PHOTO: VALENTIN ROMERO
By Jay Mwamba
County Monaghan’s Aaron McKenna, at age 18, the youngest Irish prizefighter ever by his estimation, makes his pro debut at the hallowed Madison Square Garden this Saturday. The lanky 6-foot-one inch welterweight squares off with Mexican Victor Eddy Gaytan in a four-rounder.
A stellar amateur whose accomplishments included eight Irish national titles in the under underage ranks and a European Schoolboys gold medal, McKenna becomes the second Irish-born fighter to debut at the Garden after Michael Conlan last March.
He fights on the undercard of retiring Puerto Rican icon Miguel Cotto’s farewell match with Brooklynite Sadam Ali.
A veteran of 161 amateur bouts – with only nine losses – McKenna is the latest Irish, and youngest, addition to former multiple world champion Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotion stables in Los Angeles.
Exciting Donegal middleweight prospect Jason “El Animal” Quigley is the other. Both McKenna and Quigley are managed by Sheer Sports.
A third Irish fighter, albeit under different management, training on the West Coast is the aforementioned Michael Conlan.
“This is a dream come true,” McKenna told the Echo last Saturday. “Since I was six I’ve been dreaming to fight at the Garden – the best venue to fight in the world. All the greats have fought here.”
In Gaytan, he faces an opponent, who at 25 is seven years older than him and boasts a 2-3 pro record.
Team McKenna, which also comprises the youngster’s trainer-father Fergal and former South African heavyweight Courage Tshabalala, feel that their teenage charge is more than up for the task.
“Aaron has a mixed style,” said Fergal McKenna, a familiar name to fans back home for his work with Irish international teams.
In a nutshell, Aaron, whose default setting is aggression, can box and counter punch. An alumni of Ireland’s highly successful high performance program, he is both an excellent counterpuncher and a Mike Tyson-inspired destroyer.
Fergal said his son idolized Tyson, the ferocious former world heavyweight champion, from a young age.
Aaron is the youngest of three boxing brothers. His immediate older brother, Stephen, who’s 20, won the Irish Senior Elite light-flyweight title in 2016. He also picked up a Commonwealth Youth Games gold medal. Another sibling, 23 year-old Gary, is also an Irish Elite Champion.
McKenna was considered a top Irish medal hope for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 before turning pro.
He told Irish-Boxing.com that opting to turn professional was an easy decision and that:
“The Olympics aren’t for another three years and if things go well for me, I could have up to 15 pro fights by then. This is a great opportunity for me with Golden Boy Promotions and I intend to make the most of it.”
McKenna told the Echo: “My goal is to become world champion and Ireland’s best ever boxer.”
TICKETS & TV
The McKenna- Gaytan scrap is scheduled to kick off the TV proportion of Saturday’s card at approximately 7 p.m. EST on Ringtvlive. Tickets start at $50 with ringside seats pegged at $500.
CONLAN GARDEN RETURN
A week after McKenna’s debut, Michael Conlan returns to Madison Square Garden, sight of his raucous pro debut on St. Patrick’s Day last March, for a six-round featherweight contest with Argentine Luis Fernando Molina on Dec. 9.
Conlan is 4-0 with 4 KOs while Molina is 7-3-1 with 2 wins by stoppage.