match.

He added that he thought McCloskey was doing well in the fight.

Most of those at ringside said that while Khan had been clearly ahead, his camp wouldn’t be clamouring for another meeting with the tricky and tough McCloskey.

It was a devastating end to that dream of a world title, the first for a Derry man. And many McCloskey fans felt that the fight was unfolding just as he wanted, and expected to see him in much more offensive mode in the later rounds.

The crowd erupted as Paul McCloskey entered the arena to the sound of ‘Black in the Colour’ by Cara Dillon, re-mixed by fellow Dungiven man Kenny Burke. Khan came into the ring to a chorus of boos but his supporters went on to make themselves heard as the fight began.

As expected, Khan went on the attack from the outset, going at Dudey with a flurry of punches. But the Dungiven man was slick and evasive and at this point was too quick for the champion. Khan did have the challenger in trouble midway through the round with two powerful shots to the ribs, both left and right hands landing solidly. Khan was the aggressor, and also had success with right jabs and connected with a left hook to the head. He ended the round in the ascendancy.

In the second, Dudey started on the back foot, allowing Khan to come forward at will. McCloskey’s speed and movement kept him out of serious danger, and he finished the round strongest. For all his evasiveness he wasn’t able to get through to the Bolton boxer.

Khan started the third with a lightning combination and while he failed to hurt McCloskey there were serious questions over how long the Dungiven man could stay out of trouble. But as the round progressed, McCloskey’s fortunes improved, and he rocked Khan with a powerful left to the right eye. Dudey was looking better and he caught the champion flush with a left hand to the jaw as the round ended.

It was McCloskey’s best round of the night.

He went on the attack at the beginning of the fourth and threw a reckless roundhouse with his left, missing Khan and ending up on the canvas after losing his balance. The referee ruled it was no knockdown. The Dungiven man enjoyed the better of the exchanges at close quarters, and Khan failed to hurt him.

As the fourth went on, Khan’s strength and power started to tell, and he led with two strong straight jabs and then hit McCloskey with a powerful right hook which rocked him. It was definitely Khan’s round.

Again Khan kept to his gameplan in the fifth, and came at McCloskey with frightening combinations. Dudey managed to step to the right to avoid one right hook, but was caught flush to the jaw with another thunderous one to the jaw. Again he wobbled but again he seemed to quickly regain composure, and he came back at Khan with two good shots to the body.

McCloskey failed to throw enough punches in the early rounds when the opportunities arose, and his plan seemed to be to frustrate Khan and gain the initiative in the later rounds. But he became careless defensively in the sixth, dropping his guard. He was punished by a shuddering right to the head.

Controversy reigned in the final seconds of the round when the fighters came together in a clash of heads. Immediately it was clear that McCloskey had suffered a cut above his left, the blood trickling to the canvas. The Puerto Rican referee, Luis Pabon, called to the doctor, who quickly examined McCloskey and immediately ended the fight, which went to the judges’ scorecards on a technical decision.

From ringside, the cut didn’t look enough to stop the fight, and the examination by the doctor did not seem thorough by any means. The decision sparked outrage in the McCloskey corner. Promoter Barry Hearn was livid, and began throwing accusations towards the Khan camp. Paul McCloskey seemed dumbfounded and walked around the ring with his hands up questioning the decision.

While the three judges at ringside were totting up their scores amid scenes of anger and confusion in the ring, Khan’s corner were very quick to take the gloves off their fighter. All three judges scored the fight 60 - 54, and the unanimous decision was in favour of the reigning WBA light-welterweight champion Amir Khan.

For McCloskey the dream was over, at least for now, and although Khan certainly emerged with more credit after six rounds, the question of how the fight would develop remains unanswered. It was always expected that Khan would begin the fight like a man in a hurry, and that the longer it went on the more the odds might move in favour of the challenger.

The world title belt remains in Bolton, but Paul Dudey McCloskey can hold his head high on his return to Dungiven