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first_img Jun 26th 2018, 4:24 PM 14 Comments Tuesday 26 Jun 2018, 5:05 PM Byrne had called for a culture shift at his first promotional press conference on 28 April.Surrounded by a blend of prospects, stalwarts and ‘opponent’-level Irish pugilists, he acknowledged that nobody present at the top table was likely to ever strap a world title belt around their waist.His job, he said, was to find one who ‘could have a chance to be the next Bernard Dunne’, but he pointedly explained to everyone present that even a cult stardom was unlikely if Ireland’s finest fist merchants didn’t start laying down the law in their respective domestic divisions.Byrne maintained that, at the very worst, Irish boxers would pocket more money if they turned on each other, as they wouldn’t be paying upwards of €1500 to import a journeyman from eastern Europe and to put him up for the usual two-day stay.And there were some, like Dublin rivals Victor Rabei and Karl Kelly, who took heed of his sermons, licking their lips at the prospect of busting the other’s.Some other fighters, though – or at the very least their trainers and/or managers – weren’t as gung-ho when the time came to sign on dotted lines.“Like, I’m not expecting everyone to fucking fight their next-door neighbour”, Byrne says, “but there was some great matches that I was making, there, and certain lads just don’t want to know about it.“With some, I even tried to bring in English journeymen so it wasn’t the usual crap with Eastern Europeans coming over. ‘Nah’ – they wouldn’t take an English journeyman. Too risky.“Some of them just want to knock out binmen, and that kind of mindset is ruining boxing in this country as well as all that other crap.I’m really disappointed in some of these people. Some of these Irish boxers are a fucking sham. They really are. So many don’t even want to fight: they just want to sell a hundred tickets and make a thousand euros. They just want to be called ‘professional boxers’ and get to 6-0, 7-0, fighting paper bags.“I’ll say more about that after the show in July – I really will. But if you’re wondering why Irish boxing is in the gutter, and why it’s so far behind the UK, it’s not all to do with crime and stupid nonsense outside of the sport. Some of the people directly involved in the sport are partly to blame. Source: Oliver McVeighByrne’s ire extends beyond even those fighters and trainers unwilling to take any semblance of a risk in the ring beyond stepping into it, however.Unsurprisingly, he had been politely warned off promoting boxing in the Republic by the handful of friends and friendly competitors who remain involved in that capacity south of the border. His wife would probably tell you it’s equally unsurprising that he decided to enter boxing promotion in Ireland regardless. But that’s not to suggest those warnings fell on deaf ears.The financial realities were never lost on the BUI Celtic champion: he was simply willing to have a crack off it in any case. But having seen a small fortune seep from his personal bank account solely in order to get his inaugural card off the ground, he ponders aloud how Ireland can expect to maintain any sort of professional boxing scene.“The costs of running a professional show in [the Republic of] Ireland are extortionate,” he says, “and it’s a wonder why anyone would even bother trying to put on a show down here.The BUI (Boxing Union of Ireland) are charging me over seven grand, which is colossal. That’s on top of a 10-grand bond that you need to put up to them as well. Now, you get the bond back after the show, but you still need to pay it to begin with. So that’s 17 grand straight off the bat, right? On top of that, it’s another four grand to rent the [National] Stadium. You’re more than 20 grand out of pocket before you so much as print a ticket, buy the gloves, buy bottles of water, hire a DJ, do any sort of production.“It’s colossal, like. It’s absolutely colossal. What are you supposed to do? There’s just nowhere to go with that.” Byrne in Irish title action against Craig O’Brien in the National Stadium Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHOThe BUI’s total fee – somewhere close to €7,250 – ensures the provision of the various ringside components required for a professional boxing event to be sanctioned. A timekeeper to ring the bell, for example, will set you back €350. A ringside doctor costs €500, but you need two of them. And so on.“That’s what you’re up against,” Byrne exclaims. “It’s unbelievable. It’s absolutely unbelievable.“The charges are going to drive promoters away. Well, who are we fooling? They already have driven promoters away. Red Corner are already gone, and they won’t be the last to go.“Just to put it into some sort of context: I can bring my fighters to Latvia, right? I can fly to Latvia on a Friday, put two of my lads in the ring on a Saturday night, fly home on the Sunday; for flights, accommodation and two tune-up wins for my fighters, it’ll cost me €800.“To fight in Dublin, half of that – one tune-up win for one fighter – would cost €2,500.“So for a third of the price of one fight in Dublin, you can go and get two wins for your lads elsewhere. You could run one show a year, two shows a year abroad: bring your fighters away to Latvia, to Hungary, to Mexico and before you know it they have seven or eight wins. It’s not my way of doing it, but I’m just saying it’s a hell of a lot cheaper.“It saves you the stress and the difficulty of banging out a show in Dublin, where the only ones making money seem to be the BUI.Now, in all fairness, I knew there was no money in boxing promotion; we all knew that. I didn’t go into it to make money: I have a good job, I have my own gym, and I make a few bob off me own fights – so this was never about money. All I wanted was to make some excitement: good fight nights, 50-50 fights. A stepping-stone for Irish boxing. By Gavan Casey Short URL ‘Heart’, by Sideline FilmsBOXING IN IRELAND is dead and you can’t put a show on in Dublin anymore because of boxing’s links to crime, or so goes the line peddled in various pubs, publications, and radio slots in the weeks since the fatal shooting at Bray BC.It’s an understandable perception given that egregious incident earlier this month was hardly an outlier, rather the latest in a string of atrocities to trespass upon the sport since February 2016. But it is false, at least for the moment.For one thing, there are more professional boxers in Ireland now than ever before: more than 50 of them entered the punch-for-pay ranks over the two years which followed the Regency Hotel shooting and its subsequent fallout.For another, there are two professional boxing cards taking place in Dublin next month alone – one at the National Stadium on 7 July, the other at Good Counsel GAA Club, Drimnagh, a week later.If you don’t know that, you don’t know boxing in this country.And that’s not intended as a dig, either: you’d scarcely be in the minority if you never found yourself invested in Irish sport’s bastard child even prior to its becoming infected by a putrid criminality, and pro boxing is sure as hell even more unlikely to be your cupán tae now.It’s undeniable that the sport is in rag order south of the border, and nobody could be blamed for steering well clear of it.All of which begs the question as to why Dublin boxer Jay Byrne – he of sound-ish body and mind – would choose the present moment to become a boxing promoter in this neck of the woods.But between the Stadium’s nigh-on nonagenarian walls on 7 July, Byrne – who runs his own gym in Bray – will first ‘have a knock’ in the ring and later take his ringside seat to watch the rest of a show he labelled The Beginning when he set out his stall back in April.And despite the fact that circumstances could now scarcely be less conducive to hosting a pro boxing card in the capital, Byrne has plenty of cause for backing himself to succeed in the new gig.He’s gotten this far, after all: within four years of lacing up the gloves proper, the Loughlinstown native traded the football pitches dotted across Dublin for some of the UK’s most storied boxing venues, fighting live on Sky Sports in front of the odd thousand in attendance as well as the hundreds of thousands tuned in from home.Over the course of his first eight fights he traded leather with three of the most highly-touted young fighters in Britain – including 2016 Olympian Josh Kelly who headlined on Sky Sports 10 days ago – and in his ninth relieved one of Ireland’s most prodigious pugilistic talents, Gerard Whitehouse, of the ’0′ in his loss column to win the BUI Celtic title.All five of his defeats have arrived at the hands of undefeated fighters, and all five of his conquerors remain blemishless a combined 15 fights later. He’s been halted just the once – by Liverpudlian Anthony Fowler (now 6-0, 5KOs).Byrne, though, has rarely had his will tested to the extent that it has been since he donned the promoter’s cap. Jay Byrne walks through some punishment against former British Olympian Josh Kelly live on Sky Sports Source: Press Association“Putting on a professional boxing show in Ireland now, there’s a lot of jokes thrown at you, you know?” says Byrne, who doesn’t hesitate to retell a couple.“People will say to me: ‘Jesus, Jay, is it safe to go to this?’“‘I hope we’re not gonna get fuckin’ shot, Jay, wha?’“I am getting a lot of that, like,” Byrne explains, but he does so with a rueful chuckle, and it’s clear that such messing from those showing an interest is scarcely taking its toll.Tolls are collected elsewhere, mind. And in spades.“I rang to get insurance for the show last night, right?” Byrne continues. “And the cheapest quote I got – for one night – was €3,600. Three-thousand-six-hundred-fucking-euro.But most insurance companies won’t even give you a quote because it’s a boxing show. There’s a company that insures my gym in Bray, and I did four semi-pro shows in a 12-month calendar with them for €1,100 not long ago. They told me yesterday: ‘Sorry, Jay. We can’t even quote it.’ Because… professional boxing. Because of the stuff that’s going on.“Those four shows – that was the full ‘boxing show’ insurance, like: three million public liability, the full and proper job.“Now, you have to have six-and-a-half million public liability. The insurance companies can absolutely fleece you because, as they see it, a member of the public could literally get shot at your event. They don’t care who you are – they just think that’s the story with boxing, now.“I do believe things like that – the crime, the gangland crap – are ruining boxing in Ireland, yeah. That’s a big thing.“But I’ll be honest with you,” adds Byrne. “It’s not only that.” Jay Byrne Source: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO“I’m going to be honest and straight with you here, right”, he says, “and I’ll leave my hand out to be slapped by other promoters, boxers and coaches, but I think Irish boxing is ruining Irish boxing.“Irish boxing has itself to blame, too, for the state it’s in.”He allows his statement to breathe until the silence is eventually punctuated by this writer’s quite genuine ‘Hmm?’“It might sound like a stupid comment”, Byrne muses, “but bear with me, because you wouldn’t believe the crap I’ve had to deal with while putting on this show on 7 July.“We’ll start with the matchmaking, right?”Right.There are so many fighters out there who just want to be thrown into the ring against brown paper bags. It’s embarrassing. It’s actually embarrassing. I’m offering guys – and their coaches and managers – opponents with, say, two wins and five losses, and they’re saying: ‘Ah, we’d like an easier one.’ I’m looking at it going… ‘What the fuck are they on about? You don’t get easier than that!’“There was one opponent – four wins, 14 losses – and I offered him to a fighter’s coach. His coach said to me: ‘Ah, we’re looking for something a bit easier than that; our lad has had a few tough ones?‘ – Byrne’s own exasperation spills into the end of his character portrayal.“I’m actually scratching my head,” he says. “The bloke has won four out of eighteen fucking fights – all four in his home country. You want easier than that? He’s fucking shite!’“Don’t get me wrong, there’ll be some great fights on this card: Karl Kelly versus Victor Rabei – two cracking young lads who’ll put it all on the line and tear lumps out of each other. We’ve obviously got the headliner – an Irish title fight between Paddy McDonagh and David Bailey.But the embarrassment I’ve come across on the matchmaking side of things, generally speaking, is an absolute joke.”A little promo done for my first promotion July 7th… @promotions_jb— Jay Byrne 🥊 (@JayByrneKO) June 21, 2018 Tweet thisShare on FacebookEmail this article Share144 Tweet Email1 27,908 Views “But you have to look at it logically, like,” Byrne adds. “£5,000 covers the entire running of a show in Belfast. You’d be better off running a show up there. Sell 10 dinner tables at ringside like Mark Dunlop does with his shows up there. 500 quid a table, job done: that covers the whole cost of the show.“In Dublin, you can’t get a hotel or a similar venue – and that’s not the BUI’s fault, to be fair. It’s because of the shootings. So it nearly has to be the Stadium. You really are snookered.“Renting the National Stadium alone costs almost as much as an entire show in Belfast.“Now, with all of that being said, I’m very confident that I’ll run a great show from the weigh-in all the way through to fight night on 7 July.“And if the fighters sell the tickets they’re supposed to sell, I do believe we’ll have about 1500 people in the Stadium. I don’t think we’ll be far off that.”Whatever the eventual tally, those in attendance in a fortnight’s time will notice some changes to the usual Stadium setup: Byrne has already communicated to the BUI – and “won’t take ‘no’ for an answer” – that he wants fans to be able to bring alcoholic beverages to ringside whereas traditionally they would be consumed in either the bar outside or its surrounding area.He has pulled out all the stops on the production side of things, hiring Newry company Sideline Films to shoot promo videos for each fighter. The videos will play to the whole arena prior to each fighter’s ringwalk.‘The Negotiator’ will have his own gee-up clip, of course: in two weeks’ time, he’ll become the first Irish boxer to ever fight on a show they’re also promoting.Having lost his BUI Celtic title fight with undefeated Scot Paul Kean on points at Glasgow’s Crowne Plaza last month, Byrne will return to the same venue to challenge Marc Kerr for the British Boxing Board of Control’s version of the Celtic gong in September.On his return from a fifth pro defeat – his fourth reversal to go the distance – he told himself: ‘Get up, get back in and go again.’But rather than pay somewhere in the region of €3,000 in show costs to sharpen his tools ahead of his Glasgow return, he figured he’d take a tune-up on his own bill.In doing so he’ll save himself a decent wad of dosh, but one could be forgiven for presuming the decision will cost him a fair amount of scarcely-needed hassle on an already strenuous night.“It’ll be grand,” says a confident-sounding Byrne. “I’m not going to say it’s on the same level, but I’ve ran amateur shows – and not just little club amateur shows, but shows where I’ve had six or seven-hundred people at them – and I’ve been the main event!“I’ve boxed Declan Geraghty twice as a main event; I’ve boxed Martin Wall as a main event; I’ve boxed Wayne Kelly – who’s been away with the Irish team there lately – as the main event.And that’s while looking after kids – making sure they know how and when to walk out, making sure they’re on time, making sure they’re not stopping to talk to their mammies and daddies. I’ve done that and then gotten in and had fights with lads like Deco [Geraghty] who were miles and miles ahead of me in terms of boxing ability, purely so I’d have a main event for my own show.“In July, I’m not going to fight as the main event or even close to it: I’ll be on early – probably even as early as half-six. I’ll fight, get showered and get back out.“I hope to be able to just sit back and watch from the front row – watch and learn where I’ve made mistakes so I don’t make them again for the next one.”Byrne’s fight career in itself is no mistake, but it did happen almost by accident.He boxed for four or five months when he was 18 but it was some eight more years before he “fell into” the fight game, and all because someone else took a cruel hopper off their bike.The Loughlinstown native was playing football with Greystones in the Leinster Senior League in 2013 when a man associated with the club suffered a motorcycle accident in Thailand, destroying his body so thoroughly that he required surgery even on his eyes.As the local community rushed to his financial aid, Byrne gathered a number of young footballers whom he had previously coached, hosting a white-collar boxing event “just to help raise a few bob” for the injured party.So enjoyable did these restive teenagers find two months’ of boxing training under Byrne, however, they demanded that it continue.Thus, St Margaret’s Boxing Club was born. Cian Cowley, now a mixed martial artist at SBG Ireland, fights on a St. Margaret’s BC event at the Sallynoggin Inn in 2013“It was just to help the lads out”, Byrne explains of his decision to form his first gym, “because they were all after getting into the routine, and some of them I was after kind of taking off the road, if you know what I mean: they were young adults but they hadn’t really been doing anything in a couple of years.“It was June 2013, then, and I brought the lads over to Crumlin [Boxing Club] for a couple of scraps. One of the Crumlin coaches, Sean Carton, was supposed to box but he was left without an opponent for whatever reason. And Phil [Sutcliffe Sr] said to me: ‘Would you not hop in and box him yourself?’“I was just thinking: ‘Jesus, nah – not for me, bud.’ Now, I’d been in sparring with all the lads and that, but I wasn’t into fighting. They persuaded me, anyway, and I ended up boxing Sean Carton, the Crumlin coach. And I boxed really well.”Having caught the bug, Byrne wound up winning the Dublin Novices, the Leinster Year 3 Novices, and reaching the final of the All-Ireland Novices in which he suffered defeat. ‘That’s enough for me as a fighter, really’, he thought: he was still “mad into the football”, as he puts it, and while he enjoyed the odd scrap it was his coaching of other boxers which was really progressing at a rate of knots.He trained his sister to Irish Intermediate and U22 titles, his brother to an All-Ireland Novices final; he trained Karl Kelly – who fights Victor Rabei under Byrne’s promotional banner at the National Stadium on 7 July – to the finals of both the Irish 22s and Intermediates.He also coaxed a future World silver medalist back from the brink of retirement.“She hasn’t done too badly since,” Byrne laughs, recalling how Kellie Harrington – who won her third major international medal a fortnight ago – came down for a singular session in his gym, telling Byrne afterwards that she no longer had the heart for competitive boxing.They trained all the way through Christmas and into February, when Harrington won the Irish Seniors and got her career back on track. Kellie Harrington Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO“I done well as a coach in the boxing. It’s just I got hooked on the fighting myself, and I couldn’t really tear myself away from it. I finally kind of just said: ‘Right, let’s have a go off it!’”It was a chance phonecall from England which would inadvertently steer Byrne away from the unpaid ranks.“The fella rang and asked me would I be interested in bringing a team over to fight in England, so I said it to the lads, and sure they were buzzing! Your man was going to pay for flights, accommodation and all that – we were all over the moon.But when we got over there they were all grown men, whereas our lads were only 18, 19. Your man had mentioned a few title fights and things like that, and sure I was thinking, ‘Happy days – the lads will love that.’ We rocked up with all our amateur gear – headguards, the lot. Low and behold, it was a semi-pro, unlicenced fight night.“We were like: ‘Fuck.’“But I said: ‘Fuck it, like. We’re here now, sure. C’mere!’“And to be honest, the lads I coached were the same as meself: ‘Fuck it! Let’s have a go!’ I did say to the guy, as well, that our lads would be wearing head gear, and we did.”After his efforts that night, Byrne would return to fight on England’s semi-pro circuit seven or eight times over the couple of years which followed.There was also a trip to Malta, during which he boxed in the prestigious Montekristo Estate “on a week and a half’s notice against some unbeaten guy”. He was joined on the Mediterranean archipelago by his brother and his brother-in-law having been asked to provide two undercard fighters. The three of them enjoyed “a cracking weekend” with all expenses paid for, and each of them took home a few bob after their four-day stay.Noted Dublin boxing brain Tommy McCormack (cutman to Conor McGregor for his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather last summer; Byrne also sparred McGregor in the lead-up) still had his work cut out for him in convincing Byrne to turn fully professional in 2016 – this following an impressive knockout win in the unlicensed realm.But sure enough, just three years after he stumbled into a pair of gloves and opened his first gym, the proper football man took out a proper boxing licence and became ‘The Negotiator’. Byrne has developed a fruitful relationship with Matchroom Boxing chief Eddie HearnThe immediacy with which he wound up fighting on Sky Sports rankled with some of a purer boxing pedigree; Byrne fought Felix Cash on a Sky-televised card after just nine months as a professional, and over the course of his three fights on the channel encountered no shortage of begrudgery from peers who felt he’d hardly paid his dues by comparison to their own efforts.But then, that was hardly his problem, either:People say to me: ‘Why did you take the big fights in England’ because I was relatively inexperienced, but I’d say to them: ‘Well, why wouldn’t I? I’m boxing for four years and I’m getting a chance to get in the ring with these Olympians – and live on Sky Sports where I sat and watched boxing for years with the missus on a Saturday night.’“To be honest with you, and I know it’s stupid, but I would have taken those fights for no money! I’d have done it just for the actual experience of getting in and fighting live on Sky Sports,” Byrne continues.“To sum up my boxing career, you could nearly look at me football: I was a high-level footballer, right? Well, at Leinster Senior League level. I went to Bray [Wanderers] but I never really made it into the first team and that. I was in UCD’s reserves as well. But I was a really strong player in the Leinster Senior League, and I was extremely dedicated.“Like, I’ve gone onto the pitch, had me head bust open – got fuckin’ six stitches on a gash in me head – and then come back on and played. I was one like a Roy Keane on the pitch – I was die-hard. I’d jump into a boot to clear a ball off the line, and everyone said it about me. ‘Jesus, Jay, you’ve work tomorrow.’I had murder with my missus, once. I played a match on the Friday night when I was getting married on the Saturday morning. That’s no word of a lie. My missus was saying: ‘Please, please, please don’t play, or if you do play, please don’t get hurt.’ And I’m not going to lie to you, I was flying in and out of tackles like a fucking headcase.“That’s just me, but the reason I mention the football, there, is that I’m the same with boxing now: the Kazakh Olympic gold medalist that Eddie Hearn has just signed [Daniyar Yeleussinov] – I threw my name in the hat to fight him on his debut in Brooklyn back in April.I would have had to fly to New York on the Thursday, and my daughter’s Confirmation was on the Friday. I had told my daughter that I was missing her confirmation to take that fight – and that was before I’d even mentioned money to them or vice versa. I was taking that fight regardless of the purse.“He’s an Olympic gold medalist: that would have been better than Josh Kelly, better than Anthony Fowler, better than Felix Cash – a higher level.“And in America, too. This youngfella from Loughlinstown – who only started boxing four years ago – fighting on a world-title undercard in Brooklyn against an Olympic gold medalist. That’s stuff dreams are made of.Now, people will say: ‘Ah, that’s fucking stupid.’ But to me, it’s all about doing things at the highest level you possibly can – be it football, boxing or whatever. Like, if you’re playing for Enniskerry and someone gives you the option to play against Man United or Greystones next week, who are you going to pick?“And the reason why people would say ‘that’s fucking stupid’ is because they’d be afraid to do it themselves. They’d be afraid to get hurt.“I’m not afraid to get hurt. I’m not afraid to get knocked out, and that’s not me being a hard man. It’s just the way I’m wired. Like, I was sparring [Irish heavyweight] Sean Turner over Christmas and my coach had to roar at us: ‘Lads, will yiz fuckin’ calm down?’ We were going to war and the guy is about twice my weight!“But obviously, you need to be clever as well. It’s not like I’m trying to walk into lads’ fists, or anything.“It’s just that if you’re not ever going to be a world champion, you should make the most of whatever talent you have. This is a tough fucking sport, so if you’re doing it, you might as well make yourself a few bob – get yourself a holiday away with the missus.“Give the fans some entertainment in a real fight. You’re not going to go undefeated, so fight other lads from Ireland, from England. Try make a bit of a name for yourself. Otherwise, what’s the point?” Jay Byrne (L) vs Anthony Fowler, live on Sky Sports Source: Nathan StirkByrne’s assessment of his own ring career sheds further light on his earlier frustration with regards to matchmaking: he’ll rarely shy away from a gamble, and wonders why others are so reticent to put their undefeated records or win streaks on the line when, as he personally sees it, they’re not worth a tuppenny you-know-what.Within the context of the current pro boxing climate in this country, though, one can’t help but feel only the fighters of a similar bloodymindedness will see their careers extended beyond a handful of fights.It’s a small pond as is, but there are already too many fish.“It was definitely something I was looking to push when I started up in promotion,” Byrne says. “Even if an Irish fighter was to fight another Irish fighter and lose on his debut, and he faced the inevitable questions, you know: ‘Most people tend to win their first fight – what went wrong today?’ At least he could say: ‘Well, it was a decent scrap and I have two-and-a-half grand in me back pocket, so not much, really.’“Look at my career, for fuck’s sake. Look at the record I had when I fought Whitehouse after losing a few fights on Sky.“And I know people were thinking: ‘Ah, he’s only after being brought in for Gerard to beat him!’ But look what happened!”As our interview ends, Byrne’s phone buzzes and he lets out a chuckle as he reads it.Fittingly, it’s from Sky Sports’ chief matchmaker, and it reads: ‘Hi Jay, hope you’re well. I have two guys who need a match for Saturday. Please help pal.’Tickets for The Beginning at the National Stadium on 7 July and the boxers involved. Tickets prices are €35 (gallery), €50 (ringside) and €80 (VIP). ‘People say: ‘Jesus, is it safe?’ Insurance companies won’t even give you a quote because it’s a boxing show’ Ahead of his promotional debut on 7 July, Jay Byrne says crime isn’t the only thing holding back pro boxing in Ireland.last_img read more