Were it not for the money fans literally lashed on the Limerick southpaw in the 24 hours leading up to the fight, Hyland would have been a clear favourite.
The 25-year-old Dubliner was the one with all the champion qualities – technically brilliant, a slick mover with a punch to match the best. However, he left all that at the ringside as not alone had he opted to take on “Big Bang” on his home turf, but he chose to take him on at his own game and nobody does it better than Casey.
The Dubliner opted to upset Casey’s game plan by taking the fight to him and although he landed some vicious hooks, he was making no impression on an opponent who was getting stronger by the minute.
Casey finally had Hyland where he wanted him – in the centre of the ring – and in the third round he landed punches from underneath, over the top and straight through the middle.
Hyland was now spending too much time on the ropes and he found no comfort there. He tried to slow the fight down – to little avail – and when Casey caught him with a big shot to the head two minutes into the fourth, he literally stopped fighting.
English referee John Keane stepped in quickly to stop Casey inflicting any more punishment and while some – including the former champ Kiko Martinez – questioned the speed with which the referee reacted, he had clearly made the right decision.
The scorecards showed that the two Austrian judges, Franco Ciminale and Ernst Salzgeber, had given all three rounds to Willie Casey (30:27), while the third judge, England’s Richie Davis, gave one round to Hyland.
“They were the hardest four rounds I have ever fought,” Casey admitted. “I know how skilful and technical Paulie is and how he can use the ring, but he came forward and said if you can do it, I can do it too.
“It was always going to be tough. He was quick and he was fast. We both got caught in each round but, in the fourth, the big bang was just too much. No disrespect to Paulie, but he fought the wrong fight.
In reply, Hyland said: “I was enjoying the fight. Then one silly clip at the back of the ear and I couldn’t see anything. I don’t think the fight should have been stopped. I was trying to punch back but the ref just stepped in. I wanted to keep going and I felt strong and I was enjoying the fight.”
“Paulie got a bit of success and I think he ran away with himself and forgot the game plan,” Hyland’s father and coach, Paddy, said. “He fought the wrong fight and allowed Willie to do what Willie does best. I think if he had thrown a few shots the contest would not have been stopped.”
Casey’s coach, Philip Sutcliffe, revealed that once they knew two weeks ago that it was Hyland and not Kiko Martinez who would be fighting, they decided on a game plan and it worked out perfectly.
“I’ve known Paulie since he was a kid,” Sutcliffe said. “He travelled with me on Irish teams for years and we planned for every scenario. The tactics worked – they even worked a little bit better than I thought because Paulie was very brave.”
Kiko Martinez, who vacated the belt to clear the way for the historic fight, admitted he too thought Hyland would win.
“Willie was very strong, but Paul fought the wrong fight... we all get excited in the ring,” he said. “I think the referee was too quick to stop it.”
Promoter Brian Peters said the win opens ups many options for Willie Casey. “This puts him into the top 15 if not top 10 in the world and after watching the Steve Mollitor/Jason Booth world title fight, you would have to fancy his chances if he came up against Mollitor,” he said.