BOXING BLUES (Part One) By Matt McCormack
Evertonians will never tire at the sight of Tim Cahill racing towards the corner flag to display his boxing skills, but the club's links with the sport run deeper than just the popular Aussie's goal celebration.
This Saturday, Tony 'Bomber' Bellew will hope to follow in the footsteps of the city's first British champion Nel Tarleton by becoming the latest Liverpool-born pugilist to capture the much coveted Lonsdale belt. Like Tarleton back in 1931, Bellew will have home advantage when he challenges Ovill McKenzie for the vacant British 175 lbs title at the Echo Arena.
The fight is a rematch of last December's eventful encounter at the same venue in which the proud Scouser successfully defended his light heavyweight Commonwealth title despite an early scare. After suffering a knockdown in each of the first two rounds, the Wavertree puncher rose from the canvas to outbox McKenzie and stop his opponent in the eighth. On the banks of the River Mersey on Saturday night both the British light heavyweight title and Bomber's Commonwealth belt will be on the line.
The passionate Evertonian, who enters the ring to Z Cars and has the club's crest emblazoned on his royal blue boxing shorts, won three ABA titles in the unpaid ranks for the Rotunda ABC and has recently returned to the Lambeth Road gym under the guidance of Mick McAllister and Mark Quinn. Bellew also enlists the help of Everton coach Dave Billows for his strength and conditioning training at Finch Farm as he looks to extend his unbeaten professional record. "I never get star-struck but the first time Tim Cahill came over to talk to me I was a bit in awe and tongue tied," Bellew told the Liverpool Echo. "Now Tim and the other lads text me before my fights to wish me luck and David Moyes is very supportive too. The players just treat me like one of the lads."
Bellew isn't the only Evertonian to ply his trade in the fight game. At the peak of his powers, one staunch Evertonian was described by boxing commentator Reg Gutteridge as "one of the most colourful fighters of the decade" - the man in question was born in Mill Street, Liverpool on the day a Jeff Astle goal for West Brom condemned the Blues to defeat in the 1968 FA Cup final at Wembley. James Patrick Neary adopted the name 'Shea' in honour of his late father, who he described as a 'mad Evertonian'. Neary's boyhood hero was Duncan McKenzie and attended matches at Goodison with his father, watching the action from the boy's pen. Neary's Irish ancestry led to him being given the moniker 'The Shamrock Express' and he made his pro debut at the Everton Park Sports Centre in 1992.
In only his fourth fight he defeated future British champion Chris Saunders and in the seventeenth fight of his professional career, outpointed tough American Darryl Tyson over 12 rounds to claim the WBU light welterweight title (a belt that Ricky Hatton would go on to win after Neary's retirement). Arguably the pinnacle of Shea Neary's career came only a stone's throw from his beloved Goodison Park when he faced cross-town rival Andy Holligan in a 5,000 capacity marquee in Stanley Park. Neary wore royal blue gloves while Holligan donned the colour associated with the other club in the city, in the eagerly anticipated scrap dubbed 'The Nark in the Park'. After a highly entertaining six rounds the referee called a halt to the contest with Holligan slumped on the ropes and in no position to continue after being dropped by the champion.
Whilst the name 'Villarreal' sends a cold shiver down the spine of most Blues after the ill-fated 2005 Champions League tie, Neary had no such problem when faced with an opponent of the same name. In 1998, Juan Carlos Villarreal travelled to face Shea in the heart of the city at St George's Hall, but Neary proved too good for his Argentinean opponent and dominated the fight on the way to a unanimous decision to retain his WBU crown.
Neary's clash with Micky Ward was depicted in the climax of the Oscar-winning Hollywood blockbuster 'The Fighter' - a biopic of the American fighter's life in and out of the ring. Whilst Ward went on to fight a fascinating trilogy with Arturo Gatti, Neary was unable to recapture the glory after suffering his first career defeat at the hands of the man from Massachusetts. He retired from the sport after losing a controversial points decision against Eamonn Magee in Belfast for the Commonwealth title. In recent years Neary returned to the sport in a training capacity, eager to inspire another generation of boxers hoping to follow in his footsteps.
Shea's fighting style and spirit was akin to that of Joe Royle's 'Dogs of War' and he will go down as one of the most entertaining fighters the city of has ever produced. His determination, heart, durability and punching prowess ensured that he captured the hearts of fans from both sides of the footballing divide as he wrote his name into local boxing folklore.
For Tickets for Tony Bellew's Fight On Saturday 16th July at The ECHO Arena - CLICK HERE Or Phone: 0844 800 3638
Look Out For BOXING BLUES (Part Two) By Matt McCormack Coming Soon
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