McAfee sets his sights on an Irish title in 2018

by Dave Donnelly
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Stephen McAfee continued his rapid rise up the pro boxing ranks with a split-decision win over Cork’s Colin O’Donovan in Drimnagh last month.

The Sallynoggin man outpointed O’Donovan over eight rounds, the pair having battled to a blood-soaked draw over six rounds back in September, to claim the BUI Celtic 130lb title.

The second fight more than lived up to its billing, with many commentators dubbing it the fight of the year so far.

O’Donovan, whom the Dubliner branded ‘Mo Farah’, in the lead-up as he accused him of running away, promised to stand up and fight.

That worked to the stronger McAfee’s advantage, as he looked comfortable trading blows, though he couldn’t add to his growing knockdown reel.

It was just McAfee’s fourth fight as a professional – he made the switch from kickboxing last year – which makes the maturity and patience of his performance all the more impressive.

Now the 26-year-old has set his sights on securing a first Irish title, which he reckons is within his grasp before the end of the year.

“I didn’t expect to be where I am now,” the Dun Laoghaire-born fighter told the Dublin Gazette.

“I always shoot for the stars. I wanted to be BUI champion, Irish champion, but I just didn’t think it would be so quick.

“I couldn’t ask for anything better. Four fights in, BUI champion – I can’t recall many people doing that.”

McAfee was a talented schoolboy footballer, having played until his late teens with his local side St Joseph’s Boys.

But by the time scouts from England and Bray Wanderers had begun sniffing around, he’d already made the choice to make the squared circle his arena.

“I was mad into soccer. At 18, I stopped and then I got into kickboxing for the sake of it. I enjoyed that, and I collected a few belts. People could see in my kickboxing style that I always preferred my hands.

“My friends were saying ‘go pro,’ but it was always in my mind. I’d always have loved to be pro. I just said f*** it I’ll do it now before it’s too late, and go for it.”

Now McAfee – who balances his pro career with college in Tralee, where he’s studying to become an electrician – sees the world in front of him.

Under the tutelage of trainers Johnny and Parkie Lewis – “I trust them with my life” – McAfee feels he’s arrived in Irish boxing at a time where competition is becoming ever tougher.

There was a time in Irish boxing where questionable journeymen were invited in to face Irish fighters. But with domestic boxing making inroads on national TV for the first time in a long time, McAfee feels the local rivalries are helping to drive standards and interest.

“There’s a lot more Irish wanting to fight each other, and I believe it’s better. Getting these foreigners in, no disrespect to them, but they’re not up to it.

“The first two fights I had, they were grand and all, but I was in second gear. You can pick up bad habits.

“I don’t want to go out and just keep beating these journeyman and thinking I’m the best. I’m in the game to be tested and be challenged.”

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