Out to tame a savage Garda Kennedy primed for key battle with Croat
Garda Kennedy primed for key battle with Croat
GOREY Garda Niall Kennedy faces a defining moment in his professional boxing career tonight, live on Sky, when he faces Croatian hotshot Alen Babic in an eight-round heavyweight contest in the Marshall Arena, Milton Keyes.
Labelled 'The Savage,' Babic is the newest sensation to hit the heavyweight scene. He grabbed the headlines with a spectacular knockout win during Matchroom's Fight Club series in August.
He is being tutored by World heavyweight contender Dillian Whyte and spars regularly with the UK fighter. His next fight is already lined up, but Kennedy aims to halt the Babic bandwagon.
Thirty-six-year-old Kennedy has managed to combine his full-time career in the Garda Síochána with his passion for boxing. After 11 wins - eight via knockout - and a draw his ring career suffered its first major setback last August when he was stopped by American and 2004 Olympian Devon Vargas.
Kennedy's preparation for the fight was badly hit by a persistent back injury and he believes the loss wasn't a true reflection of his ability.
But, in an ironic twist of fate, the defeat paved the way for him to get this fight which has the potential to change the trajectory of his career.
"I'm no fool. I wouldn't have got this opportunity if I had won my last fight. They think I'm on the slide. But this is a great chance for me to propel my career back up.
"This is the type of fight I want to be involved in and it will give me a massive indication of where I am as well."
Kennedy and his long-time coach Paschal Collins (inset) flew to the UK on Wednesday, where they had a test for Covid-19. They then had to self-isolate for 24 hours to await the results. Once they received the all-clear they entered the fight bubble.
It rankles with the Wexford fighter to suggest that he's on a mission to survive against 29-year-old Babic.
Though he has won all his four professional fights within the distance, he has only completed seven rounds in his professional career. By contrast, Kennedy has clocked up 69 rounds.
"He is an aggressive and forceful fighter who has done everything right so far. You can't argue with his record, but I have the tools to nullify him.
"He is one dimensional because of the way he fights. There is no question of me trying just to survive, it's not on my mind. The game plan is to outbox him and take him to places where he is not comfortable.
"He has been dispatching smaller men. But (physically)I am his biggest opponent so far," said Kennedy who, at 6'3", is an inch taller than the Croatian.
Babic made his professional debut only in July 2019. Although his last opponent Shawndell Terell Winter had a winning record (13-2) the American made little effort and was counted out early in the second round.
Kennedy will prove far more durable even though his preparations were far from ideal. During the first phase of the lockdown he couldn't travel to Dublin to train in Collins' gym.
He did most of his preparation at home and enlisted the help of his amateur coach John 'Hagler' Murray. Eventually, he was able to return to training under Collins and resume sparring.
But after new restrictions were imposed in Dublin, Collins travelled to Gorey to oversee his preparations.
"I was actually preparing for a different fight, but it fell through. However, on the back of the cancellation I got a chance to fight on his card."
Babic had a decent, rather than spectacular, amateur career in Croatia. Boxing in the light heavyweight division, he suffered three losses to fellow countryman Marko Calic whose clash against England's Joshua Buatsi is the feature fight on the show.
"There is a blueprint there for the way to beat him," suggested Kennedy who, as an advocate of mental-health issues, appreciates the importance of sport in the current climate.
"Everybody is under pressure and mental health is under pressure. This is a great distraction for me.
"I have trained very hard and I am really looking forward to the fight," said Kennedy, who was awarded a Hero of the World award by the World Boxing Council to mark his work as a Garda during the nationwide lockdown.
The shaven-headed 'Savage from Zagreb' could meet his match against the gentle Gorey Giant. Though the Croatian is a short-priced 1/6 favourite, the Irishman can cause a big upset.
- Live coverage on Sky Sports Arena 7.0.