Decked out in emerald green, Cheyanne O’Neill (0-0-1, 0KOs) sits still enough to talk. Just. The Athlone debutant is smiling from ear-to-ear, proud of herself. She didn’t win – but she’s here, and she’ll come again.
After some years of inactivity, O’Neill finally heard Sinead O’Connor & The Chieftains ‘Foggy Dew’ and she finally made that walk. In Glasgow’s Crowne Plaza, and with Boxing Social watching on from ringside, the act of fighting as a professional clearly meant more than the result on the night. She’d decided to make her debut over six rounds, to test herself from the very beginning, and despite sharing the spoils with the rangy, tricky Vaida Masiokaite (referee scored the bout 57-57), O’Neill sat excitedly post-fight, like a winner.
“Everybody has a game plan, don’t they?” she starts, rhetorically, “And it changes. I don’t think it was my best performance but you’ve gotta take in all the factors. I’m not gonna sit here and make excuses, you know, it’s nerves, it’s everything. But it’s six rounds under my belt. If I’m just out there with a girl who’s got no experience, what would I get out of it? A stoppage? So what? Brilliant – I’d be going into my second fight with no experience. Six good rounds, but we have stuff to work on.”
“It was Monday [we found out about another change of opponent]. We had a change of weight, I had to drop down a weight, we did everything we needed to do to make the fight happen; it needed to happen. If it didn’t, it could have been summer before we’d have been out. I didn’t feel like her height was much, I don’t really know what I felt about it, to be honest. She’s not awkward, she’s just tall, she’s experienced, she knows when to go long and when to hold her own. I haven’t got that experience yet.”
Fighting on Kynoch Boxing’s card on April Fool’s Day in Glasgow signalled the beginning of a professional journey, in which O’Neill – aged 25 – will be guided by manager Robbie Flynn and Sam Kynoch. The show on Friday was one of the promotional outfits lower key affairs, providing an opportunity for fighters to perform and add to their experience, but despite this, Irish fans could be heard whooping and hollering from behind our seats by the ring. The support is there, and as the fights begin to follow, it will surely only grow. But that experience of strutting down the entrance ramp for the very first time seemed to have its desired effect.
“It was just unbelievable. I was standing, waiting to come out for my ring walk, and I had shivers. You only get one debut and by far, my fans and the atmosphere, even the atmosphere from everybody else [in the crowd], it was brilliant. We had another Irish guy on the card tonight as well, so there was a lot of Irish people here. It was unbelievable. I would have liked to have given them a little bit of a better performance, but it happens, you need to move on from it, you know. I think it was a bit of the weight, the nerves, then it all starts to come on and it drains you, doesn’t it? A lot of people make their debuts in four-rounders, we went for six straight away to get that under our belts, to get a taste for it. This is what it’s all about.”
Flynn, an enthusiastic, passionate manager also near the beginning of his own journey, tells Boxing Social he believes O’Neill can be special. And she certainly started the fight in impressive fashion. With aggression and when fighting constantly on the front-foot, she took the opening two rounds impressively, before slowing slightly in the middle of the contest. Summoning her experience, O’Neill finished strongly, but those middle rounds cost her an initial victory. What was refreshing, however, was her response to the verdict. Too often, fighters storm around, full of bravado and detached from reality, but not the Irish fighter. She sat – smiling as described – determined to soak up boxing’s lessons from the evening. It could be her strongest attribute.
“I had my first fight back in 2010,” O’Neill explains, when asked about the future. “I’ve been in with the best girls in the world, I’ve beat them, and they’ve beat me. That stands me in good stead and it’s genuinely all about learning. At the end of the day, you’ve got to take the good from it. I’ve got a great team and the belief they’ve got in me, we’re gonna push forward. I was overseas in the defence forces, and I came home in December. Robbie was then looking to talk to me through our mutual friend, Joe Ward, and we got talking.
“I signed a contract, came over to train with Will and we probably had 21 days, but they were a good 21 days. There’s no bullshit; everything is straight forward. It isn’t that we get out the ring and everybody says, ‘Ah, that was fucking brilliant.’ No, we know what we did wrong, we know what we did right. I believe in me, and I believe in them.
“I’m only 25-years old, I have my whole career ahead of me. I’m wanting to be a fighter that’s gonna fight everybody. I will be up there with the best; I am gonna be the best. That’s why we’re taking fights like this. We’re not here to lose fights, but we’re not here to mess about either. We’re gonna get that experience over the years and we’re gonna pick up world titles, fight who we have to. When that happens, in 20 years, you can come back and talk to me then…”
Bouncing back and pushing on are surely at the top of Cheyanne O’Neill’s wish list for the remainder of this year. You wouldn’t want to bet against the Irish-native. She stayed in Glasgow for the rest of the weekend, sampling some Scottish culture, enjoying time with her friends, fans, and her fiancé, whom she paid tribute to on her social media. O’Neill has got the ‘likeable, happy, positive-thinking character’ down to a tee – now, it’s time to showcase the unforgiving, determined boxer.