PRIZEFIGHTER King, Eamonn O’Kane, believes he can follow in the footsteps of previous Irish winners of the volatile tournament and go on to win Irish and European titles within the year!
SIMON COLLINS was at King’s Hall
The 30 year-old Banagher man was the last man standing in the inaugural Irish Middleweight Prizefighter tournament after he defeated Mullingar’s JJ McDonagh in an intense final to capture the prestigious trophy and £32,000 winners’ cheque.
O’Kane had been installed as overwhelming favourite despite being drawn against dangerous Dubliner, Anthony Fitzgerald in the first quarter-final.
That clash proved to be the highlight of the tournament and had the 4,000 attendance on the edge of their seats such was the explosive nature of the two fighters.
And the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medalist then floored Lurgan man, Ryan Greene, in the semi-final before his points victory in the final extended his professional record to an impressive 7-0.
The Prizefighter tournament has in the past transformed the careers of Belfast heavyweight, Martin Rogan and Limerick Bantamweight Willie Casey and O’Kane - who became the third Irish man to win the event - feels he can use the victory as a platform for bigger and better things.
Rogan went on to win the Commonwealth titles while Casey was crowned European champion six months after his Prizefighter success and last year challenged for a world title, therefore O’Kane believes this could be the start of something special.
“I’ve always looked up to Paul McCloskey and Martin Rogan is a star along with Willie Casey who also won Prizefighter coming out of the reserves. So if I can go on to achieve what they have it would be fantastic.”
O’Kane did concede, however, that he may not be ready for such a step just yet and promised to bide his time.
“I’m 7-0 now and I think I’m good enough, quality-wise for a European title but I need a bit more conditioning.
“It would be great if I could get a couple of 10 round fights to build myself up to that level. We’ll sit down and talk about it with the team and we’ll see if I’m ready for that.
“It was a risk to enter but it has paid off 100%,” said O’Kane. “I’ve always loved the format and it is almost a free shot to boost your career and leapfrog your rivals.
“I don’t think any of the boys who lost here have been damaged by their defeats as it was a great show – but my name is out there big time now, and I aim to capitalise.
“I might be a bit short of title contention yet – I haven’t been beyond eight rounds and was only 4-0 before winning here.
“I get great training and great sparring and I feel ready, and this win has probably moved me two or three leaps in one night.
“Hopefully it puts me closer to fighting for titles. I’m 30 years old and I did probably hang about the amateur game a bit too long but I’m delighted with what I’ve achieved.
“This is the reason I went into Prizefighter. I know it’s such a volatile competition. With eight Irish guys coming to fight it was always going to be more volatile than the norm and hopefully it can put me into contention to fight for titles now.”
Matchroom Sport Director, Eddie Hearn stated O’Kane’s quarter-final against Fitzgerald was probably the best Prizefighter three rounder he’s witnessed and the Co. Derry man admitted he needed plenty of recovery time after that all-action clash.
“It was one hell of a way to start the tournament off,” he said. “My legs didn’t know what hit them after that first fight. Fair play to Anthony Fitzgerald he prepared himself well. It took everything out of me trying to beat him and I was delighted I did it.”
His reward was a semi-final with Greene, who had seen off the challenge of Ciaran Healy in the second quarter final.
A clash of heads and a nasty gash affected Greene in the opening round but even without that he might not have survived the crunching right that floored the Lurgan man after two minutes, giving O’Kane a first round stoppage and crucial recovery time for the final.
“It’ll not take long to talk through the Ryan Greene fight and that’s no disrespect to him because I know him from I was 11 years old as an amateur.
“I knew he could punch. We were both coming low with a right to the body and then coming up to the head and I got a clash in the side of the head and he was complaining about his cut. He then came at me like a day’s work. I love my right hook. In Immaculata we call it ‘The Boar’ and he just walked onto it perfectly - it was a great shot.”
The climax was scrappier than his opening two fights, with McDonagh’s height and reach getting him to the final.
O’Kane’s workrate negated the Irish super middleweight’s key tactic and when he was docked a point for a low blow in the final round, that put the seal on the win for the 30 year-old with the judges marking the bout 30-27, 30-26 and 29-27 in his favour.
So how did the win compare to his 2010 Commonwealth Gold medal win as an amateur?
“It’s hard to put this into words. I think I got more relief out of winning the Commonwealth Games. It was a lifelong dream winning the gold medal because I knew I was good enough to achieve that. It was a massive achievement and it set me up. One is as good as the other. I’m delighted.”