Eric Donovan has been crowned the new European Union super featherweight champion after a terrific contest against French native Khalil El Hadri in Belfast’s Europa Hotel.
espite taking a standing count in the fourth round and nursing a cut over his right eyebrow in the second half of the fight, the 37-year old Athy southpaw did enough to convince all three judges to award him a unanimous victory on scorecards of 115-113; 114-113 and 115-112.
The latter card was particularly harsh on 27-year old EI Hadri who at times looked on the brink of stopping the Athy fighter and was definitely the heavy puncher, but Donovan’s heart, courage and resilience swayed the officials.
He was definitely the busier fighter and ultimately he frustrated his opponent so much that he came forward and was hit more frequently particularly in the second half of the fight.
An emotional Donovan was joined in the ring afterwards by his wife Laura who is eight and a half months pregnant and his two sons Jake and Troy.
“Somebody once told me when you are going through hell, the best thing to do is keep going. I have to say El Hadri deserves all the credit for playing his part in this fight,” he said.
“What an absolute warrior. He punches like an absolute mule. I have never been hit as hard, but I just kept telling myself suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.
“I knew I had the skill. He had the strength; he had the power and that ferociousness in each hand, but I had the footwork and the speed, and I knew if I kept digging and make him miss enough I would frustrate him enough to make him come forward and that’s what I did.
“I got off to a pretty good start but then he caught me with a big punch. I wasn’t really hurt but I was of balance and that is something I really need to work on, and I have been working on it with Packie (Collins, his trainer).
“But I knew I had the hand speed. I knew I had the courage, heart and guts to go deep into the later rounds. A lot of people know this, and I make no secret about it. I have been through a lot of adversity in my life.
“There in the last round I looked across the ring and saw my wife who is due in two weeks’ time and saw my kids, Jack and Troy as well. They saw me losing, they saw me getting knocked down, they saw me getting knocked out, but they never saw me quit. And I never, ever quit. I will always keep going until the very end.
“I just knew if I kept going the tide I might turn, and it did, and I got a little bit of confidence in the later rounds and sometimes that’s all you need – that spark. And Packie said it me in the corner ‘you have it now, the chapter in this story is changing.’
“He kept telling me the good chapters and it give me the motivation and confidence to keep going and I finished strongly in the end,” said Donovan in an interview with TG4 in the ring. His pro record is now 16-2 while his opponent drops to 10-2.
Asked about the future the new EU belt holder who was fighting 12 rounds for the first time in his career said he was always indicated that this might would be his Everest.
“So anything after this is a bonus. I walked into Athy Boxing club 30 years ago as a seven-year-old. And boxing changed my life and that’s where I learned my stripes and I owe that club and the coach Dom O’Rourke everything,” he added.
Elsewhere, Anthony Cacace from Belfast won the IBO World super-featherweight with a points win over unbeaten Italian Michael Magnesi at the Manchester Arena.
Cacace (59-10) has had to wait a long time to get his opportunity at this level but he made it count securing the belt on a split decision.
At the Multi Nations Cup tournament in Bosnia, Sean Mari (Monkstown BC) won the gold medal beating a Hungarian in the final.