IN THE 100-year history of one of boxing’s classic divisions, only four Scots have ever won the British welterweight title. Tonight in Manchester, Kevin McIntyre has the opportunity to add his name to an illustrious list.
The Paisley southpaw has been one of Scottish boxing’s most admired but least heralded operators since he turned professional five years ago. If the 25-year-old can relieve David Barnes of the Lonsdale Belt at the MEN Arena this evening, he will announce himself to a far wider audience.
Tommy Milligan of Wishaw, Hamilton’s Johnny Brown and Jake Kilrain of Bellshill all held the British welterweight title before the second world war. Since 1945, only world class Glaswegian Gary Jacobs has been able to emulate the Lanarkshire trio.
In the ten years since Jacobs’ reign, both Scott Dixon and Charlie Kane have failed in attempts to bring the belt back to Scotland. McIntyre, although a firm bookies’ underdog, is convinced he will succeed.
"I’m really confident my time has come," said the former tannery worker who now supplements his ring earnings with an early morning shift as a postman. "I’ve done my apprenticeship in the game and I’m 100 per cent sure I’m going to win the title.
"The Lonsdale Belt is the one I’ve always dreamed of, ever since I started going to the gym. Mike Deveney, who was the British featherweight champion eight years ago, used to bring his belt into the gym. I was only a kid at the time, but he used to let me put it around my waist and I fell in love with it.
"It’s the one every British boxer wants and it has been my main ambition since I turned professional. Anything else I achieve will be a bonus."
McIntyre will be a double champion if he wins tonight, as the Commonwealth welterweight title vacated earlier this year by James Hare is also on the line.
In 22-year-old Barnes, McIntyre faces a fighter who has been touted by many in the trade as one of British boxing’s most talented youngsters. Yet the Manchester man was unconvincing and considered by most observers to be highly fortunate to earn a 115-114 verdict from referee John Keane when he won the British title against Jimmy Vincent in Dagenham five months ago.
It was only the 13th professional contest of Barnes’ career and although he has a perfect winning record so far, which includes seven stoppage successes, McIntyre is not overly impressed.
"He’s a nice boxer, very flashy, but I don’t think he is the superstar they are making him out to be," said the Scot. "Vincent was robbed against him and proved that he is definitely beatable. He doesn’t make good use of his jab and I feel I can catch him over the top of it."
McIntyre has suffered only one genuine defeat in his 22-fight pro career, when he was stopped by John Humphrey in four rounds at the Thistle Hotel in Glasgow back in February 2001. The only other blot on his record was a technical decision loss to Karim Bouali two years earlier when McInytre broke a hand in the first round.
Since the Humphrey loss, McIntyre switched to Peter Harrison’s Phoenix Gym in Glasgow, reeling off 10 straight wins under the shrewd trainer, including a ten-round points win over Edinburgh’s Craig Lynch in April last year to win the vacant Scottish welterweight title.
"I felt I needed a change after the Humphrey fight," said McIntyre, "and although it felt devastating at the time, looking back now it was the best thing to happen to me. Peter has made a lot of changes to my style and I feel I have improved a lot. I’m now a more all-round fighter.
"Peter has spotted a few things in Barnes he feels I can take advantage of, but I’m not going to tell anyone about them before the fight. I know what I have to do to beat Barnes and I’m ready to do it."
Although it will be McInytre’s first fight outside Scotland, he has no fears about facing Barnes away from home in what is the chief supporting contest to Ricky Hatton’s defence of his WBU light-welterweight title against Ben Tackie of Ghana.
"I quite regularly travel down to watch the MEN shows when Ricky is fighting," said McIntyre, "so I know what the atmosphere is like. I’ve got two busloads of supporters coming down from Paisley, around 100 people, and they will make plenty of noise for me. I’m not going to let them down. It’s the biggest night of my life. If I win, I should be able to make some good money out of the British and Commonwealth titles next year and turn full-time. It should be the turning point of my career."
THE MEN Arena bill is the start of a truly stunning televised treat for boxing fans tonight on Sky Sports 1. In the early hours of tomorrow morning, they are also screening Don King’s mouthwatering ‘Night of the Undisputed’ show from Atlantic City.
Topped by the world middleweight title unification clash between Bernard Hopkins and William Joppy, King’s bill also features the world welterweight unification showdown between explosive Nicaraguan Ricardo Mayorga and the more subtle American Cory Spinks. A world heavyweight title eliminator between two former champions, Hasim Rahman and John Ruiz, is thrown in for good measure. If you can’t stay up, don’t forget to set the video.