Ireland’s County Monaghan is an area small in geographic mass and in population. With around 60,400+ inhabitants, it ranks smaller than my own hometown, a small suburb of Glasgow.
You could fit the population of County Monaghan into a football stadium. This, is the aim of future World champion Aaron McKenna. I spoke with Aaron and his father/trainer Feargal McKenna shortly after they had signed a deal with Goldenboy Promotions that had truly shaken up Irish boxing.
I’d heard of the credentials Aaron carried throughout a stellar amateur career but signing with Oscar De La Hoya’s promotional giant must have been tricky to deal with for a shy, quiet teenager. I asked him what the last couple of weeks had felt like, expecting a shrug of the shoulders.
“It’s been unbelievable, you know, the support I’ve been getting. Ever since I started boxing when I was six years old, all I ever wanted to do was turn pro. With a great team of Sheer Sports and Goldenboy Promotions, I mean growing up I watched all the Goldenboy fighters.”
Aaron has been educated in boxing history through his father Feargal McKenna. Watching old contests and studying fights-gone-by had only enhanced his appreciation of his new circumstances.
“Great fighters like Canelo, Miguel Cotto and Oscar De La Hoya who runs it is one of the best fighters ever. It’s a dream come true!”
Aaron’s two older brothers are also involved in the sport. Feargal was trained at their local amateur club as was Irish legend Barry McGuigan and heavyweight Kevin McBride. I was keen to find out when they noticed Aaron was special. I’ve visited gyms and sat ringside at events and even then, a potential superstar can be hard to detect. Feargal told me,
“He really came to fruition when he was aged nine. That’s when we seen that he had immense talent and we seen that he was somebody who could learn stuff very quickly. He was physically very strong for his age. When he was nine or ten, he was fighting boys that were eleven or twelve and he was beating them in fights in Monaghan or around Ulster!”
The excitement surrounding his signing has been evident. He has popped up in newspapers, websites and Social Media news feeds. The work of Rachel Charles at Sheer Sports shouldn’t go unnoticed. She has been in touch with the McKenna family cultivating this deal since 2014.
Charles is a one-off in boxing in the modern day. Funny, easy to deal with and genuinely passionate about her stable.
I hadn’t caught any footage of Aaron before speaking to him and his father. Touted as ‘exciting’ and having held his own in close contests with current professional star Devin Haney, I was intrigued as to his style and how the coaching team viewed him as a boxer?
“The type of fighter that we probably look towards would be Marvin Hagler. Marvin Hagler, we’re big fans of his. Another guy that he tried to model himself on… well as a youngster he (Aaron) was called Mini T – for Mike Tyson. When he was fighting as a nine or ten year old that was his nickname because of all of the stoppages. In Ulster, coming through the competitions he had 20 fights and 19 stoppages.”
A 95% knockout ratio as a nine year old child. Make up your own mind about the natural talent of Aaron McKenna. The man himself told me his style was;
“Aggressive. I like to hurt my opponent. Try and put a lot of pressure on and hunt them down.”
I had recently sat down with fellow eighteen year old recently turned professional Willy Hutchinson. The similarity struck me. Both extraordinary amateurs, turning their back on the AIBA regime. Willy felt he had achieved all he could, winning gold at the World Amateur Junior championships. But why did Aaron feel now was the right time?
“Listen, the Olympics are a long way away. Another three years. In that time I can learn a lot, tricks of the trade in the pro-game and learn in that three years. Turning pro at twenty-four or twenty-five I think is a wee bit too late.”
From County Monaghan to Las Vegas. From amateur to professional. The journey had only just started for McKenna. The excitement was obvious, with Irish media clamouring for air-time with a potential sporting icon.
The truth is that the destination of World titles is pretty far away. Establishing a career, building a brand and maximising his natural ability are the priorities for Mini T. Though, I was told he had chosen another moniker…
“I’m called ‘The Silencer’ because someone said to me before that outside of the ring I’m quiet but inside the ring I look like want to kill someone. The same way as the Hitman. He can’t be heard, but he can be seen. I’m the same when I’m boxing, outside the ring very quiet but inside the ring I want to shit up my opponent. I do my talking in the ring.”
The biggest challenge for Aaron and Feargal will be the relocation. Leaving behind members of the family is never easy and flying across the Ocean to pursue a dream to some, may seem drastic. For Feargal though, there was no ‘choice’. A father first and a trainer second, he truly believes in his son.
“It was very, very difficult (the decision). We’ve been over and back three or four times now and for our hunger and the desire the young fella has to be a World champion we need to be there where we get some top quality sparring. Top quality camps. Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to fight in Las Vegas or Madison Square Garden?”
Expected to debut sooner rather than later, the former amateur star with a record of 145-9 seems calm and at ease with his recent media attention. He knows that everything fizzles out if he doesn’t deliver. The fanfare and the media obligations don’t follow you forever – unless you give them no option but to take notice.
These young superstars turning over early can only be good for the professional game. The work that Feargal and the McKenna boys have put in will surely pay dividends. Their father/son bond seems water-tight. It lacks the angry hot and cold nature of a Eubank or Mayweather relationship. Coming from Monaghan, it is an entirely different social climate.
Aaron’s rise to the top will be exciting, no doubt. I asked him in closing, if we were sat here in twenty years looking back… what would he have hoped to achieve?
His answer was his quickest and most definitive,
“To become a World champion and one of Ireland’s greatest ever boxers.”
Written by Craig Scott