Tyrone McKenna got exactly what he wanted in his last fight. A war.
‘The Mighty Celt’ has an undeniable thirst for blood, guts and glory and at Falls Park, Belfast in August the 31-year-old super-lightweight was no longer parched after a 10-round battle with Jose Felix.
It was another memorable night for Northern Irish boxing, headlined by Michael Conlan. For McKenna, it was the 13th time he had fought in his home city during a 25-fight, nine-year career to date. On all fronts, the occasion delivered in bundles for the new WBO Inter-Continental 140lbs champion, particularly fighting in front of the vociferous 8,000 crowd at Falls Park.
“It surpassed my expectations,” he said.
“Waiting to walk to the ring was unbelievable. It was definitely the biggest crowd I’ve been in front of for a fight. There was 8,000 people there. The roar of the crowd was insane. Even when my name was getting called out, I couldn’t hear what the announcer was saying. Fighting in West Belfast always fills me with pride. I’m a proud West Belfast man and fighting in front of 8,000 from that area and to win like that, and for them to say that I make them proud, is an unbelievable feeling. Even the day after, the weeks after, people coming up to you and still talking about it saying things like it was an unbelievable fight and you’re a legend and all this… there’s no better feeling.”
The high was still noticeable in his voice when he spoke to Boxing Social last Saturday evening. McKenna’s desire for non-stop action didn’t pan out when he lost to Ohara Davies in the MTK Golden Contract final last September. But it is a night of disappointment in an empty venue which is now behind him. Had fans been present then maybe the fight would have taken different twists and turns. If the fight took place in Belfast, then their influence could have played a significant role and, as such, McKenna realises how much he needs them in his corner.
“Everyone says boxing’s a lonely sport and you’re by yourself but after the year we had with no crowd you realise you’re not in there yourself, you’re actually in there with the crowd,” he said. “The crowd’s an extra boost for you when you get hurt. The time I did get hurt [against Felix] the crowd started getting behind me and started going mental and it really drove me to fight back and give my all. It helps you to bite down on the gumshield and go for a war when needs be. Sometimes they get me into unnecessary wars [laughs] but I need the crowd. I’ve realised during Covid the crowd is essential to me. Some people probably fight better without a crowd but the way I fight and the way I feel in the ring I need the crowd there behind me to boost me.”
Time spent speaking to McKenna gives you a clear picture as to how much he not only lives for boxing but for the cuts and scrapes that come with it. You don’t hear him laughing when he tells you that if there is no evidence of him having been in a fight the day after it happened then he is disappointed. McKenna, like many fighters, is a unique individual but such is his masochistic desires in a boxing ring Boxing Social asked him if his body becomes used to the punishment. His answer would have brought a grimace to anyone who had been listening.
“No, never. I fight on Saturday and, on a Sunday, I’m walking like a cripple, walking like an old man, everything’s hurting. I had to wear a back strap [after the Felix fight] for a week because my back was in bits. My eyes were in bits, they were sore. My hands were sore. Everything’s sore. It feels like you’ve been hit by a car.
“It’s not necessarily getting hit why I’m hurting,” he continued. “There’s always pain because I’m putting everything into the punches. I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s been a few fights where I’ve jumped out the ring and there’s not been a mark on me and, the next day, I’ve felt normal and felt like I wasn’t in a fight. I hate that. I’d rather have the reminder you were in a war the night before, that you’re cut and bruised, your hands are sore, your body is sore, you’ve got to wear a back strap. That’s what I want.”
Is all the wear and tear during the days after a fight a concern for his partner and family then?
“They’re concerned during the fight and before the fight but after it as long as I’ve won and I’m alright, as long as I’ve not ended up in hospital then it’s all good. Part of boxing is being hurt. You’re getting punched for 10-12 rounds, you’re obviously going to feel something.”
McKenna now has his eyes set firmly on the top tier at 140lbs. This week it was announced Josh Taylor’s mandatory world title fight against Jack Catterall in December would be put back until February following a knee injury sustained by the undisputed champion. Taylor’s biggest rival at the weight Regis Prograis, widely regarded as the next best in the division, is without a fight. After a brief exchange with Prograis on Twitter which led to McKenna calling him out, he now won’t settle for anything less than fighting the dangerous ‘Rougarou’.
McKenna told Boxing Social that both management teams had been in touch with one another and he is confident a deal can be worked out
“I’ve always said I want to be one of the most entertaining fighters from Ireland and known as one of the most entertaining fighters,” said McKenna.
“To be one of the most entertaining fighters, I have to fight the best and the best put in front of me. And Regis Prograis, you can’t get bigger than him. I’m buzzing with that. The fans want it, I want it, seems like he wants it. I can’t see why it can’t be made. I certainly won’t put up any blockers. I want that fight. Anything less than Regis Prograis now I’m going to be disappointed. I’ve got my heart set on it. He can have it in America, England, Scotland, Ireland, I don’t give a fuck. I just want to fight him. I think it’ll be an unbelievable fight. Obviously, he’s elite level in my weight class, he’s unbelievable but I’ve got the biggest heart and the biggest balls in the weight. I believe my high work rate can cause him problems and I’d love this fight to happen.”
However, McKenna is well aware of the challenge he would be taking on but if he is going to continue to go to war then he might as well go into the trenches with one of the toughest out there and be well compensated for doing so. The risk is worth the reward for McKenna.
“It elevates my career massively [if I win]. I’m not deluded, I know Regis Prograis is a lethal fighter. I know how tough and how good I can be though. People haven’t seen the best of me. If I bring my absolute A game, then there’s no doubt in my mind that I could beat Regis Prograis. I know it’s a tough ask but it’s one I believe in. I wouldn’t have called him out if I didn’t think I could beat him. I’d be so buzzing for it and train insanely hard for it.
“I can’t see why he won’t take it,” he added. “I’m world ranked. It can be a WBO world title eliminator, it makes sense and the winner fights Josh Taylor and if Josh moves up and vacates then the winner will still be in line to fight for a world title. I can see it happening. It’s just about finding a date and a time that suits us.
“He talks about being the most avoided fighter at 140lbs. I’m here saying I’ll fight him. Let’s get it happening. He needs a fight; I want the fight. I want a war for the fans, let’s sign on the dotted line.”
Main image: MTK Global.