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Digital Subscriptions > Boxing News > 22-Oct > A STAR’S DEBUT

A STAR’S DEBUT

Paddy Donovan waits for his first professional fight. Alongside him is Andy Lee, who is set make his debut as a trainer. This is the inside story of two men with the boxing world at their feet… and their hearts in their mouths
Donald McRae @donaldgmcrae

Wewalk down the narrow corridor in a hushed line, the silence broken only by the squeaking of our shoes on the blue vinyl floor and the low hum of the fight crowd inside the Ulster Hall in Belfast. Andy Lee, the former world champion middleweight turned boxing trainer, leads the way. Paddy Donovan, his 20-year-old welterweight who is only minutes away from stepping into the ring for his professional debut, is next in line. Wearing a dazzling white robe and a serious expression, Donovan was recently called “the best-looking fighter since Muhammad Ali” by his American promoter Bob Arum. It’s a snappy quote but Donovan knows these words won’t matter if he is exposed during his first encounter in the paid ranks.

Eamonn Magee, another former champion who has battled brutal demons for so long, is just behind Donovan. Magee looks better than I’ve seen him for years. He’s calm and sober, his hands steady and his eyes clear. Lee has brought him in as Donovan’s cut man because he offers vast experience and a gentle wit now that he is off the drink. Ten minutes earlier, when Lee complemented Magee on his sparkling white trousers, the Belfast hardman made a dry little quip. “I’ll be okay as long as we have no blood flying around.”

Martin Donovan, Paddy’s father and the third man in the corner, is ahead of me. His face is taut with tension as we approach the heavy wooden door which separates us from the moment when Donovan will make his walk to the ring. I bring up the rear, feeling fortunate again to be have been invited into a fighter’s inner circle.

The wait at the end of the corridor drags. Lee fiddles with Dovovan’s robe while talking quietly. I can hear Lee telling Donovan to soak it all up. An official strolls past and compliments the 35-yearold trainer on his short white jacket and burgundy trousers: “You look like a doctor.”

“I’m a fight doctor,” Lee replies in a flash. Silence returns. The deadly seriousness of boxing seeps into our heads. This is no game. This is dangerous. This is the very weekend when Patrick Day will be hurt so badly in an American ring that he slips into a coma and then death just four days later. I have seen too many fighters get maimed or die over all the decades that I’ve loved boxing. It is impossible to forget the extreme risk they face when they walk out under the hot lights. Boxing is like nothing else and its compelling drama is felt all over again – even on a night when a richly promising prospect feels like the world is about to open up to him once he gets through his first fight.

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