Turning 39 most boxers have long since hung up their mitts and settled for a life of reminiscing on sepia-coloured past glories.
However, former Irish international amateur star turned boxing coach, Stephen Reynolds, isn’t most boxers and is set to make his debut in the paid ranks on July 21 in Belfast. A decade ago ‘Block’ Reynolds ranked amongstEurope’s top amateur boxers, chalking up five Irish National titles at Super-heavyweight and Heavyweight between 1997 and 2001 and a Four Nations gold in 2001, beating England’s David Dolan in the final. He also competed at the World Championships in 1999 and 2001 where he prepared alongside eventual silver medal winner David Haye. Together with younger brother, Alan, who amassed a string of seven Irish senior titles, the pair seemed made for the professional game, stardom and the cash rewards that came with success.
Whilst Haye, who was ranked number two in the division behind Reynolds at the time, went on to become a world champion and Pay-Per-View star, Reynolds retired from the sport taking up a vocation in coaching the sweet science to local youth whilst doubling up a Sligo Town’s first parking warden by day. “It felt good being ranked so highly but I saw that as rewards for the hard work myself and Alan put in not a gateway to being snapped up by a big promoter.
“That was all before the High Performance Team with the IABA started. They’ve a great set up now but I just missed that starting. Had it been in place when I was there then I am sure I would have been in the Olympics like Kenny Egan and the others.
“Lou Duva did offer to turn me professional back then. I was fighting in America at the Foxwoods Casino against Devin Vargas and Duva approached me after the bout and asked if I’d sign with him but I wasn’t interested. “Maybe I felt I hadn’t the style for the pro ranks, I was used to the amateur code and fought for points, scoring against a target, it’s almost a different sport.” admitted Reynolds. “Things are different now, it’s the best I’ve ever felt. I’m planting my feet and following through a lot harder with my punches. “I’m not chasing money and that’s what makes me more dangerous, I’m having fun and seeking glory. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun and I’m really enjoying training but this is no joke and a clear distinction needs to be made there,” said ‘Block’ sternly.
Reynolds was to make his debut on a bill is Roscommon earlier in the year but that fell through and he has now teamed up with Manchester-based Sligo manager Leonard Gunning who has secured the Ballinacarrow banger a debut slot on an Emerald Promotions bill alongside some of Belfast’s brightest prospect including Anthony Cacace, Ray Ginley and Paul Moffett on a card headlined by an Irish title fight between unbeaten Joe Hillerby and veteran scrapper Lee Murtagh.
“I haven’t stopped training since the last bout was cancelled. I’ve started my 6 week training camp now and focused on fight night. I’ve already at the targeted fight weight and the hungers back, it’s even easy to get up for those 5am runs,” chuckled Reynolds with renewed confidence after losing two stone since Christmas. “I know I haven’t got the time to build my record against cannon-fodder like younger lads. It’ll have to be a fast paced rollercoaster ride if I want to achieve my goals. “Give me 4 or 5 quick fights against quality opposition and the Irish title. That’s the dream. But who knows, if I get knocked out in my first few fights then that won’t happen!” uttered Reynolds who is only too aware of the dangers and pitfalls in the professional ranks.
“My brother Alan is my main sparring partner but I’ve options in Limerick, Dublin or Belfast I can call on if I feel I need additional rounds before the fight.
“We won’t really know what we have until fight night and there’s no substitute for actually fighting. It could be over as quick as it began or it could be the start of something big. Either way it’ll be exciting and I’ll give all the fans that come to see me the night to remember. “At 39 I’m still fresh because started boxing late so the miles aren’t on the clock as I looked after myself and kept training. I just want one more rattle at it. There are potentially some big fights on the Irish scene and I won’t be shying away from them. The likes of Darren Corbett and Conall Carmichael stand in my way to getting at Dublin’s Ian Tims and the Irish title but I can’t even think about them yet until I have my debut,” said Reynolds keen not to get too carried away before his opener.
“The reaction at home to the news that I’m finally making my pro debut was fantastic. I’ve been overwhelmed with the support and requests for tickets. It’s been a long time since Vinny Feeney retired and we’ve had no Sligo pro to cheers on since then but the bus load of fans coming up to support me will make it feel like a home tie I am sure. “ Tickets for
Stephen’s debut at the Emerald Roadhouse, Belfast on Saturday, July 21 range from €19 standing, €30 seated and €48 ringside. Return bus from Sligo for just €10. Tickets are available in Sligo from Barton Smith Sports, the Adelaide Casino and Ballinacarrow Boxing Club or in Belfast at Manny’s at 241 Antrim Road. Alternatively call 087 858 9369 or in the north call 075 35 267 641.
Follow Stephen on twitter at @BlockReynolds