WE live in an age where trainers at the top-level get their long-asked for dues. They are feted, interviewed, and, in some instances, announced by the MC during the increasingly lengthy pre-fight introductions. However, many pro and amateur coaches spend a lifetime toiling away in the shadows, existing in that small space between fame and local acclaim. Often working for little or no money, driven only by their love of the game and desire to help out.
Belfast’s Paul McCullagh Snr of the Immaculata Boxing Club was one such character. Sure, he dipped his toes in the professional arena yet he spent most of his life in the city’s amateur scene. McCullagh sadly passed away on Sunday night aged 72, leaving behind a lifetime of memories at the Corinthian end of the sport. The place where we live before reality elbows aside our ideals of how boxing could and should work.
According to the Irish News, McCullagh had embarked on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje — a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared in 1981 — with his brother, Francie, and will be brought back to Belfast for his burial. A fixture in Barry Eastwood’s Chapel Lane gym in the 1980s, McCullagh also watched on proudly when his son, Paul Jnr, became a professional referee.
Local fight figure Gerard McCafferty paid tribute to the former trainer. “Paul was well got in the boxing game,” he said. “I’ve worked with some great trainers through the years but he was the best I ever worked with.”
He added: “The thing about Paul McCullagh was, where he knew the boxing game inside out, he also knew what was going on inside your head. He knew how to get you up for anything. He was like a sports psychologist, a boxing trainer, nutritionist, best friend, father figure — he was all those things rolled into one. He had his ups and his downs through the years, but Paul was a man who just loved boxing, and everybody in the game had a lot of respect for him.”
McCullagh lost his wife, Frances, in 2014; McCafferty believes the trip to Medjugorje had been made with her in mind, saying: “I have no doubt he was going to Medjugorje to get comfort from God about the loss of his wife, and now he’s back with her.”
Salford’s Luke Evans (8-0, 0) makes his second comeback fight next month as he bids to put a knife attack that almost ended his boxing career firmly in the rear-view mirror. The 22-year-old suffered horrific facial injuries after being assaulted in August of last year, but he returned to action with a four-threes win over in Paul Ducie in June. Now Evans intends to build on that when he boxes the ever-ready TBA on a Steve Wood-promoted show at Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse on November 17.
Although his face is on the mend, the mental scars still remain yet Evans wants to be known for his in-ring exploits rather than the events that almost brought a premature end to his career. “The boxing ring has never been a scary place, for me,” he said when talking about his next fight.
“I don’t think boxing is scary, but life is — it’s definitely scarier. You get punched in the face for a living but it’s not the same as getting a knife in the face so, in that sense, I don’t think anything hits harder than what I’ve been through.
“What I experienced that night in August 2017, I don’t think you can get any scarier than that. But I’ve come out the other side, I’ve got my career back, and hopefully [manager] Steve Wood can push me onto bigger and better things in the near future.
“It’s important for me to be known for my boxing now. The attack did bring a lot of media attention which is a good thing, but it’s also for the wrong reasons. If I’d had my way, the coverage would have been about my boxing rather than the attack. Obviously, in boxing you need attention and difficult things have happened to other fighters like Anthony Crolla, Jamie Moore, and Kell Brook, and I’ve just been trying to follow in their footsteps with how they’ve dealt with it.”
The Salfordian will face his attackers in court towards the end of the year, so he hopes to watch justice get served and then move on to a regional title in 2019. “The aim this year is to finish at 9-0,” he added.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on outside of boxing which will be a major distraction soon, like the court case. So that will take up the rest of this year. I’m then hoping to get down to light welter and hopefully pick up my first title; the Central Area belt. I never want to call anyone out but if a fight is made I’ll take it. There will be a lot of local boxers thinking the same, but I believe that title is there for me next year, and I don’t care who I fight for it because I believe I’m the best of the crop.”
Terry Flanagan (33-1, 13 stoppages) meets fellow southpaw Regis Prograis (22-0, 19 early) for the interim WBC World light-welterweight title as part of WBSS: Season Two in New Orleans this weekend and the Mancunian’s daunting task appears all the more difficult after top-seed Prograis revealed that he deliberately picked Flanagan over Ryan Martin as he wants to test out his full capabilities.
Speaking to Lyle Fitzsimmons of Boxing Scene, the 29-year-old admitted that he wants to scalp the former WBO holder before cleaning up the rest of the division en route to picking up the Muhammad Ali trophy.
“I chose him because he was a tougher fight,” he said. “For me, he was a tougher fight than Ryan Martin. He has a better resume. I want to fight people with a good resume. He’s a former world champion. Ryan Martin is a good fighter, but he’s not a former world champion and he doesn’t have a resume like Terry Flanagan.”
He added: “I want to fight people like that. Right now, I’m ranked No. 1 on most people’s lists and I want to keep that. I want to fight better people. I felt like he was the harder choice. He was the tougher competition.”
Katie Taylor posted win number 11 (with 5 KOs) after decisioning Cindy Serrano at the TD Garden in Boston on Saturday night and can now look forward to the release of her film, Katie, which lifts the lid on her painful split with her father and former trainer, Pete.
The two split just before the 2016 Games in Rio, and it took a long time for the rift to begin to heal. Speaking to the RTE Guide, the 32-year-old IBF and WBA World lightweight titlist admitted that the preliminary interviews for the documentary were a painful experience for her: “I remember the first of those interviews in my apartment in Vernon — I was getting so emotional, I couldn’t even talk,” she said.
“Ross [Whitaker, the documentary director] said to me, ‘Katie, I don’t think this is the right time to talk about this topic’. We actually had to wait a few months before broaching that question again.”
Taylor also speaks in-depth about the isolation she felt after relocating to America at the start of her pro career. “At the start it was definitely a bit lonely for me and the documentary really portrays the sacrifice I made travelling over there,” she revealed. “But you can also see I found my pals and found my way.”
Despite the documentary touching on some low points, Taylor believes that the overall message is a positive one and that you have to take the good with the bad when putting your life in front of the lens. “When you look at social media, people only ever document the high points in their lives,” she declared.
“This is real life and it’s important for people to see that as well. It shows the ups and downs and how you can battle through bad times. If one person can be encouraged or inspired by my journey, I’d be happy with that.”
The film is released in selected cinemas on Friday night.