Done and Dusted! A Tribute To Ireland's Bernard Dunne - by Leonard Gunning, 24 February 2010
Bernard Dunne, Ireland’s former WBA super bantamweight world champion has walked away from the sport he loves and announced his retirement from boxing at the tender age of 30. Whilst some journalist and pundits may claim that this news has come as a shock or a surprise, those who have studied Dunne and his career realised that the writing was on the wall for some time. For Dunne, it was never about the money, the glory or the fame, Bernard sought out the highest accolades that boxing had to offer and for a short time he stood aloft as the World Boxing Association title holder.
At a press conference in Dublin, Ireland the Neilstown man gave his reasons for leaving the sport in search of new challenges. “After a lot of thought and reflection the time has finally come to bring my career as a professional boxer to an end,” said the Dublin Dynamo at the City’s Burlington Hotel.
He went on explain his decision: “For the past 25 years boxing has been my life but now it is time for a fresh start. The easiest thing in the world would have been to climb through the ropes and fight again but honesty has always been very important to me and I am being honest to myself, to my family and to my supporters with this decision.
“The great Irish fans that travelled on the journey to a world title belt with me deserved better than to pay their hard earned cash just to see me go through the motions. I could never do that to them.
“Thankfully, I have realised all my dreams and achieved all my goals since I followed my dad into boxing. To win a world title is something I will never forget and something I am so proud of and I would like to thank everyone who helped make that possible. This is a sad day for me and for my family but it is also an exciting day and a new start in my life, one I am really looking forward to,” confessed Dunne.
No professional boxer captured the Irish public’s imagination like Dunne since Steve Collins filled Cork’s Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Manchester’s Nynex Arena and, most famously, Millstreet’s Green Glens Arena during the mid 1990’s.
Of course Collins, who’s career path drew parallels with that of Dunne, had the aid of high profile British fighters such as the flamboyant Chris Eubank and destructive Nigel Benn to ensure enough media hype and interest was generated to power those electrifying nights.
However, Dunne had no such caricatured figures to be pitted against, but what he did possess was the technical boxing skills of a top Cuban amateur, an endearing cheeky chappy persona and promoter/manager Brian Peters, which made up for the lack of household names in the division.
Following a glittering amateur career which saw Dunne claim 13 national titles, he then turned professional in December 2001 in the sweaty cut throat surroundings of the Los Angeles boxing scene and Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym. But Dunne did not confine himself to local fights in California, he traveled throughout the states to Connecticut, Oklahoma, Nevada, West Virginia, New Mexico, and Arizona, garnering nationwide TV coverage on SRL promoted ESPN2 cards, which undoubtedly boosted the American boxing public’s awareness of this seemingly frail and anemic yet marauding Irishman.
However, in 2005, with Sugar Ray Leonard’s attentions focused on The Contender TV series and the pangs of homesickness and home cooking rumbling in the ‘Dynamo’s’ belly, Brian Peters brought the maturing 14-0 fighter back home to Dublin to set sail on a voyage that would bring fame, fortune, and glory to both men.
Peters surrounded Dunne with a close-knit team, stalwart trainer Harry Hawkins, who operated out of the Holy Trinity Gym, stepped in to train the Dubliner. Fitness and conditioning guru Mick McGurn was later brought in to answer the lingering question marks, which dogged Dunne’s ability to cope with the age old conundrum of making weight and maintaining power.
In a move that proved to be the springboard to crossover appeal throughout Ireland, Peters signed a deal with RTÉ that would bring Bernard Dunne into the living room of every home in Ireland in a prime time slot. Peters grew the product by adding proven ticket sellers such as the ever popular, and evergreen, Jim ‘The Pink Panther’ Rock and Brian Magee to undercards as well as introducing rising northern stars such as Stephen Haughian, Paul McCloskey, and Andrew Murray.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the former world and European super-bantamweight champion. In August 2007 his career hit an almighty stumbling block in the form of unheralded Spaniard Kiko Martinez, who, judging by his record, seemed to be knocking out pretty much every sub-ten stone boxer who ever stepped foot in the autonomous Valencian region. In short - Kiko came, Kiko saw, Kiko conquered.
What happened that night has been written about at length, maybe Dunne was overconfident and showed a lack of maturity, a lack of ring-smarts, a lack of experience, a lack of chin, and a lack of survival instinct?
It was a shock but the mainstream Irish media gave a smug and knowing “I told you so” nod at the demise of the Dubliner and they wrote about the defeat in a way that would make you think that it was a disaster of such cataclysmic proportions as to rival the collision of two supernovae. Those within Team Dunne knew they would have to take a step back and take stock.
Some thought Dunne would give boxing up for good to pursue a career in the Fire Service, but Dunne emerged phoenix-like from the brink of the boxing wilderness to return as a different man, with an added edge.
Dunne had three relatively easy bouts in 2008, Peters, known for his impulsive instinctive wagers, made the biggest gamble of his professional life by dangling a reported €200,000 size carrot under the nose of the long rangy Panamanian WBA super bantam champion Ricardo ‘Maestrito’ Cordoba in an attempt to lure him into the lions den and risk his title in a voluntary defense against Ireland’s premier super bantam.
Cordoba bit and the stage was set for the first fight on Irish shores for a recognized world title since Wayne McCullough fought Jose Luis Bueno for the WBC bantamweight title, also at the Point Depot, 13 years previously.
Cordoba must have thought he was being handed manna from heaven in this a voluntary defence of his title. Receiving such a considerable purse to face a boxer that had never fought a top 10 rated boxer and had been knocked out within a single round in his last title fight must have seemed a very fair deal for the man from Panama City’s tough suburb of San Miguelito.
It was with a sense of hope, rather than expectation, that all but the most ardent of Dunne fans traveled to the refurbished O2 Arena in Dublin knowing that Cordoba’s roster included a wide points victory over current WBA super and IBF champion Celestino Caballero during an all-Panamanian Derby in 2005.
The majority of the crowd streamed into the arena elevated after Ireland’s 6 nations rugby victory over Wales, their first Grand Slam win in over 60 years. Hearts and expectations were further lifted following victories for Jim Rock, Andrew Murray and Ireland’s two-time woman’s amateur lightweight world champion Katie Taylor. Even Andy Lee’s labored win was glossed over once the tune of the Irish Rover rang out around the packed stadium as Dunne made his way to the ring.
After the formalities were out of the way the two boxers got down to business and Dunne surprised the crowd by trading with Cordoba. The fight seesawed one way then the next with Cordoba edging the first rounds before Dunne floored the champion in the third, which put and end to ‘Maestrito’s’ early dominance.
Although Cordoba looked weakened at the end of the third he appeared refreshed throughout the fourth and almost finished the fight in the fifth, knocking down Dunne twice before pinning him stricken against the ropes, raining volleys of combinations upon the tucked up and rocking Dunne until the bell came to save the Neilstown man.
Dunne gained in confidence from the sixth onwards and although it would be an injustice to say he bossed these rounds it would be fair to say that he showed levels of courage and determination that many had never seen before.
A resilient and determined Dunne brought the brutal battle to an end in the eleventh round after unleashing a venomous onslaught on Corboda, who at this stage was bereft of ideas and a shell of the fighter we saw in the early rounds.
Both men admirably gave their all in what was to be the final round of the bout but Dunne summoned energy from the pit of his stomach which saw Cordoba slump to the canvas three times before referee Hubert Earle called a halt to the bout.
It was the culmination of over 15 years hard work and sacrifice. The boy had come a long way since following his brothers down to the C.I.E. Amateur Boxing Club in Inchicore and surely now had climbed out of his father Brendan’s shadow, himself an Irish Olympian at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Irish national light flyweight champion and gentleman of Irish boxing. Dunne had now firmly stamped his own mark on the world-boxing map and the Irish sporting psyche alongside luminary fellow “wee-men” Rinty Monaghan, Barry McGuigan and Johnny Caldwell.
In the weeks after the dust settled on that glorious night beside the banks of the Liffey, the thoughts of some, mainly the obsessed, turned to what next, where next, and of course who next?
Many fans wanted to see Dunne make hay whilst the sun shone and have a “soft voluntary fight” (or two) before the mandatory challenger was enforced. Some wanted to see an immediate replay of the thriller with Cordoba, others wanted to exorcise the ghost of Kiko Martinez or stage an All-Ireland clash against Irish champion Paulie Hyland, even Wayne McCullough threw his hat into the ring.
Celestino Caballero stated that he wanted to avenge the defeat of his countryman and Brian Peters hinted at a Hattonesque trip to Vegas to face Dunne’s former Wild Card sparring partner, the WBC super bantamweight champion Israel Vasquez, in a unification bout. More cerebral analysts saw Poonsawat on the horizon and knew a move towards lighter punching Olivier Lontchi or Steve Molitor would provide both a credible and less dangerous opponent than, say, hammer-fisted Juan Manuel Lopez or Rafael Marquez.
But the most serious option came from England, Frank Maloney Promotions to be exact. A cat and mouse battle had been raging between the two camps since 2007, an intriguing battle, which saw the upper-hand flip-flop in the power play that pitted Dunne v Munroe, Maloney v Peters, and Ireland v England against one another. Maloney took the chase to Dunne’s hometown when Munroe, who twice schooled Dunne slayer Kiko Martinez, successfully defended his EBU title in Dublin in December 2008.
Rendall Munroe, along with manager Frank Maloney, must have had money signs rolling in his their eyes sat ringside during the sell out Dunne-Cordoba thriller. Maloney openly offered Peters £150,000 to fight Munroe in England in September 2009 and Frank later upped the offer to £200k but he wanted to keep hold of the promotion rights.
Nothing came of these negotiations and there was to be no voluntary defence when the WBA enforced the mandatory challenger Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, who had been waiting impatiently in the wings for his shot since the beginning of 2008.
Purse bids had to be submitted to the WBA’s affiliate European office in Spain by 6pm on Monday 20th of July 2009. The Thai’s had been working behind the scenes to formulate an offer but to no avail – an offer from Peters was the only successful submission.
Peters now controlled all aspects of the fight, including the promotion, and suggested that the fight could take place in Macau, China or New York but there was only one location for this battle, and that place was Dublin.
Meanwhile one thing seems to have been forgotten in this furor, and that is the danger man from the Cambodian border territory of northeast Thailand, namely Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym,
The night began much like the one against Cordoba but Poonsawat was biding him time and unleashed a furious attack in the third that saw Dunne sink to the canvas three times, which meant an immediate halt to the fight on the WBA’s three knock down rule and therefore an end to Dunne reign as their super-bantamweight strap holder.
Dunne later appeared on Irish chat show The Late Late Show when he was dejected and melancholic blaming himself for letting down himself, his team and his fans. Almost perversely the love Dunne enjoyed amongst the general public in Ireland grown following this defeat, a truly unusual quirk in the Irish persona.
But despite the public clamor for Dunne’s return he has now decided to hang his gloves up, a decision backed by his Meath based manager. “Bernard's decision to hang up his gloves has my full backing and support,” elucidated a strained Peters.
“We've had a number of discussions since Bernard lost his world title last September and having scaled the heights he has as a world and European champion he believes that now is the right time to walk away and I am 100% behind that decision.
“As Bernard's manager throughout his career we've enjoyed an incredible roller-coaster journey that has been shared by the nation and Bernard is retiring safe in the knowledge that he has established himself as an Irish sporting icon.
“I know that Bernard's achievements will ensure he forever holds a place in the hearts of the Irish sporting public and I know that with his engaging personality he will prove just as popular in retirement as he did during his boxing career. He has a lovely young family and his retirement will give him plenty of time to enjoy the fruits of his labour with his wife Pamela and their kids Caoimhe and Finnian,” said Peters.
Dunne later expounded his reasoning. “I had no pressure on me to make the decision, none from Harry [Hawkins] and none from Brain. It’s a weight off my shoulders, everyone has been asking me what am I doing and when am I coming back so its good to finally say it out loud,” revealed Dunne.
When asked of his future plans, Dunne replied. “I have had a great relationship with RTE over the years and that will continue, they might make me your apprentice, and I will also start writing a book. I don’t have to make weight anymore, when I was backstage I said, ‘Give me the full fat Coke – no more water for me’. Although it’s a sad day but it’s a great day and it’s the first day of the rest of my life,” declared Dunne.