STRADDLING the line between genius and crazy, Tyrone McKenna’s approach to boxing is one that separates him from many of his peers. Whereas for some boxers the priority tends to be self-preservation, McKenna wants to bleed, and hurt, and feel, and give fans their money’s worth. Similarly, whereas some boxers prefer to cherry-pick their opponents, identifying the path of least resistance, McKenna only feels alive if he is chasing the most dangerous opponents available and therefore putting himself in harm’s way.
It is an admirable, fan-and-promoter-friendly approach to the sport and it has resulted in McKenna becoming one of Ireland’s most popular fighters. Better yet, it has helped land the Belfast man a brilliant opportunity against former super-lightweight titleholder Regis Prograis on March 19 in Dubai.
“It was first mentioned about two or three weeks after my last fight (against José Félix in August 2021),” McKenna explained to Boxing News. “I was told MTK (his promoters) were talking to Prograis’ manager, trying to make a fight between us. It came as a complete surprise but obviously I wanted it.
“At the start of the year, I was told it was no longer happening.
“Then out of the blue, the day before it (the news) got released I received a phone call telling me the fight I was supposed to have – against a UK fighter – was now off but the Prograis fight was back on. I was buzzing. That’s the fight I wanted. I’m a guy who wants a test. I don’t want to be fighting domestic fights. I want to see how good I can be.
“The best available fight in the world for me right now is Regis Prograis [below]. Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall are fighting each other (on February 19), so the next best person for me to fight is Prograis.”
Knowing he has it all to do, McKenna, 22-2-1 (6), has been preparing for the fight – or at least a fight – since the beginning of January and has already sparred many rounds with Jack Catterall and Paddy Donovan. He says camp has so far been “perfect” and knows it will need to continue in this vein if he’s to have any chance of defeating a man some believe is operating at a level or two above him.
“I’ve seen all the doubters and the people giving me s**t on Twitter and Instagram, saying, ‘Tyrone is out of his depth,’ or, ‘He won’t last two rounds’,”said McKenna. “But that just fuels me. It spurs me on. I’m buzzing to see people write me off. I love being the underdog and love training with that kind of mentality. I want to fight people who are expected to beat me because there’s no pressure on me in that scenario. It’s all on him. According to everyone in the boxing world, he’s already won the fight. That drives me in training. I get up in the morning and make sure I have everything covered.”
In terms of having everything covered, McKenna doesn’t have to look too hard for footage of Prograis, 26-1 (22). Easily the biggest name he has faced to date, McKenna is fighting someone about whom he already knows plenty.
“I obviously watched the (Josh) Taylor fight, which was an unbelievable fight, and a close fight. But that’s the only fight of his I have watched live,” McKenna said. “I’ve watched some of his others since our fight has been confirmed, which is enough to know he is a talented fighter and a world-class fighter. But he’s also a beatable fighter. I think I have a much better work rate than him, and a bigger heart than him, and more balls than him. These are the things I will be bringing to the table on the night.”
While winning remains the ultimate goal for McKenna, there is also a sense the 31-year-old places a far greater emphasis on entertaining fans than most fighters. It is for this reason McKenna, in an ideal world, would have liked the Prograis fight at home in Belfast rather than away from home in Dubai.
“I do love feeding off the fans and fighting for the fans and I would have loved it to be in Belfast,” he said. “But I still believe there will be lots of Irish out in Dubai. I should still be able to feed off them and their energy. I’m hoping it will feel like home.”
Regardless of where the fight takes place, and regardless of the opponent, McKenna is certain of both his own strategy and the type of battle this will ultimately produce.
“I’ve got the mentality now where I just expect to go to war,” he said. “In training camp that’s all I prepare for: a non-stop war. Obviously, I’m 6’1 and he’s 5’8, so I should be on the back foot, keeping him away and outboxing him. But that might win you fights but it won’t win you fans. That’s what I want. I want to entertain fans and I want to be in wars. Fans will forgive you if you’re exciting and lose, but they’ll never forgive you if you’re boring and win.
“If I go in there and box 10 rounds on the back foot, I feel dejected and feel like I’ve let people down. If, however, it’s been bloody, there have been a few knockdowns, and I’ve had to dig in and bite down on my gum shield, I feel a lot better. And that’s certainly what is going to happen on March 19.
“I can’t see anything but a war. I know Prograis will be overlooking me and thinking he is going to get me out of there in three or four rounds, but I can guarantee you he won’t. I’m going in against one of the very best in the world but will be coming out on top.”