In a interview before this latest edition of Prizefighter, former British champion and world title contender Neil Sinclair stated that as well as ability, you need a little bit of luck to win Prizefighter. On Saturday night, Eamonn O’Kane showed his ability in terms of excellent work rate and will to win, but he also benefited from little bit of good fortune on the night.
The Immaculata fighter and Commonwealth Gold medallist bludgeoned his way through his three opponents on Saturday night at the Kings Hall in Belfast to be crowned the Prizefighter champion and rewarded with a £32k winner's cheque.
However, there was very little of the Dungiven man’s amateur boxing pedigree on show and this was substituted with a high octane, all guns blazing Prizefighter style that ultimately paid off. O’Kane overcame Anthony Fitzgerald in a tough quarter final fight, stopped Ryan Greene (after opening up cut on the Lurgan man’s eyebrow from a head butt) with a powerful overhand right and edged a close final against JJ McDonagh.
Prizefighter Final – Eamonn O’Kane v JJ McDonagh
This final was a tall rangy boxer pitted against a non-stop aggressive bull-rushing brawler. The opening round of this fight demonstrated McDonagh’s ability to pick off and outbox the crude bull rushing style of Eamonn O’Kane, however the final was completely ruined by the referee Terry O’Connor’s constant excessive warnings to JJ McDonagh, which seemed to eventually knock the rhythm out of Mullingar man’s work. This was a shame as opening couple of minutes of the first round was an intriguing test of how a hyped prospect like Eamonn O’Kane could cope with the rangy, counter boxing style of JJ McDonagh?
O’Kane started the round in the same manner as his previous two fights and quickly bored into McDonagh with wild hooks, that were largely inaccurate and getting punished by counters. There were several messy clinches as both fighters collided inside. McDonagh made a good attempt to box and counter punch as O’Kane rushed forward, but it seemed that when the fighters inevitably fell into a clinch he was the one getting a verbal ticking off by the referee for this. McDonagh took the first round with the better cleaner counter punches.
The second round was very untidy, again O’Kane charged forward with low head firing wide hooks to the body and head and ended up in a clinch. O’Kane threw a couple of low shots in this round that went below the referee’s radar but on the other hand McDonagh continued, unfairly in the opinion of this writer and several ringside reporters, to get berated from Terry O’Connor for holding, which seemed very unfair as O’Kane was the one charging wildly into him. How could McDonagh avoid it?
Finally, McDonagh pushe O’Kane hard against the ropes and Terry O’Connor gave McDonagh a final warning for that offence. O’Kane probably shaded the second round on work rate, but there was little quality work to admire and the style was wild and rough.
In the final round, there was no great surprise that Terry O’Connor finally took a point off McDonagh, but this in the end was for flooring O’Kane with a low blow. O’Kane deserved to win the final round on work rate. However, the flow of the final was badly affected by Terry O’Connor’s constant and excessive interjections to McDonagh for holding. This would have been easier to digest if the referee had also addressed O’Kane’s boring forward with a low head and low blows.
Eamonn O’Kane was crowned the Prizefighter winner with the judge’s scorecards of 30-27, 30-26, 29-27 all in the Dungiven man’s favour.
After the fight, some members of the press spoke to JJ McDonagh’s trainer Colin Morgan to get his reaction to the final. Morgan was outraged by referee Terry O’Connor’s constant interference in the final: “The other guy (O’Kane) is going in with his head and he is warning JJ (McDonagh) for holding and ducking, like if you don’t do that then he is going to hit you with the head. If the referee doesn’t take the point I think JJ was going to win it – the only time he was getting close was when he was getting some body shots in – that was it, but there was nothing clean.
"JJ was landing clean – right uppercuts. I just think it is bad when the referee has to dislike something, you know.”
Morgan revealed JJ McDonagh’s game plan going into the final with O’Kane: “I told JJ to use the jab a lot and step by and let the guy swing and miss and to just keep turning him, so he was doing that and when he was getting himself into a clinch I told him to hold the other guy's head in case he gets a head butt – the guy is going in with the head. So, then the referee keeps warning (JJ) but he is not warning the guy (O’Kane) for hitting low or going in with his head.”
The golden boy and hyped prospect, Eamonn O’Kane wins Prizefighter on sheer work rate, strength and will to win, but he has a lot of improvements to make to his game if he is going to be a force in the middleweight division at domestic level.
Semi-Final 1 – Eamonn O’Kane v Ryan Greene
Eamonn O’Kane faced Ryan Greene and the fight started off at a high tempo with Greene immediately ripping in body combinations. Both fighters met each other in the ring with low heads and it looked like it was going to turn into a rough brawl. Greene was giving as good as he was getting and landed the cleaner scoring shots. Then mid-round O’Kane came forward dangerously with his low head and butted Greene on the top of the head and they fall into another clinch but O’Kane violently flipped Greene onto the canvas and received a warning from referee Ian John Lewis.
As the action resumed it was evident that Greene had picked up a nasty looking cut on his left eyebrow and he complained bitterly to the referee and O’Kane. As the fight resumed, Greene seems to be still shaken up from receiving the cut and loses his focus. O’Kane smelled blood and launched another raid, hoping to capitalize. After a couple of more clinches, O’Kane stepped in with a perfectly timed overhand right that caught Greene flush on the temple and floored the Lurgan man. Greene bravely rose to his feet to beat the ten count but the referee Ian John Lewis made the right call to end the fight at 2.22 of the first round. Greene and his corner team were bitterly disappointed with the unfortunate head cut that the Lurgan man received but O’Kane seized his chance to end the fight.
Semi-Final 2 – Joe Rea v JJ McDonagh
The Rea and McDonagh semi final will not live long in the memory in terms of action and entertainment. It was more like a decent spar than a fight for a spot in the Prizefighter final. Rea who looked excellent in his opening fight was very lacklustre and lethargic in this fight and was largely confined to throwing single, sporadic pot shots. McDonagh outworked and out boxed Rea and took all three rounds on this writer’s card. Scorecards: 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 in favour of McDonagh.
QF1: The tournament favourite Eamonn O’Kane (11st 6lb 12oz) faced the second favourite - experienced Dubliner Anthony Fitzgerald (11st 7lb 4oz) in the first quarter final. It was a wild opening round, O’Kane and Fitzgerald hooking in the centre of the ring. Fitzgerald was more accurate to the body in first minute and then O’Kane dominated to the body and right leads upstairs. O’Kane’s round due to better accuracy in the final two minutes. The referee warned the fighters about the use of their heads. In the second, Fitzgerald suffered a cut to the top of the head from an accidental head clash with O’Kane; both men were coming forward with low heads to land and a cut was inevitable. Shortly after that O’Kane bored into Fitzgerald with his head but referee Ian John Lewis didn’t warn O’Kane, instead he asked the ringside doctor to inspect Fitzgerald’s cut. As the fight resumed Fitzgerald seemed to be even more psyched up and roared at O’Kane, motioning him to come forward and fight. O’Kane didn’t need a second invitation and the relentless pace continued. O’Kane edged the second round on better work rate and landing slightly more scoring shots, particularly to the body.
The third was a close round, O’Kane coming back strongly in the second half of the round, leading up to that were a lot of missed wild shots. But, Fitzgerald takes the final round picking off O’Kane with the jab on the way in and good right hooks and uppercuts. This was a great opening fight that epitomises the Prizefighter style and really could have been scored either way. Fitzgerald will feel unfortunate that he has went out at the first hurdle but he has an eye catching, all action style that is fan friendly and deserves a place on Matchroom’s planned September show in Belfast. Scorecards: Howard Foster 29-28 (O’Kane), Mark Green 29-28 (Fitzgerald), Terry O’Connor 30-27 (O’Kane). O’Kane goes through on a split decision.
QF2: Veteran Ciaran Healy (11st 7lb 6oz) faced unbeaten Lurgan puncher Ryan Greene (11st 4lb 10oz).
Healy, the experienced pro and the naturally bigger man, took a look at Greene in the first minute, seeking a counter. The opening round was cagey with too many clinches and missed shots. Although Greene landed the best punch of round - a left headshot and overall he outworked Healy to take the first round. In the second round, Greene showed more accuracy and his most eye catching shots were flush left and right hooks to the head; Healy looked to be waiting to counter. Greene took the second.
The third was very scrappy and the clash of styles is worsened with tiredness, a very close final round that could have gone either way, but perhaps Healy deserved it with cleaner shots. Scorecards: 29-29, 29-28, 30-27 all three judges in favour of Ryan Greene.
QF3: Roscommon fighter Darren Cruise (11st 6lb 8oz) is a big underdog to Irish super-middleweight Cchampion JJ McDonagh (11st 6lb 12oz).
McDonagh looks the bigger fighter and in his southpaw stance worked well off the jab. Cruise suffered a knock down with a right hook that landed to the back of the head but he was off balance and he was harshly penalised with a count from the referee Terry O’Connor. McDonagh held the centre of the ring and bossed the fight. Cruise struggled to find his range and McDonagh picked the Roscommon man off with good counters, particularly straight rights to the body. In the third McDonagh resumed his dominance. Cruise only threw single shots, as he seemed cautious about getting caught with counters. McDonagh secures a very comfortable win – outclassing Cruise in every round. Scorecards: 30-26, 29-27, 30-26 – all in favour of JJ McDonagh.
QF4: Intriguing match up with slick boxer Simon O’Donnell (11st 6lb 14oz) facing Ballymena man Joe Rea (11st 7lb 10oz).
O’Donnell started as favourite but in the opening round he was very cautious circling Rea but not landing much. Rea didn’t land too much cleanly but he did enough to shade the opening round. In the second Rea started quickly and caught O’Donnell with a great head combination. As the round progressed so did Rea’s dominance and he hurt O’Donnell with flush left and right leads. The third was scrappy. O’Donnell upped the pace but not the accuracy. A close final round that could have went either way, but Rea landed better, cleaner punching. Scorecards: 29-28 of all three judges in favour of Joe Rea.