Irish boxer Feargal McCrory fulfills childhood dream with MSG debut
Feargal McCrory was just a teenager when John Duddy became a popular star fighting at Madison Square Garden, but the sight of a fellow Irishman stirring up a crowd across the Atlantic stuck with him. The time difference between New York City and Ireland meant young Fearful couldn’t stay up and watch the fights live, but he read all the newspapers and watched the highlights on the news.
The young man from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland dreamed of the day he could put on a show for the Irish fans at the world’s most famous arena.
“It was just mesmerizing to see a man who comes from where I’m from and to be able to do what he’s done in Madison Square Garden. I wanted to do what he’s done,” said the 31-year-old McCrory (14-0, 7 knockouts)
The junior lightweight prospect will finally get his chance this Thursday when he faces Nikolai Buzolin (9-6-1, 5 KOs) in a six-round bout at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. The fight will open up the card which will be headlined by the New York debut of Irish prospect Callum Walsh, who faces Ismael Villarreal in a ten-round junior middleweight bout atop the 360 Promotions card, which will be streamed live by UFC Fight Pass.
For the southpaw McCrory, his Garden debut comes three years after he was originally scheduled to fight on a card at the same venue in March of 2020, only to see the show canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, he sat out more than two years before making his ring return late last year. He has fought three times in America since then, cultivating a strong following among Irish Americans in the New York and Philadelphia areas, and becoming a popular ticket seller stateside.
“For an Irishman to come to New York and to fight at The Garden, it’s what I’ve always dreamed of, it’s where I always wanted to be,” said “Fearless” McCrory. “I plan on taking this opportunity, grabbing it with both hands and delivering a great performance.”
McCrory grew up in the border town of Coalisland, a community of about 5,000 residents where few people could say they hadn’t been affected by The Troubles. McCrory’s uncle Sig was shot and killed in 1997 while defending a disco which was being fired upon in revenge for the killing of Billy Wright, the founder of the paramilitary group the Loyalist Volunteer Force.
McCrory remembers coming of age in a close-knit community where being tough was paramount. “If someone hit you and you went home crying, I wasn’t allowed back in until I hit him back. Even if I was beaten it was OK, but you had to be tough growing up,” said McCrory.
While McCrory first stepped into a boxing gym at age six, it wasn’t the first sport he excelled at. Gaelic football, an extremely rough sport akin to rugby, was the sport of choice in County Tyrone. McCrory played on the inter-county youth team and credits his boxing background for being fitter than the other players. At age 13, he made the choice to focus on boxing instead.
“I didn’t like relying on other people. If I win, I win. But if I lose, it’s on me,” said McCrory, a father of two.
“When you’re at that age of 15-16-17, where drink and stuff starts becoming introduced and you have a big game coming up and the lads are on the piss, it’s very frustrating. I think boxing was just my passion, more so than football.”
McCrory had a strong amateur background, losing just 12 times out of 127 amateur fights. He won four Irish titles, including winning the under-18 championship in record-setting fashion, where he didn’t concede a single point in four fights, which included defeating two reigning Irish champions along the way.
He competed on the national team, traveling to Denmark, Germany, Greece and Ukraine for international bouts, and winning gold at the Four Nations Championship, which pits the champions of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in a tournament.
He turned pro in 2015 and won the Irish lightweight title in 2019, stopping Karl Kelly in nine rounds in Belfast in what was his highest profile fight to date. All five of his bouts, including this Thursday’s fight, have been six-rounders, which McCrory says is due to him not having the backing of a manager or promoter to finance his career. He’ll have to take some chances to move his career along, he acknowledges.
“I’ve been crying out for 8 and 10-round fights, but when you’re not financially backed by a promoter it’s very difficult for them to do that,” said McCrory.
“I’m giving myself the very best opportunity, I train very hard and I look after myself out of camp. I know I’m going to have to be the B-side and I’m happy for that. I will fight but I will not take a fight on stupid notice.”
This fight will be his third with Colin Morgan, the veteran New York trainer best remembered for guiding the early career of Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin. Morgan trains McCrory out of the Bout Fight Club in Manhattan’s Financial District, and likens McCrory’s body punching to that of Mickey Ward.
“We worked on his balance, he learned how to control the ring, which punches to use and when, he’s coming along nicely now,” said Morgan.
McCrory will be heavily favored to defeat Buzolin, a 36-year-old Russian who lives in Brooklyn. Buzolin has lost three of his last four, though all losses came to undefeated prospects.
“He’s game, he’s fit, he seems to hit very hard, can be awkward at times. He’ll be confident coming in to the fight,” said McCrory of Buzolin. “He’ll ask questions of me and it’s time for me to answer them.”
Whether McCrory goes on to sell out Madison Square Garden regularly like Duddy, or wins a world championship like other Irish stars like Carl Frampton and Barry McGuigan, is something only the unraveling of time can dictate. McCrory is content with being a hero to his family and community, and everything else is an extra bonus.
“Someone told me while trying to insult me, you’re only a superstar in your own housing estate. It was probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. Because for me to be known and accepted and loved in my own community, I’ll be happy with that,” said McCrory.
“We all want to be world champion and I will go as close to achieving that as my hard work and ability allows me to do. I think my legacy as just someone who gives it their all and genuinely feared no man is good enough.”
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].