The University Sports Arena in Limerick was the venue on Saturday night for a European title fight that will live long in the memory of Irish boxing aficionado’s. This historic affair between two Irish pugilists for the vacant European Super bantamweight title produced what promoter Brian Peters called the stuff of fairytales, when Limericks Willie “Big Bang” Casey became Irelands thirteenth European Champion.
The almost inconceivable rise of this Munster banger to the dizzy heights of European glory has provided Limerick with it very own Cinderella man. Just two years ago the 28 year old found himself frustrated and perplexed with the amateur ranks of Irish boxing, before a natter with shrewd trainer Phil Sutcliffe changed everything.
Philip Sutcliffe seen me as an amateur and during a conversation I had with him he convinced me that I wasn’t suited to the Amateur game, he said that I should be a professional, he told me he would make me a European Champion inside three years.
Now in hindsight it’s clear that former two times European Amateur bronze medallist Sutcliffe was wide of his own prediction, because it took just two years for Casey to become the guardian of the EBU belt.
Having made the switch to the paid ranks Casey had his first outing with a second round stoppage of Carlos De Jesus 9-7 (3KO) at the Gleneagles Hotel in Killarney at the latter end of October 2008. Family problems during 2009 saw only two outings for Casey which took his record to 3-0. In February 2010 he overcame Venezuelan Fernando Guevara 8-27 (7KO) inside one round before commuting to Ontario, Canada two months later to demolish then unbeaten Canadian Champion Tyson Cave 10-0 (3KO).
His Canadian adventure was preceded by a three month epoch that seen the Southhill father of four become Prizefighter champion and gain a points victory over Emiliano Salvini 13-11-1 (KO2) that would earn him his rendezvous for Europe’s top Honour.
Willie “Big Bang Casey was to fight Bernard Dunnes adversary the European Champion Kiko Martinez 23-3 (KO17), but and injury to Kiko two weeks before the scrap would see the Spaniard vacate and make way for the first ever all Ireland European title fight.
Never before had two Irishmen fought for a European title and Big Bang was now required to dual with the far more experience and technical Paulie Hyland 18-1(5KO). Hyland the Irish Super Bantamweight champion and winner of the European Union title was the mandatory challenger, who many believed should have got a shot at Kiko ahead of Casey.
“Big Bangs” back yard provided the stage and the prefight debate had fans and commentators divided. Would the Tallaght stylist box his way to glory or would the Southhill Slugger have to much thump in his leather.
In equal measures of historic, memorable and vivacious both men served up a pulsating four rounds of boxing to a frenzied crowd of onlookers. In what seemed like a calculated response to suggestion he lacked power, Hyland aborted his usual technical approach to stand head on with Casey. Defence not a priority both men dispatched heavy shots with Hyland making good use of his jab to clear way for his effective right cross. In the concluding seconds of round one the Limerick Banger rocked Hyland with a left hook followed by a smashing right hand, the first real indication that the Tallaght man was heading for trouble if taught he could slug this one out.
Round two and three provided more of the same as both men served up a sensational and exciting display of shot swapping. Both men were connecting with big punches but the home crowd were beginning to sense Hyland had entered a war he could not win.
Following a period of distance boxing from Hyland at the start of round four, Big Bang again had his way in what would be the final wave of thundering shots to the body and head of a brave Hyland before the referee rescued the Tallaght man and validated one of the most amazing Irish sporting story’s.
Willie “Big Bang” Casey one of twenty two siblings from Southhill in Limerick had conquered Europe in just eleven fights, one less then Belfast’s Damaen Kelly 22-4 (10KO) who won the belt after twelve fights back in 2002.
“Here I am now after only two years in the game and eleven fights and Im the champion of Europe. I have made history here tonight, I have won it after only eleven fights and two years as a professional and I am also the first Munster man to win this title” said the limerick man.