TYRONE McCULLAGH is delighted his career has finally out-grown the small hall shows as he prepares to fight on possibly ‘the biggest boxing bill Ireland’s ever seen’ at the SSE Arena, Belfast tonight.
The unbeaten Derry featherweight features just six fights before former two-weight world champion, Carl Frampton’s clash with Nonito Donaire on a top class undercard.
He’ll take on durable journeyman, Elvis Guillen from Nicaragua in a six rounder and his lofty position on the bill is further evidence of his rapid rise on the domestic scene.
The stylish southpaw (9-0) feels he belongs on the top shows in the country and he’s starting to reap the benefits after three years fighting in front of empty seats or on low profile cards in small venues across the country.
“I’m not blowing my own trumpet but it’s been a long time coming,” said McCullagh. “The professional game is very difficult at the start. You’re putting in 10 week camps to fight journeymen in small hall shows and it’s tough to see it out.
“But thankfully now I seem to be reaping the rewards. I’m on this show and I’m delighted with it.”
McCullagh’s been swept up by the media circus surrounding the Frampton-Donaire fight with the final press conference at the Europa Hotel on Wednesday followed by the public workout at Victoria Square yesterday afternoon and he’s loving being involved in all the hype.
“The media days on these big shows are all part of it and it’s good to get your name out there. I genuinely think it’s one of the best bills Ireland’s ever seen. Maybe even the biggest.
“Frampton and Donaire are two superstars worldwide never mind in Ireland and it’s a cracking fight. The undercard is unbelievable and it’s fantastic to be a part of it.”
McCullagh has fought at the SSE Arena before on the ‘Belfast Boy’ card last year when he opened the show and at the National Stadium in Dublin, both as a pro and amateur.
This time will no doubt be a hugely different experience as the crowds will be beginning to stream into the venue around the time he enters the ring.
“I think I’m sixth on the bill which I’m happy with. Last time I was on a show like this I was first but was still delighted to be on the card even though the stadium was virtually empty barring my crowd.
“Hopefully there will be a good few more. It will be far from packed but I’m making my way up the cards.”
With a British title eliminator looming, McCullagh would be forgiven for struggling to keep focus on a first return to the ring since last December.
However, the Glen Road native is on a mission to entertain and show off the skills he fine-tuned during his isolated training camp under Derry Mathews in Liverpool this past six weeks.
McCullagh is seeking to take his winning record into double figures tonight and sees the fight as the perfect warm-up for fighting Scotsman, Joe Ham next June. That’s for the vacant Celtic super Bantamweight title on what’s expected to be Michael Conlan’s homecoming fight at the Odyssey!
“Obviously I’d like to come to the end of the ‘journeyman’ stage but I haven’t fought since the December 1st and had a bit of a hand problem. Joe Ham is 10 weeks away so this is actually the perfect fight for me. It will get the rust off. He’s (Guillen) a durable lad and will be hard to put away. If I do put him away it will be a good statement. Joe Ham fought him and went the distance so it will be a good way to benchmark it.
“Joe Ham is scheduled for 10 rounds and five is the furthest I’ve been. So if I went six it would be uncharted territory and probably more beneficial for me.
“10-0 does have a nice ring to it - it’s double figures,” he smiled.
“I have to stay focussed and not look past this guy because a couple of times I’ve been thinking about Joe Ham and getting excited but I have to get the win here first and foremost.
“It’s been a tough camp, living in Liverpool for six weeks. The training has been something else. I’ve been getting up at 6a.m then doing hill sprints. Doing that instils confidence and I’ve no doubt I’m the fittest I’ve ever been.
“I’m looking forward to weighing in, re-hydrating and doing a job on Saturday night.”
It’s hard not to look beyond Saturday’s fight and that mouthwatering clash with fellow unbeaten prospect Ham who is set to jet off to the world renowned Wild Card Gym in LA in preparation.
But McCullagh only sees one outcome with a chance to fight for the Lonsdale belt at stake for the winner.
“Joe Ham seems confident. I’ve seen a few of his interviews and he does seem a nice enough lad. There’s no bad feeling. I’m confident I can get the better of him and beat him.
“He’s 14-0 and I should be 10-0 come the fight but I’ve no doubt in my mind I’ll beat him. He’s very dedicated and seems confident but I know I’m the better boxer and as long as I get my performance right I’ll beat him.”
So what can we expect from McCullagh tonight and how has he improved under the watchful eye of Mathews in the MTK promotions base in Liverpool?
“He’s instilled confidence in me. They’re not trying to change me but just tweaking things. I believe you’ll see a different side to me on Saturday because I’m going to try a few new things I’ve learned.”