PAUL McCullagh Jnr got his professional career off to an impressive start at the Belfast light-heavyweight blasted through Ben Thomas in Wakefield on Sunday night.
The 20-year-old ‘Irish Drago’ scored a third-round stoppage of the Bolton man as he took out his frustrations having been forced to wait for his bow in the paid ranks having made the switch from amateur at the start of the year.
Known as a power puncher from his days as an amateur, McCullagh insisted beforehand that he was hoping to utilise his boxing skills to complement heavy fire and did so with aplomb to get his journey off to the best possible start.
“Before the fight, I was working on going out behind my jab,” he said after.
“When I was in there, I was getting my distance and smothering my work a wee bit so that’s why I probably looked a bit sloppy.
“I actually wasn’t looking for it (stoppage) but when I got into the third round, I started to warm up because I knew I had done seven, eight and nine rounds in sparring on top of my training, so I started to get going late.”
That was perhaps a little unfair on himself as he opened well and was picking his shots well, varying his attacks to head and body with Thomas looking in a little discomfort at times as the former St John Bosco amateur found the target.
He did appear keen to find the stoppage as-soon-as-possible but settled down in the second round as he sunk in some meaty hooks to the body and settled to the task.
Thomas was happy to fire back and this made for an entertaining battle but McCullagh was clearly producing the better quality and by the thirds he was fully into his groove, stalking his opponent and sinking in some heavy fire that had Thomas in survival mode. The Englishman was unable to withstand the pressure as he was tagged with a left that put him on unsteady legs and sensing blood, McCullagh poured forward, landing a wicked left to the body as his opponent retreated by was eventually caught with a right to the top of the head that had him down.
To his credit, Thomas beat the count, but the damage had been done and a perfectly-place left to the ribs was enough as he was down again, but this time there was no recovering as McCullagh took the win.
“I’m only 20 years of age and building my craft going into the pro ranks so I’ll take every fight as it comes,” he added.
“I’m going to build myself, get the fights and the experience because I felt the change from the amateur into the pro game tonight. When I’m ready, I’ll take the big fights, but for now I’m just learning my craft.
“I can feel the difference (from amateur) in the gloves, the atmosphere and how the boxing is. They (opponents) are a lot tougher.
“I was trying to get my body shots off and when I was going for my head shots, I felt like he tucked up well. I didn’t want to throw wild combinations - I wanted to pick my punches so that’s what I’ll work on from now on.”
Having made his debut behind closed doors, the popular West Belfast man is hoping to return for a home debut as soon as possible. There were no bold predictions following Sunday’s win, but McCullagh says he is happy to learn his craft and with a long road ahead, will take his time as he matures as a professional boxer.
“I’ll fight anywhere if there is a crowd or not,” he insisted.
“I just took it as another fight with no-one there. I’m hoping to get a fight in Belfast once the pandemic blows over because I’ve a good support in Belfast and they come out in force.
“It’s my childhood dream to be a professional so I’m in no rush. I’ve got a good 10 months training under my belt and I got a fight, so I made my childhood dream come true and when I can get out again, I’ll get out.
“I’ve a good manager and team behind me so it’s up to my manager to make that call. I’ll be ready when my coach knows I’m ready, so I’ll just take each fight as it comes. I don’t talk outside the ring - I’ll just fight.”