MTK’s Global contract tournament reaches its penultimate round on February 21st as The York Hall hosts the final four super lightweights, who will battle it out to secure the opportunity to fight for a career-changing sum of money.
It’s difficult to discuss the impending exhilarating evening that the semi-finals will surely deliver without mentioning the contribution of Ireland’s charismatic competitor Tyrone McKenna. Few have done more to promote the competition and capture the imagination and with a place in the final on the horizon, he was in supremely confident mood. In his distinguished and easily recognisable Irish tone, a relaxed McKenna said “I honestly don’t care who I fight, I think I beat all three of them. All three of them have weaknesses, I think I am better than all of them.”
The colorful combatant has heightened interest in the competition with his ongoing feud with fellow semi-finalist Ohara Davies. The pair rather cruelly stole the social media headlines from the featherweights as their curtain-raiser was overshadowed by a belligerent meeting between the two, with their car park scuffle captured on camera.
However, the pre-fight hostilities and the psychological warfare employed, should not detract from the mature, clinical performance that McKenna turned in against Mikey Sakyi, outpointing his British opponent in a shutout in the quarter-finals.
Known for wanting to engage during fights and displaying a tendency for becoming embroiled in wars, the 6ft 1 southpaw has realised the importance of boxing smart and following his quarter-final victory, he developed that notion by joining Peter Taylor in Dublin, who is keen to reinforce those values by utilising his considerable boxing skills and attributes that the Belfast man possesses. Speaking of the switch McKenna added “I’m always drawn into wars, I’m always drawn into trying to get into fights and stuff and I need someone who’s going to be in my corner who’s got a sensible head and keep me calm and keep me away from what the crowd want and what I want.”
Peter-father of superstar Katie Taylor-has long been admired by McKenna who is desperate to showcase the adjustments made by the trainer in such a short space of time and is excited at the prospect of even further improvements before he steps through the ropes in February. He explained,
“I think he’s an unbelievable coach, I’ve been watching him for the last year, the way he works and stuff and working with him the last six or seven weeks I think he’s brought me on so much, me and him gelled straight away so I’m excited to see what the next four weeks can do and what he’s going to do while he’s in my corner.”
The man nicknamed ‘The Mighty Celt’ recalls the straight-talking approach from Taylor as they sat down together for the first time. “The first thing he actually said to me when we sat down was ‘why do you keep on getting into wars? I don’t want to see it ever again’.
Behind the composed, enigmatic persona is a boxer who clearly understands that the need to entertain, must be tempered by the reality of ensuring progress in the competition isn’t compromised. Many boxers would naively set about catching the eye in front of the television cameras rather than efficiently taking care to move on to the next phase of the tournament without difficulty. Describing his maturity during the quarter final performance he said “Do you know what it is? It’s because it’s a tournament, it’s not like one fight, in single fights you have to impress the crowd and get people talking about you and your fight, so you can get into a bigger fight the next fight, but now I’m in this tournament it doesn’t matter what way the fight goes, I’m still in the next round, I’m still getting a big fight.”
The Golden Contract has its own uniqueness over other such formats that have swept through the sport in recent years, in that the competitors only learn of their opponent on the Tuesday of fight week. A draw takes place with fighters drawing red or blue balls. Those who draw a blue ball will get to pick an opponent who has drawn a red ball.
Fans have been fascinated to see whether McKenna and Davies will select each other given the opportunity or allow the rivalry to intensify for a clash later in the competition. The war of words between them has subsided for now, with Davies proclaiming a more ‘humble’ outlook, but Irishman McKenna has questioned the sustainability of his decision. Unable to supress a smile as he spoke, he said “He’s keeping it up, isn’t he? I threw him a wee line from the fight the other week, but he didn’t turn up, he’s sticking to his guns, he fucking called me a ‘terrific fighter’. It’ll get closer to the fight and I think the real Ohara will come out, especially with me saying shit all the time.”
Quizzed on whether or not he would indeed pick Ohara Davies in the draw or whether he would pick a more inexperienced operator like Ofori (who has moved up from lightweight) he was uncommitted, saying "Who knows? you'll have to wait until the draw to find out. I believe a lot of people will be going for Ofori because naturally he's a lightweight and he's the least experienced, people could go for him or they could be ballsy and go for a big fight, I mean if me and Mimoune fight there would be a big title on the line, so there's that."
As well as the super lightweights, the featherweight class will also battle it out in the same evening, which means close friend Tyrone McCullagh will also fight on February 21st. The arrangement and running order will probably dictate whether the pair are able to watch each other fight, with McKenna pointing to a previous occasion where the same scenario occurred. “It depends who fights first, the last time we boxed I fought Jack Catterall, he fought Joe Ham and I thought ‘fuck it I’ll watch his’.
“I was watching, and he got dropped in the third round or something, panic stations hit, it did my head in, I couldn’t watch anymore. So, if he’s on before me I’ll not be watching. He’s very relaxed, he may watch me, but I couldn’t watch him.”
You can only imagine the humour and camaraderie between the two as he also admitted that his close friend jokingly told him that if he were to lose, then he hopes he is defeated too and my shocked response of “He didn’t say that did he?” was met with a very swift “He fucking did!”
The serious proposition of two Irish fighters in their respective finals soon sharpened the focus of the conversation though and McKenna added “We just want two wins; the place will go mad. York Hall is going to be green that day and I think it’s going to be an unbelievable atmosphere, I can’t wait, I’m buzzing for the semi-finals.”
The pair will undoubtedly have magnificent support and big characters feed off those intense crowds, intense situations. None more so than the man from Belfast who insisted “I fucking love it! So before even the walk out and you’re standing there and an Irish tune comes on and all your crowd is cheering, it gives you something extra.”
As fans or spectators, the competition, along with other such successful formats like The World Boxing Super Series, has transformed the way we view boxing and has helped pave the way for fights that often wouldn’t be made for one contractual reason or another.
Numerous titles across the two tournaments will also be on offer and with fighters such as Mohamed Mimoune, Leigh Wood, Jazza Dickens, Ryan Walsh, Jeffrey Ofori and the already mentioned McKenna, McCullagh and Davies involved in fights on the same card, it promises to be an evening to remember for all of those in attendance.