EAMONN O’KANE remains unfazed despite the increasing pressure and the £32,000 prize-tag placed on his head in the build-up to next Saturday’s inaugural Irish middleweight Prizefighter at the King’s Hall.
SIMON COLLINS reports
The big-hitting Banagher man (4-0-0) is regarded by many as favourite to pocket the lucrative winners’ cheque and the Prizefighter crown at the Sky Sports televised event.
And O’Kane believes that will provide added incentive for his rivals to take his scalp to ensure a pathway to the final, something which has brought about a change in his preparations for the tournament.
The 30 year-old Commonwealth gold medallist is well suited to the prizefighter format and it comes as no surprise following the blistering start he’s made to his professional career, that he’s now been installed as favourite.
The withdrawal of top prospect Mark Heffron and the fact he has already defeated fellow contender, Joe Rea, has also helped increase expectations for the Co. Derry man, but he feels he must now raise his game if he’s to take the honours on the night.
“I take the favourite tag with a pinch of salt,” said O’Kane. “I suppose it’s an incentive for everybody else if there’s a price tag on my head and it takes the pressure off them.
“Knowing that I’m tipped as favourite I’ve had to train that extra bit harder,” he added. “It’s just made me think about it that bit more in terms of preparation and I’ll leave no stone unturned.
“I really have trained very hard for this tournament. I’m not one of those that like to talk the talk and say ‘I’m the greatest’, but if everything goes to plan and if I have a bit of luck on my side, hopefully I’ll be the winner on the night.
“I’ve pulled out all the stops in my preparation and hopefully it all comes together and I produce what I’m capable of and it’ll be good enough to win the Pizefighter.
“They’re tipping me as the favourite because of what I’ve done in the past but if all these guys have trained the way they say they’ve trained then it’s going to be one hell of a competition.”
Having come face-to-face with his rivals at the stunning surroundings of the iconic Giant’s Causeway on Tuesday morning for a promotional photo-shoot, O’Kane is confident he has nothing to fear and will do his utmost to keep his unblemished record intact.
“The hype’s starting to build now and it was good to see all the other boxers,” he said. “It was good to get away from the norm too because most of the time these things are done in boxing gyms or a press room but it was good to be outside with the waves crashing against the rocks.
“It’s getting exciting now. Seeing the guys up at the Causeway, they all look in decent enough shape. They’ve all got their bumps and bruises like I have from the sparring so it should be a good one.
“It was quite relaxed between everybody. We’ve all got that bit of an edge because we’ll all be fighting each other in a week’s time. Until we know the draw it’s hard to get wound up against somebody because you don’t know if you’re fighting them. You might never fight one of them.
“I finish up sparring on Saturday (tomorrow) and then it will be just about making the weight and fine-tuning things as we get closer to the weigh-in.”
Giant Stepping Stone
Outright victory in next week’s competition could prove a giant stepping stone for O’Kane, and although he’s cautious not to look beyond the Prizefighter tournament, he’s acutely aware that victory will put him in line for a shot at the Irish or British title in the near future.
The former Immaculata amateur boxer has done his homework on all of his prospective opponents and feels he’s got the perfect game-plan to go on and claim the trophy.
“You have to look at everyone’s strong points and their weaknesses and be ready for everything. I have a come-forward, aggressive style and I’ll be their worst nightmare if someone’s looking for an easy time.
“But they’re all going to have to come forward and get involved in a brawl. You have three rounds to win a fight so you haven’t a lot of time. They will try and come and take the game away from me and that’s what I intend to do to every one of them.
“I know from the amateur ranks that some of them don’t like to engage in a fight. JJ McDonagh, for example, likes to box and land clear shots and if I’m drawn against him I’ll be getting in close and letting the punches go. And there will be very little I’ll let him do about it.
“I’ll close him down in some shape or form and that will apply to everybody. There’s a couple of rangy boxers there and a couple of big hitters and I think it could be anybody’s game.”
Rumours were circulating recently that O’Kane had withdrawn from the tournament through injury but he laughed off those suggestions.
“Somebody tapped me on the side and said, “is it okay to touch you”, because I was supposed to be injured. So it must have been my ribs where I was supposed to be injured I take it.
“If it is then it hasn’t stopped my sparring partners from trying to hit me and vice versa. That’s all rubbish. I don’t know if somebody was just trying to spread a rumour to try and get my odds down in the bookies or something like that because I’m currently the favourite.”
The significant prize money is no doubt enticing for O’Kane and while he would welcome the £32,000 cheque, his ultimate goal is to win the prestigious trophy and raise his profile in the professional game.
“I have a mortgage and bills to pay like everybody else so the money would be great. The big thing is winning the Prizefighter title and what can happen after it. It will put me in contention for titles and that’s what it’s all about for me.
“Don’t get me wrong that £32,000 will help pay for my mortgage but it’s the prestige of winning the competition which is motivating me.
“And with Paul McCloskey headlining it, it promises to be a fantastic night. A win for him could mean he’s on to bigger and better things and hopefully it’s the same scenario for me. Maybe I could get on the undercard of his possible fight with Juan Manuel Marquez in Texas or wherever it’s going to be if it happens,” he concluded.
O’Kane will compete against, Irish super-middleweight champion, JJ McDonagh, former Irish champion, Anthony Fitzgerald, former Prizefighter entrant Joe Rea, unbeaten Lurgan man Ryan Greene, Simon O’Donnell and Roscommon’s Darren Cruise for the right to lift the trophy in the Belfast venue.