Spike’s Island: O’Sullivan ready to take UK by storm

Millstreet’s synonymy with boxing is in many ways an apt one.

After all, with a population of just over 1500, it has long since punched above its weight.

The North Cork village first peaked international interest in 1993, millions tuning in to watch Niamh Kavanagh serenade her way to victory in the shadow of the Clara Mountain.

Two years later, the eyes of the world would descend on the Green Glens Arena once more, but this time for a reason altogether more befitting Cork’s ‘rebellious’ disposition.

Chris Eubank was one of sport’s hottest commodities when he graced the Emerald Isle in March of 1995, Milltown the 5th stop on a lucrative 8-fight deal with Sky Sports.

Belfast had staged the first in that sequence, Eubank’s pulsating win over local contender Ray Close emblematic of the style which had made him a crossover sensation.

The Brighton native’s undefeated streak had swelled to 43-not-out by the time he headed south of the border 8 months later, Steve Collins presented as the latest hurdle on what had become a seamless procession.

275px-Steve_Collins_vs._Chris_Eubank_(poster)
While the latter’s status as middleweight champion of the world was hardly one befitting that of an unfancied underdog, the Dubliner could hardly have been any more so when he stepped up to challenge Eubank at 168 pounds.

‘The Celtic Warrior’ would show he was wholly worthy of that moniker, however, surviving a late onslaught from the champion to earn a seismic victory.

In a year which also heralded the conclusion of the famed Bowe/Holyfield trilogy, Collins ensured no such lengths would be required to bookend this particular rivalry.

He re-matched Eubank 6 months later at the neighbouring Parc Uí Chaoimh, and whereas the venue may have changed, the result remained the same.

Although both victories have now faded somewhat into the annals of boxing’s storied folklore, the Dubliner’s achievements remain a uniquely relevant benchmark for Irish fighters seeking to make it in the paid ranks.

Indeed, for Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan in particular, 1995 has always felt more like a premonition than a memory.

“My dad took me to see the fights back then, I was 11 years old at the time and I was just intoxicated by the atmosphere. The fans all cheering his name, it was amazing. Growing up I wished I was Steve Collins. Now, slowly but surely, I’m getting there.”

Like many professional boxers of his ilk, however, a dearth of Irish investment in the professional code saw O’Sullivan take a scenic route to the sport’s top table.

Outings on both sides of the Atlantic manoeuvred the Mahon man into contention for Collins’ old WBO championship, an assured win over Matthew Hall securing the organisation’s secondary belt in 2012.

Alas, his march to full honours would ground to a shuddering halt just two fights later, O’Sullivan eventually succumbing to British Olympian Billy-Joe Saunders.

On an evening where somebody’s O had to go, it was Andy Lee’s would-be foe who escaped with his record intact.

In a manner not dissimilar to that of the Limerick man, O’Sullivan bade to dispel the demons of his first defeat by embarking on a whistle-stop Stateside tour, five of his next six fights taking place along America’s east coast.

While the chance to rebuild free from the strictures of the domestic goldfish bowl was obviously a welcome one, O’Sullivan knew that out of sight ultimately meant out of mind. An opportunity to return home and set the record straight was one he was never likely to turn down.

If Sky’s return to Dublin in November of last year provided the perfect platform to do just that, a long-mooted domestic dust-up with Anthony Fitzgerald was certainly a bout worthy of the occasion.

On a night when fellow Munster middleweight Matthew Macklin fell short, O’Sullivan sent a packed out 3Arena into raptures, arresting Fitzgerald’s development with a haymaking right hand in the opening round.

Though not exactly a marker at world level, the victory served as a platform from which to build in that regard. Just over a year later, ‘Spike’ finds himself on the cusp of that long-awaited title tilt.

And while the Fury/Klitshcko undercard allowed stablemate Jono Carroll to dazzle in the Dussledorf din, O’Sullivan himself has been given a similarly prominent platform on which to announce his international credentials.

The O2 Arena is the rock upon which he will hope to build his church, its 19000 capacity representing something of a departure from the Neptune Arena where he made his professional bow.

On a night when one Irishman will hoping to rid himself of an ‘interim’ tag, O’Sullivan would love nothing more than to claim his own. A win tonight would see the 31-year-old established as number-one contender for Danny Jacobs’ middleweight crown.

The final eliminator will serve as chief support on a box-office bill headlined by heavyweight rivals Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte, and although that fight is not shorn of its own subplots, the main event has largely been dwarfed by the undercurrent of that which precedes it.

After all, two decades on from watching an Irishman defeat a Eubank, Gary O’Sullivan finally has his chance to do likewise.

spike-eubank-osulivan-kiss_3387131

Akin to his father all those years ago, it will be Chris Jr that steps through the ropes tonight as a 1/5 favourite.

As far as the bookies’ underdog is concerned, however, the comparisons between the pair end there.

“I think he’s an arrogant guy and he’s living off his daddy. If he didn’t have the name Chris Eubank, he wouldn’t be where he is – no chance. If he was called Pat Murphy, he’d be nowhere near where he is now.”

While the surname is of course a USP for the rambunctious 26-year-old, the opposing corner is not without its own cachet in that respect.

Distinguished trainer Paschal Collins will once again be the man charged with charting Spike’s path to victory, but the luxury of having some kryptonite to draw upon is not one lost on coach or fighter.

“Needless to say Steve has a few tricks up his sleeve to deal with the Eubanks, and Paschal’s got the game-plan down to a tee” declared O’Sullivan. “We have a blueprint to beat the Eubanks. (Junior) thinks he can fight like his father but he’s not in the same league. We know how to deal with him; I’m just dying to get him in the ring.”

Having waited 20 years to follow in the footsteps of his childhood hero, however, the hours which now precede the opening bell are unlikely to be of much concern.

After all, for Spike O’Sullivan, Milltown wasn’t built in a day.

Ronan Mullen

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