TYRONE McCullagh contemplated hanging up his gloves for good when his older brother Dean sadly died last Easter when he was on the verge of making his debut as a professional boxer.
The 24 year-old Glen Road man felt it was time to part ways with the sport he had dedicated 12 years of his life to as he attempted to come to terms with the untimely passing of his brother.
“When it all happened I saw no way back for myself, boxing-wise,” he said.
“I gave up, I just didn’t want to know. He was in hospital for a month down in Dublin and then when he passed away I just thought ‘that’s it!’.”
But four short months after burying his brother, Tyrone returned to the ring and last Saturday made a stunning start to his professional career in Ellesmore Port, Cheshire.
The former Holy Family ABC southpaw stopped his Hungarian opponent Tamas Laska (2-2-0) with a devastating left hook to the body to ensure his pro. career got off to the best possible start.
He dedicated that victory to the memory of his late brother Dean - his biggest fan. “My win on Saturday night and every other win from here on out is for him,” he declared.
When the winning sensation and adrenaline subsided while sitting alone in his dressing room afterwards, his thoughts immediately turned to Dean.
It was a raw, emotional moment but he feels it was the start of a special journey in the pro ranks.
Dean, who was a keen boxer in his younger years, died after developing acute pancreatitis following two failed liver transplants and it was a tragic time for all the McCullagh family.
It was a make or break time for Tyrone who lost his way. However, he believes his decision to step into the paid ranks and his first victory has given his family a new focus and a reason to be happy.
Tyrone might not be overly religious but he believes his brother, who avidly followed his boxing journey, was present in some form when he had his hand raised in victory last Saturday.
“I was delighted with the win. It was just at the stage in the dressing room when I was on my own I was thinking I would have loved to have him there with me.
“He was meant to be at the fight I was supposed to take before he took ill,” he explained. “He was at all my fights so it would have been brilliant for him to be there. He was my biggest fan.
I gave up, I just didn’t want to know. He was in hospital for a month down in Dublin and then when he passed away I just thought ‘that’s it!’.Tyrone McCullagh
“Boxing is all I have known this past 12 years. I had a chance to make my debut back in Easter and then Dean took ill. I just felt it was whole nightmare getting started again. I had no motivation to train or get fit again. But it slowly came back to me and when I got another pro fight sorted it gave me something to focus on which helped in a way.
“I wasn’t coping too well and I was visiting his grave most days and then I got the fight and it took my mind of things a bit and focussed me on boxing again.
“When Dean died it brought my whole family closer together. I have family in Dublin and in Omagh and a few of them came over to the fight which was great. The fight gave everyone a lift in a way.”
Going by the interesting yet oddly catchy nickname, ‘White Chocolate’, Tyrone becomes the first professional boxer from the city since John Duddy who retired in 2011.
He’s enjoyed a highly successful amateur career claiming a European bronze medal and finishing runner-up in the All Ireland Senior final to Mick Conlan. However,following that controversial loss to Conlan, he felt it was time to make the step into the paid ranks partly due to the politics involved in the amateur game.
Talking through his second round KO last weekend, Tyrone said he was happy to start his career with a bang.
“It was handy enough and I was happy with the way it panned out. I’ve been waiting a while for my debut. I planned on turning pro at the start of 2014 but with stuff that happened I didn’t get going until last weekend. But it’s good to get it off and running.
“I was second on the bill and a good few people came over to support me so it was a good atmosphere.
“Before the fight I would have loved the stoppage but I didn’t go in with the intention of stopping him because you don’t want to go in all guns blazing,
“The first minute or so was a bit different as a professional but once I got going and threw a few punches I knew I was hurting him.
“So my coach told me after the first round that I was hurting him and to plant my feet and let a few body shots go.
“I landed a right hook to the body in the second round and felt it sink in and he covered up and backed off so I knew I hurt him and I followed it up with a left to the body and that put him down.”
Tyrone is grateful for the floods of supportive messages on social media but he wasn’t best pleased with one man’s ‘well done’ tweet.
Olympic medalist Paddy Barnes congratulated Tyrone on his win and claimed the southpaw had called out IBF world super bantamweight champion Carl Frampton - a fight the Derry man probably isn’t ready for just yet!
“Paddy was trying to set up a fight between myself and Frampton - he was trying to get me killed. Well, if he’s up for it I’ll give it a shot,” he laughed.
His first pro fight was at featherweight but he’s planning on dropping down to bantamweight for future fights.
“It’s important that I build up my experience first and get another few four rounders under my belt before moving up to six or eight rounders.
“It’s all about experience at this stage, I can’t just go looking for big fights, it could be a few years before that happens and I’ll have to be patient.
“I’d like to thank my dad for his support as well as Gerry Storey at Holy Family and Clive Whitbred at the Inishowen Boxing Club who takes me for training when I’m home at the weekends.”
Tyrone will be staging a charity boxing night for Dean in the Delacroix on September 26 next.