EAMONN O’Kane admits his transformation from brawler to boxer under the tutelage of his new trainer, Bernardo Checa, remains a ‘work in progress.’
SIMON COLLINS was in the Odyssey Arena
But it was certainly a case of mission accomplished in Belfast on Saturday night as he got back on the winning trail with a much needed victory over resilient English man, Gary Boulden on the sensational ‘Unfinished Business’ undercard, extending his record to 9-1-0.
The Banagher middleweight’s objective was clear from the outset as he attempted to implement the instructions from his new coach and produce an intelligent, slick, technically proficient display.
But it was never going to be easy to eradicate bad habits after just six weeks in his new training camp.
There was a noticeable improvement from his one defeat to John Ryder in December but there were shades of his savage, aggressive style as he came under pressure from Boulden as the six round fight progressed.
He openly admitted it was far from his best performance and while he required 12 stitches from the ringside doctor for cuts on his left cheekbone and under his left eye - caused by a clash of heads - he was never in trouble and appeared in control as he edged towards a 59-56 comeback win.
O’Kane began patiently with a clever use of his jab in the opening round as he warmed into the fight but he typically drove forward looking to exert pressure on his opponent as the fight wore on and Boulden was more than willing to retaliate on the counter. Boulden was proving an awkward opponent and was difficult to pin down, however O’Kane generally controlled all six rounds.
The 30 year-old Commonwealth gold medallist was, as always, brutally honest in his post-fight assessment and rated his ‘rehabilitation fight’ performance at 30 per cent of his capabilities.
“It was far from a fantastic performance but it was a win and that was the most important thing - to get back to winning ways against an awkward opponent,” said O’Kane.
“I never felt in any trouble with him at all,” he added. “I knew he was a good enough boxer but I knew I was capable of beating him at any point. I was trying not to go back to my own, reckless ways so I think that sort of curtailed my workrate a good bit.
“I was called into the ring about a half an hour earlier than I was expecting and my corner were just coming back from Rogie’s (Martin Rogan’s) interviews and then I had to glove up. So I didn’t get a warm-up and had to go into the ring cold.
“It then took me a couple of rounds to waken up and get into the fight. If I was to rate my performance I would probably give it 30 per cent, but it’s a work in progress and it’s going to take a couple of fights. I’ve only been in the gym with him (Checa) for five or six weeks so there’s only so much you’re going to learn in that time, especially when you’re trying to get rid of bad habits. That’s very difficult.
“I’ve been boxing since I was six years old so I have to correct those habits I’ve had for a long time.
“And it’s difficult to implement those changes so quickly, especially when there’s a guy coming forward trying to hit you.
“I’m trying and I like the direction they’re moving me in. I know I can do it because at times I did it, I just didn’t put it all together. At times I was working on my head movement and at times I was boxing the way they want me to. At times I was working on the movement and the feinting but I just wasn’t putting it altogether.”
Despite sustaining a nasty cut under his left eye following a clash of heads in the second round, O’Kane remained focused and he claimed he could easily have churned through the gears had he been required to do so.
“I got hit on the cheekbone in the second round and then in the fifth round just below the eyebrow. I got seven stitches in the bottom cut and five on the top one unfortunately.
“It was probably just an annoyance for a period of time more than anything else,” he explained. “Once it happened I could see that the referee wasn’t that worried about it and there was never a threat of him stopping the fight so I was able to relax and focus back on my boxing.
“He was a strong guy and could punch hard but he was never bothering me at all and I was comfortable. If I had of felt under any pressure at all I would’ve upped my workrate.
“It’s all about winning so if I felt I was under any pressure then my ‘Plan B’ would be to resort back to what I can do best. At any stage I could’ve out-fought him but the objective was to try and learn and make improvements.
“At any stage if I had of thought I was in bother I would’ve stepped in up and got wild and crazy if I had to and I know that would’ve blasted him out of there. But he wasn’t causing me any problems and I could tell that the cuts weren’t that alarming.”
O’Kane is clearly flourishing in his new training camp and he’s happy with his development under Checa. And he had a special word of thanks for the gruelling work in the gym done under the supervision of his new strength and conditioning coach, Olivier Cummings.
“They’ve brought me back to basics. Ollie Cummings is the quiet man in the background who does a lot of great work with us.
“He gets the nutrition bang on the money and you make the weight the best way possible. He’s making me an explosive boxer and building my endurance. He does a lot of conditioning sessions which I call ‘strong man’ sessions. He has us in a lot worse conditions than we’re ever going to be in during a fight so it’s great that you know that you’ve been there and have another level you can go to.
“You’ll never feel any worse in a fight than what you feel in one of his sessions. They’re not for the faint hearted,” he laughed.
Ebrington Square Show?
So what’s next on the agenda for the Co. Derry man? “If Sky Sports and Matchroom can agree a date and get this show in Ebrington that’s been proposed - which would be fantastic for the people of Derry who love boxing and love sport. It would be great to have a show there.
“That’s about 10 or 12 weeks away, they’re chatting about some time in April.
“If they got that, it would give me more time to work with Bernardo and push onwards an upwards - that’s the plan,” he concluded.