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Kevin Cronin: No stranger to firefights

Boxing may be a sport associated with fireworks but it has not been without connections to putting out fires over the years. The most obvious example being Terry Marsh, who as well as being a member of White Watch with the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, won the IBF version of the 140lbs title in 1987 before a diagnosis of epilepsy ultimately forced an abrupt end to his career.

Hoboken-born Jim Flynn was working as a railroad fireman in Pueblo, Colorado, when he began his boxing career in the final year of the 19th Century. His day job would continue to define him as he carried the epithet ‘Fireman’ through 140 contests, including most famously a 25-second knockout of a young Jack Dempsey. The ‘Manassa Mauler’ returned the favour in a rematch and, along the way, Flynn had to content himself with two unsuccessful shots at a world title.

Kerry-based firefighter Kevin Cronin, despite only having three professional fights on his ledger, is quietly determined to emulate Marsh’s world title success, rather than the disappointments of the man from New Jersey. A world title is his definite aim, but at the moment ‘The Kingdom Warrior’ is keen to not get ahead of himself. “I have realistic goals for the next three years of going on to win the European title,” Cronin tells Boxing Social. “Obviously, I believe I could go on to win a world title as well, but my aim right now is to go straight through everyone and get that European title. Once we get that we’ll evaluate everything.”

The 25-year-old, who campaigns at light-heavyweight, has like many endured the frustrations of a long pandemic induced lay-off from action. Following two early wins in the first half of 2019, he was forced to wait 21 months for his third professional victory [TKO4 vs Boris Mrkonjic] in the unfamiliar location of Luxembourg. Due to appear next on a joint Boxing Ireland promotions/KO Boxing show in Spain, this weekend, it is really the opportunity to fight abroad that is keeping his and many other Irish boxers active at present.

“There are zero shows in Ireland since the lockdown because we can’t have any crowd or anything,” says Cronin. “There aren’t really any TV channels in Ireland covering boxing. We don’t have a BT or SKY or anything, so it’s hard to run a show behind closed doors. But I do plan to be boxing back in Ireland in October.”

To date, having fought only once in his home country, you could be forgiven for thinking that this would have a detrimental effect on Cronin’s ability to build up a solid fan base. Something that is routinely a necessity for any prospect looking to navigate the harsh terrain of the pro game. However, Cronin confidently dispels any such notions. “I have got a very good following,” he reveals. 

“That why I am so keen to come home. There’s a lovely venue in Killarney called the INEC. It seats around 3,000 people and I know I can fill that out if I get a good fight in there. There is never an issue with tickets and I have got good sponsors as well. I like to think that people are interested to see how far I can go, and that’s why they follow me.

“But I’ve got great backing down here. I’m very lucky that way,” he adds, in a way that would leave many of his contemporaries green with envy.

Cronin halts Boris Mrkonjic in four in March.

For Cronin, it has been what once would have been described as an unconventional route into boxing, but one that has become more prevalent of late. Taking his first tentative steps into his local boxing gym as a 16-year-old he admits that he only did it to precipitate some weight loss. Back then the 6”2 Irishman was carrying in excess of 240 lbs, but he got fit enough to win a white-collar fight for charity and his dedication has just grown from there. 

Cronin recalls progressing “really quick” in the gym, but it took him a while to reach his optimum weight and to record the positive results in the ring that he was doubtlessly capable of. “I lost my first few fights,” he remembers. “I started out at super-heavy; I was just taking fights anywhere and lost my first five or six.

“I started cutting a bit more weight and got down to heavy; training more and getting more sparring really started to improve things. At the beginning, I was just jumping in with elite opponents, but I kept going and progressing, and before I knew it, I was matching these guys and beating them. But the losing, didn’t bother me. The amateurs isn’t a place to worry about your record, it’s really more about learning your craft. I know some people there try and stay undefeated but I was always happy to take the tough fights and to see if I was at that level.

“In all, I had around 38 amateur fights, but after I lost the first few, I didn’t lose many more. Only, say, about three and they were all in the big comps.”

It was these “big comps” that provided the catalyst for Cronin to turn pro. In a story that he generously admits is a “familiar one” it was one ‘suspect’ decision too many that eventually led to him considering his future in the sport. “Look, I don’t mind getting a bad decision if it was a close enough fight,” he admits. “But when it continues happening it is hard not to fall out of love with it all. I just wasn’t enjoying it as much anymore.

“I went into a competition [Haringey Box Cup at Alexandra Palace] and won a couple of fights. I fought an English boy and thought I’d won, but I didn’t get the decision. I remember thinking to myself: ‘Why am I in this sport for this to be done to me the whole time? You know,’ why do I keep travelling around and pouring money into this for these types of things to happen?’ By this time – not blowing my own trumpet – I was at a very good level; especially since I had dropped to light-heavyweight.”

But a meeting as he left the ring with Irish boxing promoter Leonard Gunning was to light the touchpaper on the next chapter of the Kerry man’s boxing journey. “He just told me it was a ‘horrible decision’ and we got chatting and exchanged numbers until, eventually, I decided to sign with him,” recalls Cronin.

“It has been the best decision of my life. I was falling out of love with the amateurs but now I am completely obsessed with boxing again. It’s all about training, competing, and picking up titles again now. Even my style has changed. It’s just like being in a completely different sport.”

Some of that development in style can be attributed to a change of coach following his decision to turn over. “You just need that kind of pro experience. You need to box differently when you’re going from three rounds to eight and beyond. The prep and style is very different. But we just seemed to click straight away,” says Cronin of new coach Jonathan Lewins.

“It was Leonard who put me on to Jonathan, he thought we’d be a good match. If I’d joined any other coach, it could have gone very wrong. But it’s gone very, very right. I am just getting better and better.”

But for all that Cronin still also works with his old amateur coach Patrick O’Brien at the Cashen Vale Boxing Club, and enjoys the convenience of just pitching up at the gym around the corner from the fire station where he spends his days and many of his nights. “The job is really suitable for training,” he discloses. “I just do my job and normal training routine; if I get called then I just have to go and come back and finish it later. But it’s great still being able to come here, as my pro coach is over two hours down the road.”

It is impossible not to ask Cronin whether the ‘call’ has come during a sparring session, but he responds by saying that, “It has always been at the start or end of a training session; luckily never at a horrible time.” Which dispels any image of the Kerry man running for the fire engine sporting boxing gloves and gum-shield.

Cronin’s next opportunity to show what he can do will occur this Saturday night in the summer heat of the Spanish coastal resort of Alicante. The fight will be streamed live on the Boxing Ireland Promotions Facebook page and, at the time of speaking, no opponent has been disclosed. However, at the prospect-end of the sport where journeyman opponents are often likely to change at the drop of the hat, the anonymity of his upcoming opponent is of little consequence to Cronin. “I had no idea who my opponents were in my first three fights either. To be honest, I’m not even asking. I’m not asking my manager either,” he laughs.

“In my last two fights there have been changes in the last week, so I don’t want to get too focused on an opponent only for it to be switched again. So, I just train for all styles really.”

Image: Boxing Ireland.

When eyeing up the remainder of the year the 25-year-old is adamant that he refuses to look past his upcoming four-rounder. But he confirms that he has a fight scheduled for October that will be closer to home in Belfast, where he plans to step up to eight rounds for the first time. He tells Boxing Social that he can spar 10 rounds in the gym at a “wicked pace”, so the additional duration holds no concerns for him.

Top of his wish list is to fight for a professional title in his home county and to bring some boxing glory to the local populace. And when all that is said and done, several miles down the road, he admits with a smile to eyeing up unified world champion Artur Beterbiev as a future opponent. “I love watching him. I think he’s a monster at the weight,” he says, of the imposing 36-year-old Russian.

“I’d love it if he stayed at that weight until my day comes and I can dethrone him. That’ll be perfect!”