By David Hennessy
Monaghan boxer Stephen McKenna made short work of Gary McGuire on Saturday night. In his UK debut, the LA-based boxer nicknamed ‘The Hitman’ took care of business in cold-blooded fashion and had McGuire on the canvas in 24 seconds. McGuire tried to continue but knew he was going no further after a thunderous left hander knocked him almost the length of the ring. With a smile and a shrug, the Glasgow-born boxer seemed to admit right there on the floor: I can’t take it.
Stephen told The Irish World from Monaghan where he has been back training since lockdown came in: “I was happy to go in there and get the knock-out. I trained very hard for this fight and was well prepared. I felt very strong in there. I think I was carrying a lot more strength. I felt stronger in there and once I started punching him, he couldn’t handle it.
“It felt like I was really hurting him. I heard him wince when I was hitting him to the body so he was really feeling those shots and I was banging them in.
“You can’t let him off the hook. Once you have got a guy hurt, you finish him. Once he went down, I knew I had him so I went in for the finish.
“I felt like it was a good solid performance and I’m looking forward to fighting again.”
Nicknamed the Hitman, Saturday night’s fight was Stephen’s fifth straight knock-out since he joined the pro ranks and it was also his fourth KO to have come in the first round: “You don’t get paid for overtime.
“He came up to me after it and said he was never hit as hard in his life. He said, ‘Just too strong’. He said he’s never hurt as much but he was a nice fella as well. He was a good opponent. He was tough. He hasn’t been dropped before so I was the first guy to drop him.”
Stephen will return in November or December for his next fight.
“It will be great to get back fighting. A lot of support coming in after it, I have new fans, people saying how well I did.
“My phone has been going non-stop. I’ve been getting messages on Instagram and everything. I’ve got a lot of new fans from it. People are excited to see me back in there, they want to see more.”
Stephen did get a stern word from the referee for what he saw as hitting McGuire while he was on the ground: “I was throwing a punch and it was very close. His knee wasn’t touching the ground or so I threw the punch and the referee seen it as hitting him when he was down. I didn’t intentionally mean to punch him while he was down.”
McKenna is trained by Freddie Roach. Roach is widely regarded as one of the best boxing coaches of all time and has trained fighters like Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Wladimir Klitschko, Manny Pacquiao Steve Collins, Wayne McCullough and Bernard Dunne.
“He’s been very happy with my performance as well so it’s good to get those words from him.”
What makes him such an esteemed trainer? “It’s all his knowledge and he has a great connection with his fighters. We have a great connection with Freddie and we really bond really well together. We listen to everything Freddie tells us and that’s it. He’s been there with a lot of world champions and has been at the very top, it’s unbelievable.
“He loves Irish, he loves their style of fighting and never give up attitude in the ring. He really likes me and Aaron.”
Stephen’s younger brother Aaron is also a promising boxing talent.
A standout amateur with a career record of 155 fights and only 24 losses, Stephen won the Irish Under-18 youth title, multi-nation bronze in Russia, Commonwealth Youth Gold in Samoa, European youth silver in Poland and was crowned Irish Elite Senior Champion all in one year. Before moving to Los Angeles in 2018, McKenna had been training with the Irish Elite team at the High Performance centre in Dublin.
Stephen has said he wants to be in line for title shots in one or two years but we wanted to ask, Does he think a title shot could come quicker especially if he keeps knocking his opponents out in such rapid fashion? “I’m just going to keep going one fight at a time and listen to my management team and whatever they decide. I’m just going to beat what’s in front of me so when they feel I’m ready to step up for a title, I’ll be there and I’ll be ready. I want to keep progressing, keep getting better and keep knocking these guys out.
“I’d like to thank everyone for tuning in. Get ready to see more.”
We spoke to Stephen ahead of fight, check that interview out here.