Boxing champ Wayne McCullough proud as punch of his daughter

Former boxing world champion Wayne Pocket Rocket McCullough’s daughter, Wynona, has a knock-out voice which floored the judges recently on Ireland’s Got Talent. HELEN MCGURK talks to them both.

Saturday, 23rd March 2019, 7:00 am
Wayne and his daughter Wynona
Wayne and his daughter Wynona

Wayne McCullough, the diminutive Belfast man with a towering boxing talent, looked proud as punch recently as his talented daughter Wynona walked on stage to sing her heart out in front of the judges on Ireland’s Got Talent,

The Pocket Rocket, 48, and his wife Cheryl had travelled from their home in the US to cheer on their talented 20-year-old daughter, Wynona McCullough, performing under the stage name Wy Mac.

Wy Mac belted out Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory and stunned Louis Walsh, and fellow judges, Michelle Visage, Denise Van Outen and Jason Byrne, with a gutsy performance which displayed a genetic disposition to fight for her dream.

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Wayne, with his wife Cheryl and daughter, Wynona

Wy Mac was born and grew up in Las Vegas, where her famous dad has lived, with Cheryl, since turning pro in 1993.

Speaking from the US, Wayne, who has had his fair share of tense moments in the boxing ring, said watching his daughter on stage was ‘‘one of the most nerve wracking experiences’’ of his life.

‘‘Don’t tell her that!,’’ he laughs,

‘‘She’s got great determination and belief in herself, but she’s still just my little girl. And I’m probably a little too protective of her but I just didn’t want her to be hurt by judges’ comments or anything as it’s just their opinion - and I know she’s the best!’’

Wayne with a baby Wynona

Despite winning a clutch of titles, Wayne adds:‘‘It’s a cliche but becoming a dad is still the proudest moment of my life!

‘‘Wynona took her first flight at less than three weeks old to watch me fight, she flew across the Atlantic to see her new family at 12 weeks and she totally fitted into our mad lives immediately. She gets her sensitivity from me and her grit from her mum.’’

Wynona displayed a prodigious singing talent from the age of three.

‘‘She sang We Are the World at the World Boxing Council annual convention in 2011 in front of over 100 world champions,’’ says Wayne.

‘‘In 2013 she sang the American national anthem at the first Nevada Boxing Hall of the Fame and this week it’s just been announced that I will be inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame this summer so I’m hoping she’ll be able to sing the national anthem that evening as well!

‘‘Wynona’s been singing in competitions for years, gigs in Irish bars in LA, has released a couple of singles and has sung the American national anthem at numerous sporting events. She even opened for Westlife in Belfast for four nights during their last tour.’’

Wayne said Wynona inherited her voice from her mum.

‘‘Cheryl’s musically talented too. She once recorded a song which was played at one of my ring entrances.’’

And did his own musical tastes have any influence on his daughter?

‘‘Well, she can do a mean Elvis impression,’’ he laughs.

Growing up Wynona was home schooled, although Wayne admits he didn’t play an active role in her tutoring.

‘‘Cheryl helped her while I was at the gym. A lot of her lessons were in a virtual classroom as she got older and it made perfect sense to educate her this way during my career as we were able to take her with us around the world and she never got behind on her studies.’’

The music business can be notoriously cut-throat and Wayne admits he does worry about his daughter.

‘‘I absolutely do but I have to let her live her life and enjoy it! I got to fulfil my dreams and reach the top and I wouldn’t stand in the way of her achieving hers.

‘‘I just want Wynona to be happy and enjoy every moment. She is sadly too easily upset by others’ opinions and can be anxious at times and that destroys me. I just wish I could stop her from letting others ruin her happiness!’’

Wayne McCullough grew up in a large family of seven in the Shankill during the height of the troubles.

‘‘It was a tough time for everyone and I lived in the Highfield Estate. Although I was academically clever and got an A grade in my 11 plus, I attended the local secondary school, probably because it was closest to home.

‘‘I have two older brothers and I followed them to the local boxing gym, Albert Foundry. I joke that if I hadn’t gone to the gym I may have ended up on the wrong side of the law with the teens who hung around on the street corners. I fought in my first proper competition bout at aged eight and I firmly believe that the fire to one day be a champion of the world was lit way back then. I knew I wanted to achieve more than just signing on at the end of every week which was sadly the norm where I lived.’’

Wayne, a self-confessed ‘mummy’s boy, added: ‘‘I was always keen to help around the house and do my fair share of looking after the younger children. I was great at football so if I wasn’t in the boxing gym I was kicking ball in the sunshine with my friends.’’

Wayne and Cheryl moved to Las Vegas when she was 19 and he was 22 .

‘‘We’ve lived here longer than in Northern so in essence the USA is home.’’

The pair have homes and boxing business in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Wayne works 12- hour days ‘‘training fighters, self confessed fitness freaks and ordinary people who want to feel healthier and better about themselves mentally and physically.’’

So would the family ever contemplate moving back to Northern Ireland?

‘‘Before Wynona started her education we looked at schools in North Down and we viewed countless homes. I was still boxing all over the world and my trainers were based in Las Vegas so in the end it made sense to stay stateside.

‘‘But nothing beats visiting home. We have property there so never say never!’’