Irish title is at stake
Make or break for Cruise as Keeler aims to impress
Steve Collins, Matthew Macklin, Jim Rock, Spike O'Sullivan and Eamonn O'Kane are just some of the fighters who've held the Irish middleweight title.
On June 24, the coveted belt will be disputed at the National Stadium by Dubliner Luke Keeler (12-2, 5 KOs) and Roscommon native Darren Cruise (7-5, 1 KO).
"Darren is a very good boxer," says his manager Mark Dunlop. "He's going to make the most of this opportunity to prove it. He's hard as nails. Darren was amateur champion. Now he wants to be champion of Ireland."
Both boxers want this title badly so promoters Red Corner are sure of an explosive headline fight.
The Cruise camp insist three of their man's losses were questionable.
Darren (27) admits there's more than just pride at stake.
"This is make or break for me," he says. "If I don't win this fight you probably won't see me in the ring again. Twenty-one years I've been in the game. This is my defining fight."
Keeler insists he's not complacent. "It could be a world champion standing across the ring from me," he states.
"I don't just want to win. I want to have a stand-out performance. If it's over ten rounds or a stoppage, then great. But I want people to say, 'he's improving'."
While Keeler had three fights last year and a win against former English champion Lewis Taylor in February, Cruise claims his preparations will pay dividends.
"I worked hard when I was in Syria (with the Irish army) on fitness and conditioning," he says. "I came back and spent a week sparring in Miami. Since then I've been training hard and sparring in Galway. The camp has been brilliant."
"I know Luke can punch," says Cruise. "He's a tough fighter. But I've been in with bigger punchers. This could go ten rounds and I've done that twice with big guys so I've no fear."
Mark Dunlop is disappointed the fight isn't being screened live on TV.
"This will be a cracking fight," he predicts. "I don't take fights for my fighters unless I'm 100 per cent sure they can win. Darren has trained like an animal for a year for this one. I think Luke is susceptible to a good punch. We're coming to win."
Keeler denies there's pressure on him in this fight.
"I react well to pressure," he says. "I'll be buzzing walking out. The crowds are building every time. There's momentum. I've been getting regular fights.
"There's talk of November with Katie (Taylor) as well. Everything is going well for me. It's up to me to do it. It's time to step up."