Why Irish boxing should be thankful to Conor McGregor

Paschal Collins is not a man to aimlessly wander along with the consensus. While many boxers decry a certain forthcoming ‘super-fight’ as “bad for boxing”, the head trainer of the Celtic Warriors Gym takes a different view.

“Professional boxing is entertainment and it’s like a great band — if nobody sees them, nobody knows them! When there’s no television or media coverage, there’s no exposure,” says Collins, brother of the two-weight world champion Steve.

In keeping with that point, it is an unavoidable reality that the much-hyped bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Conor McGregor will overshadow most boxing events over the next nine weeks. Tonight is a fitting example, as a professional boxing bill takes place in McGregor’s hometown that will attract tokenistic media coverage compared to that afforded to the August 26 Las Vegas ‘super fight’.

Going off the assessments of many boxing figures such as Oscar De La Hoya and Lennox Lewis, Mayweather-McGregor is a horrendously lop-sided mismatch; a circus that will further damage a sport that so often self-harms in terms of over-the-top publicity. In that sense, one might expect the sometimes-neglected Irish professional boxing fraternity to take a begrudging view of the ‘May-Mac’ hype.

However, Collins and his Celtic Warrior team do not adopt such an attitude.

“It’s the world stage, the biggest event in the world and everybody will want to be a boxer after this,” says Collins. “It’s like going to watch a Rocky film; you come out of the cinema, running home and thinking you’re Rocky.

“I think it’ll give boxing a lift. I think the gyms will be full after it… It is positive for the sport.

“And if it [filters down] and helps get exposure for my fighters, it’s great,” adds the trainer.

One might expect an enthusiastic reaction from Collins, since he has helped McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh set up their pre-fight camp for the Mayweather bout, while ‘The Notorious’ has previously visited the trainer’s Celtic Warriors Gym in Corduff for boxing sparring.

However, he does not agree with the idea that fight cards, such as tonight’s bill at the National Stadium, are completely lost in the shadow of the ‘May-Mac’ extravaganza.

Two of Collins’s fighters — his nephew Steve Collins Jr and fellow Dubliner Luke Keeler — are co-headliners this evening in Dublin, competing for Irish titles on a competitive and well-matched bill.

“The show in the National Stadium might get very little exposure in comparison to Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, but Conor also came up through those hard fights as well, when there was no-one going to them,” notes Collins. “He was in that boat too and he was getting no support and probably getting crap money… but he was still going to the gym and putting the work in.

“Every fighter now can think: ‘Maybe I can do that. Maybe I can be the next Conor McGregor and get that exposure.’”

‘Cool-Hand’ Luke Keeler, a gym-mate of McGregor for a brief period during their amateur days with Crumlin Boxing Club, takes a similar perspective.

“He [McGregor] is after marketing himself. He’s a marketing genius. Why would you feel aggrieved? You’re only being a begrudger then and I only wish him the best… It’s up to me to keep improving and have that mindset and get to that level,” says the 30-year-old, who takes on Roscommon’s Darren Cruise (7-5) in a crossroads fight tonight. Not only is the vacant Irish middleweight on the line this evening, but Keeler (12-2) cannot afford another a third career defeat if he is to maintain his bid for a European title shot.

“It’s not a good business to be in to be hanging around in,” says the structural engineer, a father of two-year-old twin boys, who recognises that he is at a make-or-break stage of his fighting career.

“I’ve had three weeks off work for this fight,” he explains. “This is it now, I’m dedicating myself to boxing… I’ve got everything in order at home and everything’s set for me to grind on now,” says the Ballyfermot man.

Keeler is coming off the back of two promising points victories over British opposition on fight cards staged by burgeoning promotional outfit Red Corner Promotions, who are nurturing the flickering flames of a pro boxing revival in the south of Ireland in an effort to match Belfast’s boxing boom.

Red Corner’s third bill tonight features a solid undercard, containing former European amateur champion Ray Moylette and the Ricky Hatton-trained Chris Blaney. In what may be the standout fight of the night, the Irish light-heavyweight title clash of Collins Jr (10-0-1) and Paddy McDonagh (10-2) will act as something of an acid test in terms of the former’s potential to be a headline star in the form of his former sparring partner McGregor.

Collins Jr is undefeated in 11 fights (one draw) since turning to his father’s trade four years ago. While he looked raw in his first few bouts, the 27-year-old produced a polished display in his eight-round points win over Argentine Pablo Sosa last February.

“Stevie is the headliner and he’s the guy that’ll bring television,” claims Paschal Collins, who hopes to see RTÉ or another station screen future Dublin bills.

“RTÉ [TV] were at my gym for the first time in five years during the week. People will recognise Stevie’s name and that he played top-level rugby with Lansdowne… Plus he can fight, which helps!” says the trainer, referring to his nephew’s previous sporting career, which saw him claim an All-Ireland League winner’s medal in 2013.

“I think we’re getting to the stage where it’s the beginning of a small boom in Ireland, hopefully,” continues the trainer. “Like when Bernard Dunne and Brian Peters started the last boom.

“Steve Collins Jr has the name, like Chris Eubank Jr, who’s in big fights now, and there’s no reason why we can’t do the same with Steve.

“He’s as strong as an ox and he doesn’t take a backwards step and he has that nastiness his dad had.”

Every fighter now can think: ‘Maybe I can do that. Maybe I can be the next Conor McGregor and get that exposure’


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