Third time, unlucky!

The referee had just raised Martin Harkin’s hand in victory after an impressive stoppage of journeyman, Miguel Aguilar, back in January. An excitable crowd at the Burns Night Extravaganza listened as boxing announcer, Craig Stephen, declared the next St Andrews Sporting Club show would be their first ever Friday Night event on March 15th. Harkin would face fellow Scot, Ally Black, for the Celtic Welterweight Title.

Great news? Well, almost! Martin would really have preferred to have heard Stephen announce ‘AND THE NEW Celtic Welterweight Champion’ that evening, as the bout was originally scheduled to be against Tony Dixon for the belt.

Yet, the show must go on. And The Friday Fight Night was starting to gather some buzz, a poster was quickly released promoting the domestic title clash, followed by the announcement that the evenings Guest of Honour would be Scotland’s boxing sensation, Josh Taylor.

Making the same commute that Martin does daily to train, I travelled to Greenock Amateur Boxing Club to see the Dumbarton boxer in camp. There was a sense of focus in the gym as Martin was joined by a few dedicated others to carry out some intense circuits. Training like a man possessed, I watched as he drenched his way through two t-shirts. As the interval timer buzzed, his trainer Danny Lee shouted out instructions of the next exercise while other gym-goers did their best to keep up with the professional boxer. After his training session, I spoke with Martin and could tell he was excited about his upcoming opportunity, he stepped on the scales for a check-weight, him and Danny Lee both happy with the numbers on show. All was on course for tapering off his training routine as we headed towards fight week.

The gym had a positive vibe around it, however I imagine that dramatically changed when news reached them that Ally Black had to withdraw from the Friday show with an arm injury.

This now marked the third time that Martin Harkin’s Celtic title hopes had been  snatched away from him, last minute.

His first Celtic title opportunity was set to be last December as he signed on to give away home-advantage and take on Belfast lad, Lewis Crocker, on a packed MTK Card. Unfortunately, Crocker suffered an injury in sparring and had to withdraw from the bout and is still yet to return to the ring.

Martin remained positive and relished the chance to have the Celtic bout rescheduled on home turf, headlining the Burns Night Extravaganza against Welsh Welterweight champion, Tony Dixon. A chest infection forced the Welshman to pull out on the Tuesday before fight night. Ally Black then becoming the third cancellation of the elusive Celtic Title must even have worn Martin’s patience thin, but Ally also shared his own disappointment regarding his withdrawal.

“I’m totally gutted, this was a great chance, it’s a shame – I’ve seen another few people have pulled out [on Martin] but my health is more important and once this arm is better, we can go again! I had advice from the doctor to not punch 4-6 weeks!Camp was going really well and I was having some great sparring as preparation for it before it happened! But hopefully we can get it on again once I’m back.“

Whoever said bad luck comes in three’s certainly wasn’t talking about Martin Harkin as the ridiculous run of misfortune continued into fight night. Jeffrey Rosales was set to be the replacement opponent, however while our Scots Welterweight was gearing himself up for a contest with the tough journeyman, the Panamanian was detained in customs after being refused entry to the UK.

Whilst promoters tend to hold a phone book of trusty foreign journeyman, who will step in at short notice – no plane, train or automobile would get them to the Radisson hotel in Glasgow before the opening bell. This time a phonecall to fellow Glasgow promoter, Sam Kynoch, was required to save the card being a complete disaster. St Andrews Sporting Club not only needed an opponent for Martin but also featherweight Billy Stuart. Luckily Sam was able to provide Chris ‘Trigger’ Wood and Neil McCubbin for exhibition bouts.

After a hard days work, Trigger headed to the gym before planning to have a relaxing Friday night at home. He walked in his front door only to find himself racing up from Dumfries in an 80 mile journey to ensure Martin got some rounds and then back down the road. Now that’s what you call dedication to the sport!

Andy Tham suddenly found himself in an unheard of position, promoted from an opening bout on a title fight show to headlining on his debut. Entering the ring to Bits-n-Pieces and cheers from his excited supporters, he started the fight eager to please. Launching into quick combinations, he attempted to corner his Hungarian opponent. Although he seemed to hurt Istvan Kovacs, he wasn’t for lying down and the journeyman responded well with the occasional clean hook, giving Tham the chance to prove he had a good chin. Eventually the Cumbernauld boxer took over and dropped his man in the fourth – and final – round with a body shot. Kovacs rose to his feet but the referee decided he had seen enough and waved off the bout as the debutant bounced with glee in the centre of the ring, celebrating his victory.

The finish added some much needed excitement to the end of the night. I left with mixed feelings – looking forward to keeping an eye on the progression of Andy Tham but really hoping Martin Harkin can eventually get his hands on the ever elusive Celtic title.

Outside of the ring, some entertainment was provided by Craig Beattie and the Guest of Honour Josh Taylor. Beattie shared some amusing anecdotes of his times in Swansea, where he decided to take up boxing with Enzo Maccarinelli. Unbeknownst to many, this was Josh Taylor returning to the St Andrews Sporting Club – he is one of the few amateurs to have had the chance to showcase their skills in the promotion’s ring. In 2012, Josh was picked as a select few to take part in a special amateur Scotland Vs England event hosted by the club. The lad from Prestonpans faced off against Scouser, Robbie Davies Jr, in the final bout of the night. The fights were tied 2-2 leading into the fight and Josh Taylor picked up a close decision, giving the Scots a rare win over The Auld Enemy.

We as fans perceive boxing matches to be the most brutal occasions in sport. The courage, skill and brutality on the night separates them from others. But often the most painful fights are behind the scenes; the pullouts and call-offs, usually without blame, ruin months of sacrifice and dedication. Remaining focused and continuing to train, setting the alarm for the early hours once more, and putting your body and mind through hell, becomes an even greater challenge. We’re sure it’s one that Harkin will overcome, and he will finally, deservedly, get that title shot, and we wish him well.

By Allen Payne