Cool Hand Keeler takes Irish title by narrowest margin

by Karl Graham
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LUKE Keeler shrugged off a broken hand to become the new Irish middleweight champion at the National Boxing Stadium in Dublin on Saturday night after securing a narrow one point win over Darren Cruise.
The 30-year-old from Ballyfermot and Roscommon’s Cruise were competing in the headline fight of Red Corner’s ‘For Honour and Pride’ card as both looked to leave the ring with the previously vacant title wrapped around their waist.
The fight got off to a cagey start but both fighters managed to land a big shot during the opening exchanges. Keeler was looking busier in the ring but Cruise was picking his punches well.
Round two saw Keeler take a front step in the fight but Cruise hit back at the Dubliner during the third.
“Cool Hand” Keeler dominated the fourth round with some good work to his opponent’s body but the Roscrea man hit back in the next round as he pushed the Ballyfermot man onto the ropes.
The damage to Keeler’s right hand became noticeable during the sixth as he held back on launching hooks in favour of more jab work. Cruise took advantage to make a good start but Keeler eventually got back into the swing of things and finished the round stronger.
Cruise started the seventh with a big right followed by a hook to the body in an attempt to slow down Keeler. The Celtic Warrior man was then reprimanded by the referee for a low shot that seemed to have little negative effect on Cruise.
In round eight, Cruise once again started well to land some accurate jabs that Keeler simply had no answer for, and took the round easily.
Keeler was knocked back during the ninth as the trend of Cruise dominating the opening exchanges of the round continued. However, Keeler got his jab back into the mix and finished well to take the round.
The fight was tight as the final round got underway and it was evident that both fighters knew they still had every chance of seeing their hand lifted into the air upon completion.
Shots were exchanged but it was Keeler who seemed to have the cleaner of them. The mid-section of the round saw a lull as both tired but Cruise was determined to have the last say and landed with a big straight.
Neither fighter deserved to lose the bout but Keeler managed to pip it with a final score of 96-95 to take his first title and give his European ranking a boost. Talks of a rematch are beginning to circulate but Keeler is likely to turn his attentions towards earning a shot at a European title.
There was no such luck for Castleknock’s Stephen Collins as he came unstuck against Mullingar’s Paddy McDonagh in the battle for the vacant light heavyweight title on the same card.
Collins was dropped in the first round and eventually went on to lose 97-94 on referee David Irvine’s scorecard, recording the first defeat of his professional career.

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