TYRONE McCullagh reckons it’ll be ‘curtains’ for his professional boxing career should he fail in his bid to clinch the WBO European Super Bantamweight title in Belfast next month.
So there’s more than just a title on the line for ‘White Chocolate’ who takes on undefeated English champion, Josh Kennedy (11-0) at the Titantic Exhibition Centre on October 5th.
The Glen Road man is riding on the crest of a wave at present and is determined to avoid that sinking feeling of defeat. He’s anxious to make sure it’s the Englishman who’s left all washed up on the shores of Belfast as he cruises to a 12th straight win.
McCullagh, the newly crowned Celtic champion isn’t resting on his laurels and believes he has bigger fish to fry than Kennedy with a potential world title tilt on his radar in the near future.
He can become the third Derry man to bring a European title home, following in the footsteps of Charlie Nash (1979 and 1980) and Paul McCloskey (2009) who both won the prestigious EBU strap during their respective careers which also saw them challenge for world titles.
It’s arguably his toughest test so far against the highly rated Kent man, Kennedy who has five stoppage wins on his unblemished record. However, McCullagh, who returns home this weekend on a short break from his Liverpool training camp, reckons he’s a level above the Englishman.
“He will be a very tough opponent,” predicted McCullagh. “He has a good jab, he’s a bit taller than me, I think, and is undefeated but these are the type of boys I need to be beating on my way up.”
Kennedy won his first title in December 2016, winning the Southern Area title at Featherweight with a third round TKO of Jamie Speight. A former decorated amateur Kennedy has moved swiftly since defeating Michael Ramabeletsa for the vacant English super bantamweight belt. In his last outing in May this year he impressed in a 59-57 points win over former Commonwealth titlist Bobby Jenkinson (11-5-1) in his native Kent. However, McCullagh isn’t fazed by his opponent’s past conquests.
“If I can’t beat Josh Kennedy then I’ll have to have a long hard look at myself,” he added. “I would like to think I’m a level above him and if I can’t do it then it could be curtains. If I can’t beat Josh Kennedy then it’ll be a long road back to be honest.”
McCullagh is grateful to his management team, MTK Global for the opportunity in just his 12th professional outing and he’s determined to make the most of it as he looks to rise rapidly through the rankings.
“I’m absolutely delighted with it,” he beamed. “My career has gone from strength to strength since I signed with MTK. I’ve been on big bills, I’ve won my first title and now I’m fighting for this European title and headlining a show. I couldn’t ask for anything else and they deserve a lot of credit.
“I don’t want to be in this game for too long because it takes its toll on you and it’s strenuous on the body. So I want to keep progressing and fighting these type of fighters these undefeated fighters.
“This is my third undefeated fighter in four fights. I had the German (Tom Tran), I had Joe Ham and now I have Josh Kennedy. So I will be climbing up the rankings steadily if all goes well.
“It’s another step. I want to keep climbing the rankings and get closer to that world title shot because it would be a dream come true if that comes off.”
McCullagh explained why he chose to snub a chance to fight for the British title, claiming he would find it hard to motivate himself for the Lonsdale belt.
The Derry man earned a mandatory shot at the British Super Bantamweight title after his victory over Joe Ham at the SSE Arena last June but opted to go down the European route instead.
“It’s nothing against the British people or anything like that but I classify myself as Irish and I just wouldn’t have been able to get myself up for the fight or see myself fighting for that title because I didn’t fancy it. The next route to go down was the European because this will get me into the top 15 in the world with the WBO. So to me it’s more prestigious.”
Four weeks out from the fight and McCullagh has been ticking along nicely in his training base in Liverpool alongside his good friend, Belfast super lightweight, Tyrone McKenna.
McCullagh is relishing the prospect of returning to the ring and hopes to reward the boisterous home support at MTK Global’s Belfast show with a European title victory and another impressive performance.
“I’m enjoying my training and I start sparring next week so everything is on track. I’m just looking forward to getting in there now.
“It’s a very good venue. I was there once to watch Tyrone McKenna and it’s a great atmosphere. It’s very good for the boxing. I can’t thank my fans enough because they make some noise and I can’t wait to walk into it because they’re unbelievable.
“I’m very lucky to have a great following from both Derry and Belfast. Everyone gets behind me when I fight and I’m very grateful for that.”
McCullagh was roared back to his feet when he went to the canvas early against Ham and he admits the supporters played a big part in carrying him to a unanimous decision win.
"The atmosphere picks me up a level or two – I know that from the noise when I fought Joe Ham. There was no chance I wasn’t getting up! The noise carried me through the fight; especially in the later rounds. When you hear them, it really gives you a lift.”