Limerick's Graham McCormack chases the ringside dream at National Stadium

Fintan Walsh

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Fintan Walsh

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fintan@limerickleader.ie

Limerick's Graham McCormack chases the ringside dream at National Stadium

McCormack in training ahead of his fight this weekend

THIS weekend, Limerick’s next boxing hopeful will walk through the ropes of the professional ring for the first time, in the capital’s National Stadium.

Raheen’s Graham McCormack, a former amateur boxer of 15 years experience, will make his debut against Hungarian novice Richard Baba on the ‘Celtic Clash 4’ undercard this Saturday. 

The 30-year-old McCormack, an aggressive southpaw in the Light Middleweight division, enters the bout after a Friday afternoon weigh-in, and unranked.

But under the management of Stephen Sharpe and tutelage of renowned coaches Eddie Hyland and Tommy McCormack, the 71kg Limerickman is confident that this weekend’s contest will be the first of many victories on his scorecard.

Before being introduced to Hyland and Tommy McCormack, who was Conor McGregor’s cutman during the Money Match against Floyd Mayweather, the Raheen native was sparring with some of Ricky Hatton’s men in England.

It wasn’t long after that when McCormack was engaging in an intense seven-day exercise routine, with three sessions a day, coupled with a strict diet.

“I am a true believer that if you want something in this life, no matter what it is, you can achieve it. If you think about it strongly enough, if you believe it in yourself that you can do it, nothing can stop you.”

Baba, who won his debut in August by technical knockout, was KOd by Finnish fighter Antti Hietala one month later in Finland. And asked what he thinks of his opponent, Graham told the Leader:

“I don’t know who he is. I know that he is a Hungarian. I don’t know his name, I don’t want to know his name. My managers were telling me and I said: ‘I don’t wanna know.’

“I am just so focused on myself and what I have to do. I will ask him his name after I beat him. I don’t want to give him any of my headspace until the fight is over.”

Asked how he intends to win, the new pro said: “I am not going to go on and predict that I am going to knock him out in the first minute. I am going to box. I will get an opportunity to take him out, and I will be taking him out. That’s how I see it going.”

And it appears that it will be a battle of the unknowns this weekend, as both Hyland and Sharpe are not au fait with the opponent’s style and mannerism between the four corners.

Stephen Sharpe, who worked with Willie ‘Big Bang’ Casey in his latter years, said: “We know nothing about him [Baba].”

Hyland said that he and his cutman will be able to devise a game plan after they have assessed Graham and his opponent in round one.

But McCormack’s team is confident that he has what it takes to beat the 22-year-old Hungarian. 

“He is a pleasure to work with. Stephen [Sharpe] asked me to have a look at him a while back. Now, I have three other pro boxers that I train, so I was a bit busy, so I said: ‘Just come up and I will get him a bit of sparring, and I will see how he is.’ He got in with the likes of Sean Creagh and Darren Cruise,” Hyland said.

“And I liked the style of boxing. He was a southpaw and everybody hates southpaws. He is an aggressive southpaw, and not many southpaws are aggressive.”

He added: “At this stage of his career, he doesn’t need to be having hard battles or fights. And what I am trying to get Graham to do is –  I know he can fight – I’m trying to get him to do a little bit more boxing.

“Because he is a good boxer. And he’s quite easy to work with, because he has that boxing background in him. He’s like a sponge, basically. He wants to learn and learn,” he explained. 

Both share the belief that the pugilist’s positive attitude is “contagious”. Sharpe said that his natural ability in the gym is mirrored by his character.

“He has that natural ability. It’s there, you can see it. But then it’s the attitude and the effort. And Graham is like a sponge. Eddie will tell him something, and he will try it and try it and try it.

“He told me just a couple of weeks ago that he was trying something in the hotel room that Eddie had told him earlier on. He came back in the next day and did it. He is just completely open to learning and progressing and developing himself.”

He added: “I am excited to see him box. The response to him has been incredible. To see the way the Limerick people are getting behind him is incredible.”

Ahead of the big fight, former St Francis clubmate Andy Lee wished McCormack “the best of luck, hopefully this is the start of a successful career for him. It’s a hard game but if he works hard and does well, it can be a very good life”.

Castleconnell’s former WBO Middleweight champion Andy Lee will also make an appearance in the ring that night, but this time as coach in Eric Donovan’s corner for the BUI Featherweight Celtic title.

Lee, whose boxer Eric Donovan faces Juancho ‘El Pitbull’ Gonzalez, told Newstalk’s Off The Ball this week that he has been enjoying his coaching debut.

“He’s responded very well, and he has a wealth of experience from his amateur background. He is an easy student for my first pupil.”