Ennis man, Adam Leyden, fought his way to into the history books on Sunday, becoming the only fighter in the Irish Kickboxing Federation to hold titles in two different weight classes. He added the All-Ireland light welterweight title to the national lightweight belt he won in March 2007.
Taking on the formidable James Dunphy from Kilkenny Top Pro, the Ennis Kickboxing Club champ threw kicks from every angle and nailed his tough-jawed opponent with stiff lefts and snappy rights, following a plan to keep the Kilkenny fighter at a distance and stop him from using his serious boxing skills.
The pair were fighting for the vacant IKF title as the highlight of a fight card hosted by Ennis Kickboxing Club in the West County Hotel, Ennis.
Fast out for the first of the bout’s five two-minute rounds, Leyden set his stall out early, throwing big roundhouse kicks and head-high front kicks right from the start. Dunphy started aggressively as well, looking to land big shots and trying to back Leyden into the ropes and corners. The Ennis fighter kept to his plan, however, and avoided getting dragged into a brawl with a more dangerous puncher.
As the first wore on Leyden pulled more kicks from his repertoire – a spinning back kick and a sneaky sweep – and the result seemed to prevent the Kilkenny fighter from finding a rhythm. Not that things went all the Ennis man’s way. Despite good footwork keeping him away from the brunt of Dunphy’s power, the few shots that managed to land did so with a wince-inducing thump but weren’t strung together with any significant combinations.
The Ennis kickboxer was also warned to keep his sweeps below calf height after a sweep and turning kick combo left Dunphy on the ground injured.
The second round was a less frenzied affair with more controlled kicking scoring points for Leyden and Dunphy fighting more cagily and trying to control the pace.
Just as a game of cat and mouse seemed to be in offing, however, Leyden would snap out a roundhouse kick to the head and body that would push the tempo of the round again and continue to keep the Top Pro fighter off his stride.
With the crowd screaming for Leyden, the second round finished in a clinch on the ropes and the prospect of a second title belt coming to Ennis started to look more and more like a reality.
Screaming, chanting, clapping and stamping their feet the energy from the assembled fight fans seemed to feed the home town fighter who courted the noise as he waited for the third to start.
Despite falling early due to a mis-timed kick, Leyden stuck firmly to his plan of perimeter control in the third and moved into the centre of the ring again, using his fluent kicking style to throw roundhouse kicks and set himself up to zing stinging jabs and uppercuts into Dunphy’s face. The Kilkenny man showed the sort of mettle that saw him through five rounds with European champion, Quasim Nisar, two years ago and seemed to shrug off
the bulk of the blows, including a powerful side kick to the face, despite their force. The damage was done though.
Into the fourth round and Leyden’s work rate seemed to flag but good body kicks and lateral movement spared him most of Dunphy’s ire. Every time the Kilkenny man seemed to have closed off the ring to Leyden, he would either tangle his opponent in a clinch or box his way out.
Even though the Ennis champion seemed to be having the better of most of their exchanges, Dunphy never looked anything less than threatening whenever he was within arm’s reach of his opponent. The quarter step of speed that Leyden held over his heavier counterpart was decisive though and, at the high level the two were performing at, it was enough to get him in and out again without being punished.
With Leyden guaranteed three rounds on the judges’ score cards and fourth a possible draw, the fifth opened with the crowd and fighters at fever pitch.
Looking for a big round, Dunphy came out swinging but met his reward in a booming left roundhouse to the head that left him momentarily dazed. Leyden followed this up with ten unanswered punches that had Doherty dazed and clearly in distress on the ropes. The ref jumped in to stop Leyden who, along with the crowd, assumed the fight had finished in his favour.
Confusion and jubilation mingled as the ring doctor examined the Kilkenny man’s fitness to continue. While Leyden celebrated in his neutral corner waiting for an official decision his trainer, Tony O’Donnell, signalled him to keep his guard up. Bizarrely, after an almost 50-second break, the referee called for the fight to resume.
The final seconds turned into a white-knuckle ride for both the Ennisman and the audience as the lustre seemed to come off the perfect plan. Dunphy got the slug-fest he’d been looking for. If only briefly.
After a small lapse, where two or three big hooks to the head seemed to rattle him, Leyden got his game back together and, as he had done for the whole fight, kicked his way out of trouble.
The final bell signalled the end of the ordeal for the Ennis man. the fight ended as it began with the newly crowned champ classy to the last and bowing to his now battered opponent, his trainers, the judges and the crowd.
It was only the second time Leyden had fought in front of a home crowd, the last time being over a year ago when his opponent was disqualified after knocking him out with a spinning back-fist – an illegal technique in IKF fights.
The relief of putting both the ghost of that incident behind him and winning in such dramatic style was clear in his celebrations in the ring with his equally exultant friends, family, trainer and clubmates.
Irish Kickboxing Federation president, Joe Canning, was on hand to present Leyden with his new belt. And the celebrations began.