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Sullivan ready to begin his pro journey

Dee Sullivan (left) was a quarter-finalist as last year’s Commonwealth Games Dee Sullivan (left) was a quarter-finalist as last year’s Commonwealth Games
By David Mohan

IN A week of non-stop boxing announcements, one that seemed to capture the imagination for many was the news that popular West Belfast man, Damien Sullivan penned a management deal with MTK Global as he embarks on a professional career.

The 25 year-old, who reached last year’s Commonwealth Games’ quarter-finals, will campaign at cruiserweight and will make his debut on a special night at the Ulster Hall on May 17 as Ryan Burnett returns to action against Jelbirt Gomera.

Sullivan, a former Emerald and Holy Trinity amateur, had always felt the longer rounds in pro boxing would suit him and intended to make the move, but a chain of events in the early part of this year were to set the wheels in motion.

He had hoped to compete in the Irish Elite Championships, but the death of his grandfather meant it wasn’t to be.
He admits is was “heartbreaking” not to enter ahead of this year’s Olympic qualifiers, but a conversation with MTK Global’s Professional Development Coordinator, Jamie Conlan was to open up a new path.

“I was in limbo a bit and was thinking what I was going to do,” he explained.
“Unofficially, I’m the best (amateur) heavyweight in Ireland, but officially I’m nowhere. Even in Ulster, I didn’t enter so I was no longer Ulster Elite champion.
“I just gave Jamie a call to ask him for some advice and we must have spoken for two hours having a coffee. He was brilliant and gave me a lot of advice. He told me that it’s not what everyone thinks it ‘s like – it’s a hard game.

“But I wasn’t looking to sugarcoat it and think I’m going to be living this mad lifestyle. I just want to fight and to have somewhere to go so I can make a better life for my two daughters and my family.”

The announcement last week in tandem with the confirmation that Burnett will top the bill at the Ulster Hall ensured Sullivan’s upcoming debut on the same card got maximum exposure.
That led to an influx of calls from well-wishers offering congratulations and even some early ticket requests as he looks ahead to returning to the Bedford Street venue where he enjoyed provincial success as an amateur.

“I honestly didn’t think it was going to be as big as it was when the word got out,” he admitted.
“I thought my phone was going to blow up with people calling and MTK did a brilliant job with how they announced it.
“It’s an iconic venue and amazing to be back there. It just shows that someone like Ryan Burnett is big – a superstar – and he still wants to fight there. It’s like walking into the Colosseum as a gladiator.”

The plan will be to box several times this year and build up his experience as a pro, while banking rounds and victories.
What will help him to an extent is the various changes in amateur boxing in recent years as it has mirrored aspects of the pro game.

“When I was boxing at Elite, the whole system changed to a professional style with ’10-9’ rounds and no headgear,” he continued.
“Referees were letting you work on the inside a bit more and that was good experience, so now I just need to get used to the longer rounds.”

The Emerald man will remain based in his old club for now, training with JP Delaney.
However, he knows that he will also need to branch out and training in a professional environment also where sparring against fellow pros is commonplace to help develop him game.

“I know there are some amateur boxers who have been really good pros, but they didn’t achieve what they wanted to because they were loyal to their amateur gym,” he noted.
“I love my amateur gym and Emerald because they have done so much for me. I’m trying to give a bit back by training the kids alongside JP and I really enjoy that. But I know that if I’m going to achieve the things I want to as a pro, I have to go to a pro stable.”

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