Dunne retains belief to claim title


BOXING: “Champion of the world.” Four words Bernard Dunne has dreamt of hearing precede his name, though not long ago he could have been forgiven for thinking it would never happen. Many did think that, many thought he was fortuitous to have even got the chance, but regardless of what was thought and what was said, he got it. And he took it.

It took the best part of 11 rounds to seal victory over Ricardo Cordoba, a man who arrived in Dublin with a record of 34 wins, one loss and two draws. Despite failing to win three times on the road, he was supposed to be too good for Neilstown’s finest, out of his league even, but Dunne sent him crashing to the canvas four times.

The 29-year-old also hit the deck - twice in the fifth round - but picked himself off the floor both times, spurred on by his unwavering belief and a 9,000 strong crowd whose doubts had been laid to rest when, in the third round, he sent the champion staggering across the ring into a heap with the first of countless accurate left hooks.

Dunne was not the number one challenger prior to the first bell, far from it, but after it there was nobody else but Cordoba between him and the WBA super-bantamweight belt. When the latter was floored for the third time in the 11th by a fierce left uppercut, it was all his.

His opponent had been up by at least four rounds on the judge’s scorecards at that stage, but left the ring horizontal and receiving oxygen. Mercifully, dehydration was the diagnosis for the Panamanian.

Dunne was spared a post-fight press conference for the same reason but was his usual gracious self when having a few words with Marty Morrissey and the crowd immediately after the fight.

Minutes later, away from prying eyes and ears, he took a call from President McAleese and politely told her the decision to go to Cardiff for Ireland’s historic Grand Slam earlier in the day was ill-judged.

A Grand Slam and a world title in one day. What a difference a recession makes.

Dunne was in the unusual position of emerging first for the bout, shortly after 11pm. The response was electric, a long way from Breaffy House, where Dunne got his career back on track after the gut wrenching defeat to Kiko Martinez in this arena’s previous incarnation in August 2007.

His opponent was welcomed as hospitably as could have been expected and after the ‘pleasantries’ the pair went at it.

An early left signalled Dunne’s intent from the off and Cordoba responded with some measured right jabs.

The second round saw a slip from Dunne but it didn’t get to him and he stuck to the plan. He made sure to stay low, a simple but effective tactic that led to his opponent misfiring regularly. Every now and again Dunne popped up with the strong left hook and it’s accuracy proved troublesome for the champion, particularly in the third round.

Backed into corner, Dunne executed a perfect display of counter-punching when rising out of defence and catching the 24-year-old flush on the chin. The blow sent him stumbling across the ring and referee Hubert Earle was called upon for the first time.

The bell came in time for the champion, who was then slow to emerge for the fourth, much to the annoyance of Dunne’s trainer Harry Hawkins. The breather worked well for Cordoba and what appeared to be a clash of heads reopened the troublesome cut above Dunne’s left eye that had prematurely ended his points win over Cristian Faccio.

A big left rocked the Dubliner too. It was pretty impressive, as recoveries go, and it got better.

Dunne was floored twice soon after, two big right hands did the damage the first time and only one was needed the second. His gameplan was skewed along with his vision and too often he got dragged into a toe-to-toe battle with a boxer who was clearly comfortable on the back foot.

He picked Dunne off at will for a time. Only towards the end of the round did the Dubliner succeed in holding on. This time the bell was his saviour.

Like Cordoba, his recovery was spot on. The guard went back up, he picked his punches and, despite a brief scare, ended the round having found his range with the left again.

The seventh was tame in comparison, though both landed blows but concentrated mainly on regaining composure.

Cordoba was visibly tiring in the eighth and began to try and do the damage in the opening 30 seconds of the remaining rounds. He succeeded to an extent but Dunne’s fitness work with physical trainer Mike McGurn was proving valuable. He countered well and avoided an all-out war as much as was possible.

Not for the first time, the bell for the end of the ninth drew roars of approval from the crowd and the pair touched gloves in a public show of respect.

Cordoba again began brightly in the tenth and though he was fading he retained accuracy. It was anyone’s fight but Dunne had the crowd and as the round wore it was obvious he still had the belief.

It had been a brutal 10 rounds, worthy of any title fight. The ferocity of the eleventh, though, was still a surprise. Dunne later admitted he regarded each round a separate fight and that is what it had been until then. Ten brutal fights back-to-back. Emerging for the eleventh, patched up but bloodied still, he looked the stronger fighter.

Cordoba, ahead on the scorecards, must have been praying for time to intervene. His jabs were tired and his hooks wayward. His first of three visits to the canvass came when a Dunne combination on the ropes ended with a right that sent him crashing. The Dubliner remained composed, despite the pandemonium that ensued. He knew Cordoba would be back for more.

Earle ushered the champion back in after a standing count but that trusty left hook sent him sprawling again and at this stage there was a case for a stoppage. Surely, there was no coming back from that. Dunne knows a thing or two about comebacks though, and again, he remained calm.

The Panamanian gamely returned to the fray, but Dunne made sure this time with right hook and left uppercut. Earle signalled the end of the contest with one second remaining in the round and the venue erupted.

Dunne was embraced by Hawkins and saluted the crowd from his perch on the ropes but the celebrations were tempered by his concern for his opponent, who was already surrounded by medical staff.

The fear subsided and when the new champion of the world was presented to his public, permission to party was granted.

After all, it’s not every day a boxer with a glass chin and no punch picks himself off the ground twice to knock down the best in the world down three times.