Hope and Glory!

Northern Ireland- 24th September 2013 Mandatory Credit - Photo - Matt Mackey / Presseye.''Eamonn O'Kane pictured training in Belfast.

Northern Ireland- 24th September 2013 Mandatory Credit - Photo - Matt Mackey / Presseye.''Eamonn O'Kane pictured training in Belfast.

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Banagher middleweight, Eamonn O’Kane faces the biggest fight of his professional career as he goes toe-to-toe with former European middleweight champion, Kerry Hope on Saturday for the vacant IBF Inter-Continental title at a sold-out Odyssey Arena.

EAMONN O’Kane couldn’t have dreamt of the kind of exposure he’ll be afforded this Saturday night in Belfast.

Victory over former European champion, Kerry Hope in front of a near sell-out Odyssey Arena and a pay-per-view BoxNation audience is the springboard for success he has craved since turning professional.

It’s understood the East Belfast arena is close to securing a capacity crowd of 8,200 for the show and O’Kane is relishing being thrust into the spotlight.

Bulldozing his way through the middleweight rankings with victories in the Irish Prizefighter show and an Irish title win over Anthony Fitzgerald, O’Kane has earned his right to be involved as one of the chief supporting acts to Carl Frampton’s IBF World title eliminator against Jeremy Parodi.

O’Kane this week received the news that the vacant IBF Intercontinental belt will be on the line in his bout with Hope, but he claims he isn’t feeling a heightened sense of pressure.

A win against the tough Welshman could well ignite the touchpaper on his own road to world title success and he’s fully prepared to do everything it takes to keep his pursuit of world honours intact.

“It’s a massive fight, a massive night and it’s a matter of me stepping up to the plate and I intend to do that,” said O’Kane last night.

“As far as the boxing is concerned nothing has changed.

“I still have to do a good job on Kerry Hope and I have to win the fight.

“That was obviously what I had planned to do anyway. So it’s great that this will now be quite a prestigious fight.

“He’s an ex-European champion so not only would it be a great title to win but it would put me in a great position with regards to my world rankings,” he added.

“I want to become world champion that’s why I turned professional after a good amateur career.

“I want to win world titles and this is exactly the kind of step up that you have to take if you’re looking to move onto world level.”

O’Kane certainly hasn’t ducked or weaved from a challenge since making his professional bow against Dmitrij Kalinovskij in June 2011.

The 31 year-old Banagher man has taken every challenge offered in an attempt to fast track his career. Perhaps taking on rising star, John Ryder at short notice last year was the wrong decision but he has no regrets after bouncing back with impressive wins over Gary Boulden and Fitzgerald this year.

“I haven’t dodged any challenge,” said the Co.Derry man.

“Even the John Ryder fight I was offered I took it.

“I nearly killed myself making the weight but I still haven’t dodged anybody.”

His opponent on Saturday is not to be taken lightly either.

Hope has been in the ring with IBF world middleweight champion, Darren Barker and is highly regarded by his coach Gary Lockett.

Therefore, O’Kane, who met him the morning after the Welshman’s European title success, is prepared for 10 tough rounds.

“This will be a tough, tough fight. He’s a tough opponent.

“I watched him the night he won his European title and it was a brilliant performance.

“I was chatting to him the next day at breakfast and he’s a good guy and he has my full respect.

“I’ve trained damn hard for him and I’m well ready for this.

“It is great that the fight isfor the IBF Inter-Continental title and it will make winning it even sweeter.

“Hope is a strong boy but I believe I will be fitter, stronger and I will have the better boxing skills.”

O’Kane has steadily improved under the guidance of new trainer, Bernardo Checa this year.

Without moving away from his bold, gung-ho approach which proved so successful in the amateur game, O’Kane has quickly adapted a much more measured boxing style.

And he feels he will continue getting better under the tutelage of the Panamanian coach.

“You can expect better from me this time,” promised O’Kane.

“Bernardo Checa’s train of thought is that ‘punches are not a vitamin, so don’t take them’.

“Whereas my train of thought before I was with Checa was to take the punches and give them and try and overwhelm the opponent.

“Now I have to overwhelm my opponent while not taking any punches in the process.

“I think I started to show that in my last fight and you will see an improvement on Saturday night.

“There’s still a lot more left in the locker.

“I’m still learning. I’m still getting kicked up the backside every day.

“We have been working on a few things and we are getting there.

“I have been training with Bernardo now for about 10 months and he has changed my style a bit.

“We went back to basics and there has been steady improvement in my last two fights.

“I like to be aggressive but Bernardo has got me boxing and moving a bit more,

“I haven’t produced the perfect performance yet but I’m heading in the right direction,” he concluded.