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“Back in Belfast” – Boxing returns to the Titanic City – Nov 17

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Conor Cooke is back in the sport of boxing and is already turning heads.

A former underage amateur star, circumstances conspired to turn the Antrim Town cruiserweight the way of kickboxing and mixed martial arts but he made his return to the Sweet Science during the summer and will box in Belfast on Saturday November 17th. Following a stunning second round debut knockout in Dublin in July, Cooke is now slated to fight on the ‘Back in Belfast’ card at the Shorts Sports and Recreation Club on the Holywood Road where he will look to continue making big impressions.

‘Da Crook’ stole the show on his debut and will be looking to do the same on November 17th. In his first outing, a huge uppercut sent Poland’s Pawel Kucharski down and out as Cooke underlined his potential in pro boxing after so long away and silenced many doubters and nay-sayers.

Looking back on a whirlwind first fight, Cooke admits that “I wasn’t nervous, but I really felt pressure. It was like all eyes on me feeling. Everyone wanted to know how I would get on and how would I make the transition from MMA back to boxing. I felt pressure that way more than nerves. That win gives me confidence. I did question myself going into the fight. I was thinking how am I going to cope and handle it. I haven’t fought in a couple of years. I was wondering if I could handle the lights and pressure, but I felt relaxed and confident in there. To be honest, I don’t throw many upper cuts, but I heard Dee [Walsh, coach] in my corner calling for it and auto pilot I threw it and it landed lovely,”

It was the culmination of a long process for Cooke who had spent over a year making the transition to boxing, navigating a change of sports and a mountain of politics. It was all worth it, however, as the Antrim man made his return to his first love and he explained how “in camp and training I feel like a duck returning to water. I feel like I was born to do boxing I should never have left, but I am back now. When I was 16 I boxed for Ireland in the Four Nations and then the club closed down and I had nowhere to train. I found myself kickboxing for 10 years and I always said I’d go back boxing when the time was right. I met Dee and them and it feels right now. I retired from MMA and I am going to give boxing a crack before I get too old.”

Looking ahead to November 17th, Cooke is adamant that he will register win number two before moving on to big domestic fights in the very near future. The 31-year-old outlined how “I’m more than confident I’m going to win by another devastating knockout. You can expect my best, 100%, losing is not an option for me. I’m planning on going in there, getting that win but looking good doing it.”

“I just want to keep busy for now and then look at an Irish title. I feel I have a lot to show and I have potential. I have the right people around me now and I believe I can do well in the game. This time next year I would like to see myself as an Irish champion. I set that goal way back when I decided to box again – that from my first pro fight I’d like to fight for the Irish title within 12 months. If I keep working hard there’s no reason why this can’t happen. My aim is to go as far as I possibly can. I know time is against me so I’m hoping to be as active and as successful as possible within the next five to seven years. I would love to provide for my family and live a comfortable life through boxing. Anything is possible with a vision and hard work.”

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The town of Larne is home to former flyweight World champion and Irish boxing legend Dave Boy McAuley and there may be another champion coming through in the form of young Kelvin McDonald.

The teenage talent makes his professional debut in Belfast on Saturday November 24th and there are high hopes for McDonald ahead of his pro bow at the Shorts Sports and Recreation Club on the Holywood Road. ‘Boom Boom’ features in a four-round contest on the ‘Back In Belfast’ bill which is headlined by former British and Commonwealth title challenger Luke Wilton and the youngster fulfils a dream in the process.

While he was an amateur boxer for over a decade, McDonald admits that it was never his scene. The Olympics were never a goal for the Larne lad and a pro move always seemed inevitable. After narrowly missing out on the Commonwealth Youth Games last year, a hungry McDonald entered the unlicensed circuit but was recently plucked by Boxing Ireland Promotions and will shortly make his debut.

It’s the perfect turn of events for McDonald who admits that “I’ve always wanted to turn pro ever since I was young it was all just a dream and thanks to Boxing Ireland Promotions for making it come true. I’ve never had the motivation for the amateurs, I never had a goal set like Olympics or nothing, it never really motivated me but turning pro did. I’ve been boxing since I was eight years old, I’ve had over 100 fights in the vest, and won championships right through schoolboys. I’ve beaten some high quality opponents and made the final of the Youth Commonwealth Games qualifiers where I was by a quality boxer in Dominic Bradley who ended up captain of the team.”

As he has said, the amateurs did not suit McDonald, with the restrictive format constraining the born entertainer. On the unlicensed circuit the charismatic Ulsterman has enjoyed a lot of success and turned many heads, something he hopes to bring into the pros. The 19-year-old notes how “my fighting style, let’s just say it’s exciting, you won’t ever see me in a boring fight. I like to give fans their money’s worth, I’m either on the back foot counter punching, nice and stylish, or I’m coming to take your head off and in brawl I can do both.”

“For the pros I don’t think I’m gonna have to change to much from how I am now, everyone has always said my style suits the pros more with the amateurs I was only ever getting started in the third round and waking up. My biggest thing I would need to work on is getting fitter and once I have that box ticked there won’t be nothing that will stop me.”

Most new pros, especially those as young as McDonald, will look to bide their time and build quietly under the radar but, again, ‘Boom Boom’ does things a little differently. The confident kid seems to know the value of standing out has already caused a stir within Irish boxing, calling out some of his fellow new pros.

The excitable McDonald outlined how “I want a domestic fight. Jamie Douglas is out there for me I fought him in the semi pros and he thinks he beat me and many think different so I want the rematch. Ruadhan Farrell is another fight I want in the future and one me and Boxing Ireland Promotions are happy I’ll win and one we know that we can make.”

“My short term goal would be get a few fights under my belt with journeymen and then start to look at the domestic fights out there for myself. Many fighters have dreams of boxing in America but I’ve two venues I would love to box at and they would have to be the Odyssey Arena and the York Hall. The long term goal I have – definitely win an Irish or Celtic title, that would be like a world title to me and mean so much.”

The man tasked with keeping a leash on McDonald and guiding him through the murky pro scene is Boxing Ireland Promotions boss Leonard Gunning and the fight manager said that “I’m really excited to see the debut of Larne’s Kelvin McDonald. Kelvin has been really impressive on the unlicensed circuit and is really hungry to cut his teeth with the big boys in the pro game. Let’s get through the debut and we’ll see where things go, he’s a top kid!”

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A six-fight card will play out in Belfast next month as the sport’s grassroots continue to thrive away from the bright lights and television screens. Boxing Ireland Promotions and Alio Wilton have teamed up with Scottish outfit Prospect Boxing to put on a card – ‘Back in Belfast’ – at the Shorts Sports and Recreation Club on the Holywood Road on Saturday, November 17.

Wilton is Belfast boxing through-and-through and a fixture at shows the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland every weekend. The trainer-manager-promoter ran two shows at the atmospheric Shorts Club in East Belfast along with Paul Graham’s Prospect Boxing back in 2016 and 2017 and now returns with a bang.

‘Team Alio’ have linked up with Boxing Ireland Promotions, the group behind the popular ‘Celtic Clash’ series in Dublin, for next month’s offering. The past eighteen months have seen an unprecedented six such shows down south but the outfit has its roots in Belfast.

Way back in 2013 the inaugural ‘Celtic Clash’ card took place in the city, with Sligo slugger Stephen Reynolds knocking out Warrenpoint’s Declan Trainor to win the Celtic title in what is, to this day, remembered as one of the great modern Irish fights.

The card next month will be headlined by Belfast flyweight Luke Wilton [17(7)-5-1] in a six-round contest versus tough Bulgarian, Georgi Georgiev, who is coming off a run of three straight wins including a first round knockout victory over unbeaten Irish prospect, Prince Brady. The son of promoter Alio, 30-year-old Wilton is a former British and Commonwealth title challenger. While he has not fought in over a year and a half, ‘Winky’ remains one of the top ‘little men’ in the UK and will be looking to use ‘Back in Belfast’ as a springboard to domestic title fights.

The packed undercard features five further fights – including two debuts. Young Larne super featherweight Kelvin McDonald has been making waves on the Ulster unlicensed scene and will make the step up on the bill. McDonald will be joined making his bow by Belfast super fly Cathy McAleer.

A star of the kickboxing and Karate world, McAleer has won numerous titles in this realm, including 2005 WKC Katate World Championships gold in Serbia in 2005, but will now try her glove at boxing. Teaming up with legendary Belfast boxing coach John Breen, McAleer is primed to make an instant impact in the sport. Her fight will be the first woman’s bout to take place in Belfast since double world title challenger Christina McMahon defeated Lana Cooper on the first Celtic Clash card just over five years ago.

Also appearing will be Belfast welterweight Tony Nellins [3(0)-0-1] who was last seen in March of last year scrapping to a four-round draw with England’s Ross Jameson in one of the most incredible fights to take place in Ireland in 2017. An instant rematch was sought for ‘The Baddest Man in Belfast’ but Jameson would unfortunately break his jaw in a subsequent fight and has yet to return to the ring.

Antrim Town cruiserweight Conor Cooke [1(1)-0] is also down to appear. Like McAleer, he made an impact in a different combat sport, winning multiple titles in kickboxing and mixed martial arts, but his return to his childhood sport of boxing during the summer got people talking. A savage knockout win in Dublin silenced many of his doubters and ‘Da Crook’ is keen for big fights soon.

One of these big fights may be against Scottish scrapper David Jamieson [1(1)-0] who also will appear on November 17. The Glasgow puncher debuted last month with a second round stoppage and will be looking to impress and bring on board Belfast fans next month.

Boxing Ireland Promotions boss Leonard Gunning said that “it’s been in the pipeline for a while, but I’m finally delighted to be ‘Back in Belfast’ on November 17 with Team Alio and Paul Graham of Prospect Boxing from Scotland at the Shorts Sports and Social Club.”

“We’ve run a number of shows in Dublin over the past 18 months so it’s great to be branching out into Belfast where the ‘Celtic Clash’ series began in 2013. Belfast is a huge boxing city and the home of pro boxing in Ireland, so we’ve wanted to go back there for a while, especially since Dennis Morrison returned from Australia.”

“I’ve always had a good relationship with Alan Wilton and we are in contact all the time so when he asked if we were interested in doing a co-promotion I jumped at the chance because he’s a guy I trust and respect. So I’m really excited to see what we can deliver and I’m sure November 17th is a going to be another great night.”

“You can’t pull the wool over Belfast fans’ eyes so all the lads, and lady, will have really competitive opponents next month. That’s what the boxers need and that’s what the fans in Belfast demand so it’s up to us to deliver that. If it’s half as good as the last show we had in Belfast then they are in for a treat.”

Tickets for the night are £30 (unreserved) and £40 (ringside) and are available from all the boxers involved:

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