TYRONE McCullagh might be only slight favourite with the bookies to clinch victory over Joe Ham tonight but the unbeaten Derry southpaw reckons his Scottish opponent ‘doesn’t stand a chance’.
There’s been plenty of animosity brewing between the two fighters in the build up to their Super Bantamweight BBBoC Celtic title fight on Michael Conlan’s homecoming undercard at the SSE Odyssey Arena.
Scottish champion, Ham claimed McCullagh was ‘deluded’ which sparked a war of words with the Glen Road native.
The trash-talking reached new levels recently when the Derry man referred to Ham as a ‘pig’ and the Scot blocked him from his social media as he appeared to lose the battle of the jibes.
And the verbal jousting has certainly helped stoke the interest ahead of the biggest night of McCullagh’s professional career.
He insists it’s nothing personal but he’s prepared to ‘take Ham out’ as he stands in the way of his first professional belt.
“The trash talking is part of it all now as you move up the bill when you get to the higher level fights. It helps to build the fight but it’s nothing personal,” said McCullagh.
“There is a bit of needle,” he admitted. “I’m going in to fight him for 10 rounds so I don’t like him. It’s nothing personal but he’s standing in my way and I’m going to have to take him out. I’ll shake his hand at the end of it.”
McCullagh is 8/11 favourite for the win on home soil and while he’s fully aware the unbeaten Ham will pose the biggest threat to his unblemished record so far, he’s confident the fight will go his way if he brings his ‘A’ game.
“I know it’s within my capabilities to beat him. I know I’m the better boxer and if I get my performance right on the night then that’s all that will matter because if I get that right, he won’t stand a chance.”
The training camp has been ‘perfect’ and while there’s never been any doubt surrounding McCullagh’s discipline and commitment when it comes to preparing for fights, this one has been his best yet!
He’s sparred with WBC world flyweight challenger, Paddy Barnes and British Super Bantamweight challenger, James ‘Jazza’ Dickens during the past eight weeks in camps in Liverpool and Scotland and feels on top of his game.
“Obviously everyone says everything has gone perfect in their training camp, they aren’t going to turn around and say they’ve had a bad camp,” said McCullagh. “But I do feel I’ve had a perfect camp.
“The sparring has been second to none. I’ve been sparring Paddy Barnes and ‘Jazza’ Dickens who is fighting for British title now at my weight as well so I can’t ask for better than that.
“We’ve been having a bit of a heat wave and I’ve been training in it and not being able to enjoy it so hopefully it continues after my fight.
“I’ve been in Liverpool and Scotland and when you’re in a camp like that you’re just eating, sleeping and breathing boxing. It’s all you’re doing. You just wait around for your next session.
“It’s good to have the likes of Paddy (Barnes) and Tyrone (McKenna) with me because it would get very boring otherwise. You’re putting the work in for eight weeks for Saturday night and to get the right result.”
Ham will enter an intimidating arena in Belfast on Saturday night with a large support expected from Derry to get behind McCullagh. Someone’s ‘0’ has got to go but what can we expect when the first bell goes?
“Obviously in boxing there’s no guarantees but my first 10 fights so far, I know I have had one undefeated fighter before, but I’ve been expected to win those. I do expect to win on Saturday night again but it’s the one that would be most questionable.
“I’m slight favourite with the bookies but they have it close too. On paper it’s a 50/50 fight.
“He’s a ‘come forward’ fighter and I’m guessing he will try to draw me into a fight. I don’t think he will be able to change his game-plan but if he does it doesn’t bother me I’ll stick to my own boxing.”
The fight doubles up as a British title eliminator with the winner set to meet the winner of ‘Jazza’ Dickens and Martin Ward’s vacant title fight. With Dickens also on the MTK Global books, should he win on July 27th, McCullagh isn’t sure if their paths will cross in the ring.
Regardless, the Lonsdale belt isn’t high on his list of priorities and he isn’t about to be complacent ahead of his first professional title fight considering he’s patiently waited three years to get here.
“Since I turned pro three years ago, I just wanted to get my hands on my first belt and hopefully that happens on Saturday night. After Saturday night I’ll start looking for more belts and bigger belts.
“We’ve both got jobs to do first,” he said of the possibility of meeting Dickens for the British title. “My focus is on Saturday night. Say we both do win then I’ll have to sit down with my team and speak about it. Honestly I’m not too concerned about the British title - I’m Irish at the end of the day and that’s a British title. There’s other routes to go down and it doesn’t bother me too much.
“It’s up to my team at the end of the day and first thing’s first, I’ve got to get the win on Saturday night.”