TYRONE McCullagh hopes TJ Doheny retains his IBF world super-bantamweight belt at Madison Square Garden to keep alive his hopes of securing a first ever all-Irish world title fight in 2019.
The reigning WBO European super bantamweight champion claims he will ‘embarrass’ the unbeaten Doheny (20-0) in the ring should he get the chance to challenge him this year.
Portlaoise native Doheny, who makes his maiden world title defence in New York against Japanese challenger, Ryohei Takahashi live on Sky Sports from 2 a.m tomorrow morning., has reportedly dismissed links with McCullagh, claiming it was ‘just embarrassing’ to be mentioned alongside ‘such an inexperienced fighter’.
Understandably ‘White Chocolate’, who extended his unblemished recorded to 12-0 with a stunning European title victory over Josh Kennedy in Belfast last November, has taken offence to Doheny’s comments and reckons the IBF champion simply plans to avoid him.
“He doesn’t want it,” insisted McCullagh. “I hope he retains his title and I think he will this weekend because it’s a handy enough fight for him. The boy he’s fighting isn’t even No.1 in Japan and it’s at short notice. It wouldn’t look good if he didn’t retain it.
“TJ did brilliantly to go to Japan and win the world title but I’ve seen a few things he’s been saying about me. He said that for me to be mentioned alongside him is embarrassing.
“He might be saying that because he doesn’t want the fight but I can tell you I’m not far off him and I’ll embarrass him as soon as I get the chance to fight him.
“Anytime I’ve mentioned his name I’ve said there’s been no bad blood between us or anything like that and I’m not trying to start a slagging match but I’d love to fight him down the line.
“But when he says it’s embarrassing to be linked with me, I think that’s because he’s trying not to take the fight. It would end up being the first all-Irish world title fight.”
While Doheny is dismissing talk of a potential title defence against the Derry man, McCullagh believes it’s a real possibility given both fight under the MTK Global banner.
Doheny, who has fought 15 of his 20 pro fights in Australia, has recently signed a promotional deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing USA. And Hearn has already declared his intention to unify the super-bantamweight division in 2019 with a fight against WBA champion, Danny Roman.
“I know it’s a possibility,” said McCullagh of his chances of meeting Doheny in the ring. “All he has to do is retain his title. I’ve seen that Eddie Hearn is talking about unifying the belts with a fight against Danny Roman and I couldn’t see TJ retaining it against him.”
McCullagh, who hopes to return to the ring before the end of March, knows he may need another win or two before he can become eiligible to challenge Doheny for the IBF crown.
“I have my eyes on a world title without a doubt,” he said confidently. “I need to keep on winning in the meantime. I hope to be out again at the end of March so if I get a good win there then there’s no reason why I can’t fight for a world title.”
It promises to be a significant year for McCullagh who has relocated to Scotland from his MTK Global base in Liverpool, where he teams up with his good friends and sparring partners, Paddy Barnes and Tyrone McKenna under the watchful eye of his new coach, Danny Vaughan.
“My coaches in Liverpool, George (Vaughan) and Derry (Matthews) were spot on but it was very, very tough living on my own. All I had was a microwave to cook my meals so it was difficult.
“I didn’t take the decision lightly but now I’m up in Scotland and I can train alongside my mates and I’m living in a house with proper cooking facilities , I just had to look after No.1 at the end of the day.
“I’ve been in up in Scotland before training for a couple of weeks and the sparring was brilliant. The main thing is I’ll be living with them whereas in Liverpool I was living on my own.”
Having secured two major wins and two belts in 2018 under George Vaughan and Derry Matthews, does McCullagh expect to make any significant alerations to his training or boxing style under his new coach?
“Its George’s son, Danny, who I’ll be training with so it’s something I’ve already been used to. I’ve been padding with him before. I think he knows what I’m like and that I have a unique style in the way that I box.
“I’ll stick to what’s working and so far it’s been working well. He knows that himself. He might make one or two tweaks but nothing major.”
So the 27 year-old Derry man is expecting his first fight of the year and potentially his first defence of his European title at the end of March in Belfast before another outing in the summer at the West Belfast feile where Michael Conlan is expected to avenge his controversial Olympic Games defeat to Russian, Vladimir Nikitin.
“I should be getting word about my next fight in the next few days and we’ll take it from there.”