Anyone who intended to go to the mixed martial arts show on Friday night and didn’t should be kicking themselves for missing one of the most entertaining events ever put on at the Lions Centre.
Eight well matched bouts with enough action to whet everyone’s appetite for the next show on New Year’s Eve, it was called Proving Ground II and all 16 fighters proved beyond doubt that they are true warriors. Around 2,000 turned up for the spectacle, including many women, and nobody left disappointed by the action.
One local fighter in particular deserves another shout out for his sheer bravery when common sense would have dictated a no-show.
Former boxer Troy O’Neil had spent the week partying in Miami, not the ideal preparation for something so demanding as making your mixed martial arts debut.
On top of that he had to work the day before the show and up to 6’o’clock on Friday as a tally clerk at the customs office. It would have been no disgrace to pull out but the 31-year-old former Caribbean light-heavyweight champion could not face the thought of people thinking he was too scared to take on Ryan McMahon.
The American would be no pushover either. He is a pro wrestler and former two-time All-American wrestling champion. Unlike the fleshy O’Neil, McMahon was toned and in peak fitness, muscles glistened under the octagon lights. At least O’Neil would have Nayon ‘Donie’ Anglin, Cayman Islands Boxing Club coach, in his corner.
Promoters Trevor Howard and Chris Dinan, co-owners of the Palaestra gym, were worried that O’Neil would not show because he hadn’t been at the weigh in and wasn’t answering his phone. McMahon would have had to be paid anyway, just for turning up. The promoters also wanted O’Neil there because he is a local hero and was guaranteed to bring excitement. Mid-way through the show, after finishing his shift, much to their relief he rode in like the cavalry.
Troy is a legendary ancient Greek city and it was the centre of the Trojan War. Well this Troy was involved in another dramatic battle.
He lost the first round as McMahon toppled him over and worked big punches to head and body, but towards the end, a prone O’Neil found a gap and connected with a heavy right to McMahon’s chin. That was the bout’s turning point. O’Neil battered him in the second and his corner pulled him out before the start of the next round. Celebrations lasted long and loudly in the local man’s corner.
‘That was more satisfying than winning the Caribbean light-heavyweight title because I only had two days to train,’ a beaming O’Neil said. ‘I was in Miami up till Wednesday, having fun and partying. Everybody was questioning my decision to fight. I wasn’t sure having come back from vacation and not being in shape but I’d heard he was going round saying if I don’t show up I’m a disgrace to my family and Cayman. That was it for me, I had to fight him, man!’
O’Neil admitted he was momentarily in trouble in the first round as McMahon pounded him. ‘I remembered in training coach Donie saying that even if you’re on the ground, no matter what, try to relax and you can still punch from the ground. So when I punched up I hit him with a good right and I felt his body slump. That’s when I knew I could win. I was bad mouthing him after that and he was puffing hard like a girl.
‘I never said before the fight that I would knock him out in the first few seconds. That was just hype by the promoters to build it up. I was real nervous coming into this as it was my first time and because he was an American champion pro wrestler. I was like a sheep going into a lion’s den.’ Well he certainly showed a lion’s heart.
O’Neil intends to fight on Proving Ground III on New Year’s Eve and this time he’ll be in far better shape. ‘I’ll be way, way better prepared for that.’
Anglin said: ‘Charles ‘The Killa’ Whittaker was here tonight and I joked that maybe it’s something he should go into. I enjoyed it.
‘Troy phoned me and was in two minds whether to fight or not. I told him to trust in me, I’ll be in your corner and between us we can do it. I told him that with your boxing power you can wreck him. He lost the first round but I knew that if he listened to me he could pull it off. He’s a good listener and learns very fast. I was confident that once Troy got in the ring he would not get beat because he didn’t want to be embarrassed and let himself down. He was supposed to be the sheep in the lion’s den but he turned it around and became the lion tonight.’
Dinan said: ‘Troy fought hard and beat up an incredible wrestler. Ryan came here thinking it would be a walk-through victory and it wasn’t. Troy really pounded him. When a wrestler fights a boxer, the boxer always has the advantage, it’s that simple. If he can’t get past the fists, he’s in trouble.’