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Greatest Dublin sporting occasions: Dunne drew on entire reserve of very being - Dunne v Cordoba 2009

Bruising, bloody, ding dong of a belter could have gone either way


LAST BIG EFFORT: Bernard Dunne floored Cordoba three times in the 11th round to finally claim the world title in front of a home crowd. Photo: SPORTSFILE

LAST BIG EFFORT: Bernard Dunne floored Cordoba three times in the 11th round to finally claim the world title in front of a home crowd. Photo: SPORTSFILE


LAST BIG EFFORT: Bernard Dunne floored Cordoba three times in the 11th round to finally claim the world title in front of a home crowd. Photo: SPORTSFILE

It was an orgy of violence that captivated the nation.

After 32 minutes and 57 seconds of furious toe-to-toe action, Bernard Dunne was hailed the new WBA super bantamweight champion of the world.

This was the first time ever a Dubliner had contested and won a world title in his home town.

On that March night in 2009 at the O2 Arena, the Neilstown fighter, whose sporting backstory was more colourful than a Hollywood screenwriter's dream, traded a remarkable display of raw courage, technical skill and streetwise cunning, to achieve the goal that had been his ambition since childhood.

But, in professional boxing more than most other sports, achievement comes with a price tag of punishment, pain and huge personal sacrifice.

Dunne earned his victory the hardest way possible.

Despite having won three national titles, Dunne failed to qualify for the Sydney Olympics. Disillusioned with the IABA, the Neilstown man opted to make fighting his trade and, for his first four years as a pro, fought all his fights in America.

Operating out of Freddie Roach's tough Wild Card Gym school, he'd won all his 14 fights before relocating to Ireland in 2004 where promoter Brian Peters navigated a course that lead to challenging Ricardo Cordoba, a tough 25-year old Panamanian southpaw who'd just one loss in 37 fights, in Dublin five years later.

Cordoba, 'El Maestro', was happy to risk his belt in front of the challenger's home supporters.

His team believed their man was the best in the world and were confident he'd dominate the Dubliner who was 11 in the WBA rankings.

Cordoba came to Dublin in bullish mood. "I am treating this as the biggest fight of my career," he announced.


NO HOLDING BACK: Dunne and Cordoba pushed each other to the brink. Photo: SPORTSFILE

NO HOLDING BACK: Dunne and Cordoba pushed each other to the brink. Photo: SPORTSFILE


NO HOLDING BACK: Dunne and Cordoba pushed each other to the brink. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Six months earlier, he'd systematically demolished the former IBF two-weight world champion Luis Alberto Perez to claim the WBA belt and was in no mood to relinquish it to a man who'd lasted just 86 seconds in defence of his European title against Kiko Martinez 19 months earlier.

A savage onslaught of brutality by the visiting Spaniard had caught Dunne off-guard and scuppered plans for a lucrative Croke Park showcase.

Dunne was devastated by the shock defeat that saw the fight waved off before some of the punters in the most expensive seats had made it back to ringside from the bar expecting an evening of entertainment.

"I feel I've let myself down, my team down and the people down," as the realisation dawned that everything he'd worked and sweated for had just crumbled to dust.

But the agony of the defeat by Martinez became the spur that drove Dunne on to future greatness.

There wasn't the same fanfare when, over three fights against tough and uncompromising opponents, he punched his way back up the rankings and landed what he described as "my chance to achieve a dream, something I've dreamt of since I was five year of age".

This was Dunne's headline event and the manager of the O2 Arena, Cormac Rennicks, was excited. "This is without doubt the major sporting event of the year in Ireland," he declared. "This is more than just a boxing match. It's an event for all the people of Ireland. Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, they've all passed through here, but if you want atmosphere come and see the world title fight here."

Even Cordoba's experienced and well-travelled agent, Richard Dobal, sensed this was likely to be a unique occasion. Surveying the build-up to the fight, he noted: "It promises to be the biggest boxing event in the history of Ireland. I say that without reservation."

Promoter Brian Peters put together an impressive undercard for Dunne's big show.

Cavanman Andy Murray won the European lightweight title. Future world champion Andy Lee took his record to 17 wins in 18 fights. Jim Rock, who held Irish titles at four different weights, ended his career with a 30th win that night. And Ireland's amateur superstar Katie Taylor gave an imperious display in a four-round exhibition bout.

But the main event, on what Peters rightly predicted would be "a historic night for Irish sport" was the Dunne and Cordoba clash and the ambitious prizefighters didn't disappoint.

The fight was everything fight fans demand.

It was brutal, bloody, relentless, thrilling and unpredictable.

Earlier that evening Ireland had defeated reigning champions Wales in Cardiff to clinch a historic Grand Slam Six Nations win. And the crowd in the tiered seating around the arena was in full voice.

There was nothing tentative about the opening round as both men quickly found their range and landed stinging shots.

In the third round, Dunne feinted and unleashed a disguised sharp left hook which landed flush on Cordoba's chin and appeared to lift him off his feet and send his staggering backwards on to the canvas.

The bell intervened before Dunne could capitalise on the damage done.

By the fifth round we knew this had turned into a ferocious war and the Panamanian brought an added determination to his game that caught Dunne midway through the round and put him down for an eight count.

As he'd done all his fighting life, Dunne responded with vicious two-fisted aggression, but Cordoba caught him with a crunching right hook and put him down for a second time. He drew on all his courage and ring-craft to weather Cordoba's non-stop jackhammer assault.

With a split lip and a cut on his forehead, Dunne stepped out for the sixth round like a man who realised what he had to do and knew it wouldn't be easy.

By the end of the seventh Dunne's confidence had returned and he was swaggering back to his corner.

Although Dunne was boxing better than we'd ever seen, this was still anybody's fight. One punch, from either man, could have decided the outcome.

Blood flowing on their faces, the fighters stood toe-to-toe in the 10th trading painful pulverising shots.

The 11th round started frenetically with both men seeking the advantage. But it was Dunne who had the greater stamina and in the course of just over a minute of sensational destructive action, he floored the champion three times and earned the WBA belt.

We'd witnessed eleven rounds of phenomenal championship boxing that tested the resilience and self-belief of the Irishman.

"The second knock down took so much out of me," Bernard confided later. "I swear there was an out-of-body experience where I went through a whole conversation with myself about what was happening. I just hear Harry (Hawkins, coach) screaming at me, 'Get up'. And up I got. I seen out the round."

And what went through Dunne's head that night in 2009 as we watched him struggle to make the count?

"I was thinking to myself, 'Is this it?'," he revealed. "'This is done. What do you do now?' And I looked up and mammy wasn't looking at me. It was the weirdest thing. I know she doesn't watch the fights so I don't know why it was so weird to me when I looked up and she wasn't looking at me. She had her head on my da's chest. I said: 'Why isn't she looking?'"

Dunne got up, fought back and become world champion. As he said later: "I beat Cordoba. It was a hell of a fight. It's something that'll never leave me."