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Tyrone McCullagh and Tyrone McKenna, long-time friends and two of Ireland’s most promising up and coming boxers, talk about their careers to date and hopes for the future both in and outside the ring. eir sport 1, Sun, March 17th 8.30pm
In another landmark weekend for Irish boxing which sees Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes, Jono Carroll and Katie Taylor in action State-side, Kevin Byrne speaks to the two Tyrones - McCullagh and McKenna – and discovers that a career as a comedy duo awaits if things don’t pan out in the ring.
Part of a slew of Irish talent that emerged from the underage ranks a decade or so ago, the two Tyrones have known each other for almost 12 years, dating back to an Irish Four Nations trip to Greenock in Scotland back in 2007. “I just couldn’t believe there was someone else called ‘Tyrone’ on the trip,” Derry native McCullagh who is currently the WBO European Super Bantamweight Champion, explains. After a somewhat dubious start with practical jokes being fired from both sides, the two quickly became firm friends.
While professional boxing was a goal for McCullagh from day one, Belfast light-welterweight McKenna took a more circuitous route and even dabbled in acting for a while. He secured a starring role alongside Gillian Anderson and Robert Carlyle in ‘The Mighty Celt’ back in 2005. The money was good at the time - especially for a teenager – but, after one too many failed auditions, he felt he had to consider other options. As he’d always been a good boxer, a career in the ring seemed like a natural choice.
McKenna turned pro in 2012 in America, but later returned to Ireland as he missed the local scene and felt he would get more fights in this part of the world. It proved to be the right decision and his career has flourished since. His current record is 17-1-1 with six knockouts from 19 fights. His only defeat to date was to highly-rated Briton Jack Catterall last June for the WBO Inter-Continental Super Lightweight title. He feels he has shown that he’s ready for the big time and is aiming for another title shot as soon as possible, perhaps at Madison Square Garden.
McCullagh, nick-named 'White Chocolate', turned pro a couple of years after his good friend. He was initially unsure of making the move, with various people telling him that his style mightn’t be suited to the pro game. But, like McKenna, he has enjoyed great success. Known for his fitness (we even hear the story of how he once won a 10K race in Buncrana running in dress shoes following a big night on the town washed down with a KFC breakfast). But it's not all fun and games - he has also thought about what life will be like after boxing and has recently qualified as a nurse.
McCullagh is quickly rising up the rankings and feels he is ready for a world title shot soon, although he admits that his weight division has plenty of top quality talent. He is currently the WBO European Super Bantamweight Champion after beating Britain’s Josh Kennedy in Belfast last October and is determined to use that as a springboard to even greater things.
He is proud of his Derry roots - he is walked to the ring by another Derry man in James McClean – and says he would love to bring a big fight to his home city. Let’s hope he gets his wish very soon and, who knows, maybe we can add two new names to the Irish roster of world boxing champions.
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