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The Golden Generation Of Irish Amateur Boxing: How Will They Fare In The Pro Ranks?

The Golden Generation Of Irish Amateur Boxing: How Will They Fare In The Pro Ranks?
By Gavan Casey Updated

A monumental week for Irish boxing has seen two of our most decorated amateurs ever enter the professional ranks arm-in-arm, with their teammate Steven Donnelly poised to join them in due course.

After a horrendous Olympic Games on the boxing front for various reasons, three of Ireland's eight-person team will now embark on respective forays into the paid ranks, with Mick Conlan and Paddy Barnes in particular destined for enthralling journeys towards the pinnacle of the pro game.

The last eight years has garnered unprecedented success for Ireland's amateur boxers on the global scene, but the Golden Generation - our Class of '92 equivalent - is gradually disbanding, with many stars opting for the professional sport throughout the last Olympic cycle.

Conlan and Barnes' upping of sticks may prove the catalyst in professional Irish boxing's potential resurgence, but they're joining - and will soon be joined themselves - by some very fine company indeed. Here's a look at what we can expect our former amateur standouts to achieve in the paid ranks.

John Joe Nevin

Amateur Accolades: Olympic Games silver medallist 2012, World Championships bronze medallist 2009 & 2011, European Championships gold medallist 2013, EU Championships gold medallist 2008, silver medallist 2009

Pro Record: 8-0 (4KOs)

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Verdict

Following his recovery from a double-leg break suffered in 2014, Nevin's career picked up the pace last year, with the Mullingar man fighting four times between August and November. However, another nine-month absence - in which he had a steel bar removed from his leg - halted his progression, with the 28-year-old only returning to professional action at the end of August just gone.

Simply put, the London 2012 silver medallist is the most rawly-talented pugilist Ireland has produced in the modern era - and perhaps ever. 28 is by no means old for a boxer, but periods of stagnation have hampered Nevin's development in the pro game. Thankfully, he's scheduled for two fights in quick succession in the coming weeks: one on the 28th of October, with another to follow on November 12th - both in Philadelphia. The fact that he'll be required to remain in America, near his coach and away from the issues that plagued him in Ireland, is a massive plus.

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At last fully fit and no longer carrying any metals in his Mullingar-shuffling legs, Nevin's professional journey only truly begins in earnest now. He's always had the potential and natural ability to reach the very top of the paid sport, and should he fight at consistent intervals with gradually improving opponents as he progresses in the next 18 months, he won't be too far away from fulfilling it. All going well, a world title shot sometime in 2019 is far from impossible in the current boxing climate.

Steven Donnelly

Amateur Accolades: Commonwealth Games bronze medallist 2014, 5-1 record in World Series of Boxing, reached quarter-finals of 2016 Olympic Games

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Pro Record: 0-0

Verdict

The remarkable story of Ballymena's Steven Donnelly will continue this Autumn when he's expected to sign on the dotted line for a major promoter. The 28-year-old has his admirers Stateside, including promoter Lou DiBella and one Wayne McCullough - the latter of whom is keen to train Irish boxing's Cinderella Man - but would prefer to remain at home in Ireland and base his career in the UK.

Donnelly oozed class at the Olympics while those around him crumbled and/or were shafted by dodgy officiating. A narrow quarter-final exit to highly-fancied world champion Mohammed Rabii will have added to his stock as opposed to depleting it. Not bad for a man who, were it not for the mathematical wizardry (and journalistic skills) of Irish-boxing.com's Joe O'Neill, might well have discovered far too late that he had qualified for Rio, and subsequently failed to have made an an impact (Donnelly had long-since stopped training and was borderline retired when he received the good news).

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In terms of his potential as a professional, Donnelly on his day is an exquisite boxer but will need to be fast-tracked. His WSB experience and pro-ready style will accommodate that. The Antrim man possesses massive ability - a two-year hiatus from the sport and subsequently marvellous return will testify to that - but needs regular fights and opportunities to bestow his amicable personality upon the wider boxing public.

Given his career trajectory in the past 18 months, you wouldn't put it past the ultra-popular welterweight from making a serious splash in the 154-lb division as a professional, where the champions will likely be the Charlo twins and/or Cuban slickster Erislandy Lara, as Canelo Alvarez eyes a move to middleweight for a showdown with Gennady Golovkin. He's used to mixing it with the world's finest from his amateur days, and is more than capable of doing it again as a pro once carefully managed by someone like Matthew Macklin at MGM, who will have his best interests at heart. He should, at the very least, establish himself as one of Europe's top light-middleweights.

Paddy Barnes

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Amateur Accolades: Olympic bronze medallist 2008 & 2012. European Championships gold medallist 2010, silver medallist 2013. EU Championships silver medallist 2008. Commonwealth gold medallist 2010 & 2014.

Pro Record:
0-0

Verdict

An Irish sporting icon, the perception that Barnes may have turned professional too late is likely born more of the long and storied nature of his incredibly successful amateur career than much else. Having signed a managerial contract with Matthew Macklin and MGM, the 29-year-old two-time Olympic bronze medallist will likely debut alongside his old pal Jamie Conlan at the Titanic Centre, Belfast on November 5th.

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Similar to Steven Donnelly, taking risks will be key to Barnes' potential success in the paid ranks; he's simply too good to box the ears off KFC employees in a misguided attempt to 'move him on'. Paddy Barnes doesn't fuck around - he's ready for genuine challenges now, and if Frank Warren or whoever else can deliver them, the Belfast man could go on to become a world champion in record time for an Irish fighter.

Barnes' partner in crime Michael Conlan told Irish-boxing.com on Wednesday that he's trying to get Barnes on his own debut card at Madison Square Garden on St. Patrick's weekend next year. Furthermore, he said Top Rank are interested in following it up. They should be. Barnes will sell that entire card for them. In fact, they should put him in with his old Olympic rival Zou Shiming of China - promoted by Top Rank and currently rated IBF #3.

If not, you get the impression that the Conlan link will see the pair throw down before long. Barnes is a promoter's dream; outspoken, charismatic, funny, and his all-action fighting style is built towards him not only being a top-level pro, but a compelling one to watch. With weight issues in his rear-view, if he's promoted properly - and fingers crossed he is - Paddy Barnes is destined for world honours. Possibly even within his first 10 fights.

Michael Conlan

Amateur Accolades: Olympic bronze medallist 2012. World Championships gold medallist 2015. European Championships gold medallist 2015, silver medallist 2013. Commonwealth Championships gold medallist 2014.

Pro Record: 0-0

Verdict

Turns out there's a lot to be said for unleashing a tirade of profanities on national television - oh, and being insanely talented at your chosen craft.

It's no exaggeration that Conlan's outburst towards the amateur code's governing body shook the boxing world. His deal with Top Rank, however - and a sign-on fee worth north of $1m as reported by Ciaran Gallagher - might have been possible even without it. ESPN's Dan Rafael recently told us that Conlan was Bob Arum's number one priority even before the former's scandalous exit from Rio.

The 24-year-old switch-hitter possesses all of the ingredients to become the pay-per-view star that TR believe he can be - and you can't ask for a better platform to kick off a pro career than The Garden, NYC on Paddy's weekend. A career built expertly by the best in the business and at least one guaranteed fight in Ireland each year should see Conlan become Irish boxing's first truly transcendant star since Bernard Dunne. And who knows - perhaps even the powers that be in Montrose will rethink their budget when he rocks back up to these shores to fight alongside Barnes and his brother, Commonwealth champion Jamie Conlan.

The world amateur bantamweight champion told this writer as far back as 2014 that he was "gunning for Carl Frampton" - his friend and fellow Belfast man - who currently campaigns a division above super-bantamweight where Conlan will make his bow. If ever there was a fight that would fill a stadium in this part of the world... Regardless, though, Conlan is hell-bent on greatness, and should achieve it in due course. He'll require slightly more patience than Barnes, and at 24 can afford it, but a world title shot within three years of his pro bow - which has always been his goal - seems attainable. From there, the sky will be his limit. If he teams up with Manny Robles and his former Irish teammate Jason Quigley in Hollywood as he indicated to The Sun's Kevin Byrne, the journey will be as enthralling as the destination.

Ireland's Non-Olympian Former Amateur Standouts

The aforementioned middleweight Jason Quigley continues to tear it up Stateside under the Golden Boy banner, and is hankering for an Irish homecoming to showcase his heralded abilities. One of the most exciting prospects Irish boxing has seen since the late Darren Sutherland, the 2013 world amateur silver medallist is 11-0 (9KOs) as a pro since being snapped up by Oscar De La Hoya in 2014. If he can sufficiently tighten up his defence under trainer Manny Robles, his instinctively brilliant shot selection and boxing ability will likely see the Donegal man in the world title conversation by late 2018.

Former youth Olympic gold medallist and World runner-up Ryan Burnett (14-0, 9KOs) has been widely touted to reach the top, both by his boxing peers and promoters, Matchroom. The 24-year-old Belfast man goes behind enemy lines to face Liverpudlian Ryan Farrag in defence of his British bantamweight title on October 15th, having already picked up WBO European and WBC International straps. Like Quigley, could shore up his evasive skills, but his offensive ability is stunning.

Burnett's fellow Belfast man, cruiserweight Tommy McCarthy, also has his eye on a British title, with Ovill McKenzie set to vacate if his postponed fight with Marco Huck is rescheduled. The 25-year-old is 9-0 (5KOs) since making the pro jump in the spring of 2014. A former two-time Irish heavyweight champion and world no.9 at amateur level, the Pat Magee-managed descendant of Jamaica has taken to the pro ranks like a duck to water, and has the personality to boot. Should he continue to progress at such a pace, the global cruiserweight division - which is currently bereft of interesting characters - could part like the Red Sea for Big Tommy Mc.

Tipp heavyweight Con Sheehan is another, like McCarthy, who can consider himself highly unfortunate not to have won medals at international level. A six-time national champion, the Clonmel man has confirmed that he'll fight on the undercard of Tyson Fury's World heavyweight title rematch with Wladimir Klitschko on October 29th. He also trains with World heavyweight champion Fury and his prodigious cousin Hughie - the ideal environment for any young professional. The 27-year-old Sheehan is the youngest amateur heavyweight champion in Irish boxing history, and will be provided with massive opportunities while earning his stripes in Bolton's Team Fury Gym. His appearance on Fury-Klitschko II will arrive amidst an incredibly busy period, as he fights in England twice in as many weekends this month - beginning this Saturday - before an Irish homecoming in Belfast in November.

A new entry to the paid game is Mayo light-welterweight Ray Moylette - one of the most talented and colourful characters in Irish sport. The first Irishman to ever win a World amateur title when he secured gold at the World Youth Championships in 2008, Moylette has been heavily linked with Matthew Macklin's MGM, and has a pro-ready style and personality which make him an easy sell. The 2011 European gold medallist was arguably inhibited by the amateur environment, and could establish himself as one of Ireland's most beloved sportspeople under the right guidance. A huge following in his native county should earn him spots on tasty cards in the UK and (hopefully) Ireland as soon as a promoter is secured. The only real issue will be tearing him away from Junior B football with Islandeady.

 

Having recently signed for MGM, Philip Sutcliffe Jr will fight on the Genesis card at the Greenbank Sports Academy, Liverpool on Friday October 7th. The 10-1 (7KOs) Crumlin light welter is probably Irish boxing writers' favourite fighter, despite the fact that he says very little relative to his compatriots - instead leaving his concrete fists do the talking. His sole defeat arrived in a short-notice bout in Hamburg back in May, as he dropped a controversial majority decision to the 16-0-1 European #2 Anthony Yigit.

Widely regarded as one of the biggest punchers, pound-for-pound, in his homeland, Sutcliffe has become one of the most avoided men in Irish and British boxing since his professional bow in 2013 - hence his decision to fight a more experienced man in Germany. Indeed, lightweight world champion Anthony Crolla recently admitted that Sutcliffe is the hardest puncher he's ever shared the ring with. Now 27, Sutcliffe is, in a sense, entering Phase 2 of his pro career; a reversal in Germany may tempt fighters on the other side of the Irish Sea to throw down with Irish boxing's quiet man. If he gets fights on a decent platform, he'll earn fans outside of the hardcore Irish boxing variety. It's up to Matt Macklin and MGM to ensure that happens.

Elsewhere, five-time underage Irish heavyweight champion Steven Ward, who couldn't enter the Seniors due to work commitments, is training over in MGM Marbella. The 2010 Commonwealth silver medallist from Belfast turned professional last month, and could certainly in the mix for a British light-heavyweight shot within the next three years.

SEE ALSO: Matthew Macklin Tells Us Why The 'Inseparable' Barnes and Conlan Will Fight Together In Ireland, And Addresses The Negative Perception Of MGM In The Irish Media

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