Ringside Report: McCloskey retains European Title with spectacular one-punch KO

By Brendan Galbraith - It wasn't vintage Paul McCloskey, but Dudey was still comfortably ahead on points when he exploded a haymaker flush onto the jaw of Giuseppe Lauri, sending the Italian to the canvas and the 4000 Belfast crowd into a frenzy.

The Kings Hall has been a happy stomping ground for McCloskey, halting Bulgarian Tontcho Tontchev in four rounds in his last appearance on the Duddy-Eastman under card. This time he was the star attraction – making his first headline appearance at the famous Balmoral boxing den. The significance of topping the bill on the 25th Anniversary of Kings Hall ruler, Barry McGuigan's epic World Title victory over fellow Hall of Famer, Euzibio Pedrosa, was a ‘proud moment' for McCloskey..

McCloskey had remained focused and business-like throughout fight week and in the pre-fight presser at the Kings Hall Conference Centre McCloskey was in no mood for wisecracks. When Lauri was asked how he rated McCloskey he replied through his interpreter that ‘McCloskey had beautiful eyes'. McCloskey, who barely took his eyes off Lauri during the presser (see photo below), leaned back on his chair to eyeball Lauri and in a menacing low tone informed the Italian words to the effect that he would find out about that on Friday night.

Fast forward to Friday night. Backstage, with only one more fight to go until the McCloskey enters the ring, and the Dungiven man, with ipod and earpiece, is pacing up and down the hallway, his face transfixed with a solemn and steely resolve.

When McCloskey is finally announced to the passionate Belfast crowd, that included Brian Magee, Martin Rogan, Willie Casey, Martin Lindsay, he enters the hall to a rapturous reception.

McCloskey, had modestly told me that he wasn't thinking whether he would star in the fight of the night, that he was only looking at winning each of the twelve rounds and that each round in itself is a fight. It must be difficult not to be pumped up to produce an explosive and show-stealing display when entering to such exhilarating home support?

In the opening two rounds McCloskey looked like he was going to put on a boxing master class and give the Italian a clinic. The Dungiven southpaw, bobbed and weaved, slipped punches and landed at will. The second round, in particular, was McCloskey at his best. Lauri couldn't land a glove on McCloskey – who was thriving in the knowledge that he could make Lauri miss repeatedly.

McCloskey then landed a beautifully disguised left uppercut onto the jaw line of Lauri and preceded to goad the Italian about his inability to land a return. Also, in the second round McCloskey floored Lauri with a hook that appeared to land to the side of the head. The French referee, Robin Dolpierre elected not to give Lauri a count.

McCloskey told me in the changing room afterwards: “That was a knock down – I throw a punch and I expected him to be counted.”

By now, the crowd was in full voice, the 1980s crowd would have be chanting ‘hear we go – here we go – here we go' for the likes of Barry McGuigan and Hugh Russell, but that this Kings Hall crowd adapted a rousing rendition of ‘ole ole ole'.

However, from the third round until the brutal 11th round KO, McCloskey did not continue his polished boxing display, opting to stand flat footed in front of the Italian and get drawn into a brawl.

McCloskey reflected afterwards:

“I knew he would come to spoil, he has obviously watched me on DVD – he has said to himself if he tries to box me he would have got the ears boxed off him – no doubt. I still should have boxed the ears off him – but then I again I got dragged into a fight”

The Italian also noticeably stepped up his complaining to the referee with the now familiar routine of looking at the referee - shrugging of shoulders and shaking his head as if he was getting illegally manhandled.

McCloskey was gradually getting irritated by this, especially after he had been cut above the left eye due to a head clash and then got a one-point deduction by the ref for use of the head in the 10th round.

“He was head-butting me right, left and centre” the Derry man lamented. “I was getting warned for sticking my head down, you are allowed to slip out – your head is not allowed to go below waistline – as far as I know. My head wasn't at the waistline – it was at the side – so I don't know why the official was checking me all the time and I was getting a wee bit annoyed about that. But there is nothing you can do about it – you just have to adapt.”

In the concluding 11th round, Lauri was still complaining and shrugging his shoulders to the referee and this constant theme perhaps, partly assisted his own eventual downfall as he momentarily lost focus and lowered his guard. McCloskey, who had the words “luck happens when preparation meets opportunity' inscribed in his black and white shorts” made his own luck by leaning forward to crash a meaty right hook right onto the unprotected jaw of the Italian.

The Italian precipitated to the canvas like a felled tree, were his body remained frozen – but, bizarrely, as if he was still in autopilot he had managed to lift his head off the canvas with the familiar head shaking and complaining facial expression. The referee abandoned the count and waved the fight off. The crowd leapt to their feet and the place went bonkers.

McCloskey was ecstatic – his celebration was almost a dramatic as the KO blow that he had landed earlier and unfortunately was not captured on Sky's television coverage. McCloskey leap high into the air – spinning 180 ° before landing on the canvas on his back. For a brief moment McCloskey lay sprawled out on his back next to Lauri – savouring the moment. Although, the Dungiven man will not want to be practicing that celebration too often, especially after returning from a recent niggling back injury.

In no mood for celebration were Lauri's corner men – who reacted with fury to their man's late KO. They were screaming and shouting long after the Italian had returned to his feet. Afterwards I spoke to the Lauri camp to get their verdict on how the fight ended. Christian Cherchi told me:

“In boxing you have to protect yourself at all times. It was bad luck for sure because Lauri doesn't deserve to finish like this, because he was doing a fantastic fight. He fight close to McCloskey – it was the right fight, because McCloskey without the distance was not fighting well. The fight was closer, for me Lauri was winning, but a finish like this – it is boxing.”

And why the anger from the Lauri team after the fight?

“The anger was the frustration for the finish like this because we think he was winning. And my anger also was because I saw a scorecard, and one scorecard said five points for McCloskey. When I saw the scorecard, five points, I say no way. Ok, the fight is finished, he lost. KO – the scorecard means nothing right now – but five points – c'mon. The fight was close.

I told McCloskey about the reaction of team Lauri and Cherchi's anger at Lauri for not observing the most important rule in boxing ‘to protect yourself at all times':

McCloskey said:

“He stopped for some reason – I don't know why, I just feinted a jab and just followed with a hook over the top. Once I landed it – he was out before his head hit the ground.”

Reflecting on his performance after the fight, McCloskey conceded that it was an under par performance and he allowed himself to get dragged into a fight, but is just happy to retain his title:

“I am delighted because I am still the European Champion. I didn't fight the right fight tonight – but I pulled out the result”.

“My fitness stood by me tonight – I could have done another ten rounds there and that is down to my preparation. The body shots that I was landing on the inside were hurting him – but I wasn't landing enough of them”

And a future world title fight with Khan?

“Khan is always in my sights. I hope that people look at that (footage of his fight with Lauri) and think maybe McCloskey isn't as good I thought he was and he might want to take me on.

Even it wasn't a world class performance, it was a world class finish that sent a wave of excitement inside the Kings Hall, as one thing that the Belfast crowd love is a KO puncher. It remains to be seen if this showing will KO a future match up with Khan. Time will tell.

*Full round up of under card to follow including reports on star performer of the show Carl Frampton and Jamie Conlan's impressive points win, plus reaction from Barry McGuigan.

*Brendan Galbraith can be contacted at

Article posted on 14.06.2010

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