Garda boxer Niall Kennedy ready for his biggest fight to date

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James Cox
Niall Kennedy is far from an average boxer.

The Wexford heavyweight, who also works as a full-time garda in Co Wicklow, has had an eventful career since turning professional at the age of 31.

Fighting under the Murphys Boxing promotion, Kennedy, 36, has made a big name for himself Stateside and won state titles in Massachusetts and New England in 2017.

This led to a meeting with world champion Anthony Joshua.

His coaches invited Kennedy to spar with the English fighter after watching his win over Alexis Santos in the New England state title fight and he was flown over to Sheffield to take part in Joshua's training camp for a world title defence.

On Sunday, Kennedy is set to fight live on Sky Sports for the first time, as he takes on up-and-coming Croatian fighter Alen Babic in an Eddie Hearn Matchroom card.

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Kennedy, who trains under Paschal Collins in the Celtic Warriors Gym in Corduff, Dublin, is well used to the big occasion having fought in venues such as Boston's TD Garden, but this fight offers the opportunity to "skyrocket" his career "through the roof".

Niall Kennedy after a sparring session with world champion Anthony Joshua in 2017. Twitter/NiallKennedy

Kennedy spoke to BreakingNews.ie ahead of the big fight on Sunday, which will take place at MK Dons' stadium in Milton Keynes on the undercard of the WBA International light-heavyweight title bout between Joshua Buatsi and Marko Calic.

"Luckily Paschal [Collins] had the contact with Eddie Hearn and we jumped at this offer when it came in, we were ready for it," he said. "For everyone at home it's brilliant, not having to wait until three or four o'clock in the morning, I reckon I'll be in the ring before 8pm. It's massive that the fight will be shown live on Sky Sports, it's easier for people to see and it's a massive platform for me as well."

Kennedy's opponent has created quite a stir so far, in four professional fights the 29-year-old has four knockouts to his name, all within two rounds.

Kennedy's record is even more impressive though, he has 13 wins, one draw and one loss to his name. The loss came in his last fight as he suffered a back injury in the bout against former US Olympian Devin Vargas.

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He's confident of returning to winning ways on the big stage this weekend despite Babic's "loudmouth" tactics.

Babic, nicknamed 'The Savage', has embraced the trash-talking element to professional fighting, promising to "destroy" Kennedy.

That isn't the Wexford man's style, he prefers to do his talking in the ring.

"I'm sure he's probably a nice fella, although he doesn't come across as one! I have a job to do, at the end of the day it's him standing in the way of me getting bigger and better fights so the only person that can change that is me. When the bell rings his talk stops and it's two men in the ring, two gladiators.

"The talking is probably for himself, maybe he needs it psychologically, I don't know. I don't buy into that, I don't know or dislike the man, I've nothing to say about him. I have been on record saying he's a loudmouth, but I'm sure at the back of it all he's not a bad lad."

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Kennedy added: "The plan will be to box my game, he is a tin of tomatoes in the sense that he does exactly what it says on the tin [in going for knockouts]. He comes forward, he's aggressive, he's strong. He's done everything really well, fair play to him. He stops everything fairly well, but I believe he hasn't answered the questions that I'll ask him.

"I've boxed big aggressive men all my life, as an amateur and as a professional. This isn't a massive shock to me. I feel great, if this man has the ability to do what he's saying he can do, he's going to have to really prove that on Sunday night. I was training for a ten-round fight so I'm plenty fit for eight rounds. It should be a really exciting fight to watch.

"I'm lucky he likes to talk, he's only had four fights and he's co-headlining a Matchroom card already so I'm lucky I'm his dance partner, it's a great opportunity to steal this show. I'm under no illusions, they're [Matchroom] not making plans for what I do when I beat this lad, they're making plans for him. Our plan is to come over here and derail everything they have in mind. It's the shop window that I've always wanted, I'm in it now and it's a massive opportunity."

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Kennedy has been keeping fit throughout the lockdown and trained with some of his amateur coaches from Gorey Boxing Club when it wasn't possible to travel to Dublin.

While the long hours of training to a professional level on top of full-time work as a garda are difficult, Kennedy has always had one main goal to make his wife Niamh and son MJ proud, reaching the top 20 in the world.

Ireland's top-ranked heavyweight won't be far from that with a victory over Babic on Sunday, which would also boost his profile massively and open the door to even bigger fights.

"It will propel me in the right direction [a victory]. The allure behind this guy, he's done a good job in creating it, but when I beat him it's going to absolutely skyrocket my career through the roof," he said.

"It would be great to be over this part of the world more. Boston has been a second home to me, it's been amazing for me, I have great fans there. There's a hardcore group of 30 that attend every fight I have in the US.

"Logistically though this is so much easier, Paschal and I got on a plane this morning and we were here an hour later, it's just so much easier."

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While Kennedy understands Babic's talking has upped the profile of the fight, his focus is solely on getting past him and pushing toward his goal of the top 20.

"I'm sure the minute I meet him, he'll start the loudmouth stuff. I'm here to fight, I'm a father at the end of the day, I'm not going to get involved in any of that rubbish.

"This is probably my biggest fight, profile wise certainly. The New England State title fight against Alexis Santos, he was ranked 36th in the world at the time, he was IBA world champion. That was a fight I wasn't expected to win.

"They're talking about Babic taking a risk fighting me after four, I took as big a risk with Santos in my seventh fight.

"For what it is, this fight will either drive me through the roof or derail everything."

Kennedy is modest about what he's achieved in a remarkable career to date, insisting it would not be possible without the support of his trainer and his family.

"Time management for Niamh and MJ is hard, but they've been brilliant and Paschal has as well. I've been very luck with the help from Gorey Boxing Club too."

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Kennedy is well aware that the big names could come calling with an impressive display on Sunday, but he isn't looking past the chance to shine on a huge stage.

Niall Kennedy vs Brendan Barrett, TD Garden, Boston 20/10/2018. ©INPHO/Emily Harney

"This fight is far too important to be thinking about anything else. Once this is done and I've got the result I want, we can sit down and dream then," he said.

"I'm ready to go the eight rounds, if a stoppage comes early then great but whatever happens I'm ready for. I'm very grateful to Eddie, lucky that Paschal is my manager. I'm not here to make up numbers. I genuinely believe I'll beat this man in impressive fashion. In fairness to Murphys Boxing and Matchroom they've given me this opportunity so it's up to me to deliver.

"My goal at the start was the top 20 in the world, I wasn't foolish I never thought I'd be world champion but I do believe I can mix it at the top table and be competitive with fighters at the top.

"My main goal is to make MJ proud, make Niamh proud, and give any young lad who is going through tough times inspiration to keep going and follow their dreams. If I can do that it would be brilliant, that starts with a good performance on Sunday night."

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