A Kilkenny man with the magic touch is carving out a niche for himself in the dog eat dog world of professional boxing.
Paulstown native and Graignamanagh based Andrew O’Neill was ring side on the night of the $300 million mega fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in the MGM Grand Arena, Las Vagas recently.
O’Neill, a cousin of Olympian and Irish senior heavyweight champion, Darren O’Neill, was cutman for hot prospect Chris ‘Sweet’ Pearson, who fought on the under card and registered the 12th win of his career.
“It was a busy night for me,” O’Neill told the ’People. “Chris got a bad cut over his right eye but we sorted it and he went on to score a good victory.”
O’Neill’s man received the injury in a clash of heads during the fourth of the 10 round contest. The Kilkenny man worked his magic and stemmed the flow of blood during the break, but there wasn’t enough time to finish the job.
“When he was going out for the fifth round I knew I needed at least another 10 seconds on the cut,” Andrew explained. “The cut held up, thankfully. When he came back to the corner at the end of the fifth round I knew I had the cut under control.
“I had it sealed. I had another minute to work on it, which was plenty of time.”
The two judges each scored Pearson winning 9 and 8 of the ten round fight. Pearson received 10 stitches in the wound when treated by the medical team afterwards.
Pearson is represented by Mayweather Promotions, and he will feature again on the under card when Mayweather boxes for the last time next September. And O’Neill has already been booked for the job as cutman with the added responsibility of doing the hand wraps for the southpaw who had a 93-8 record in the amateur game.
For the last fight O’Neill spent seven days in Las Vegas. He will be flown out two weeks before the September match because of his expanded role in the Pearson camp.
“He is a real prospect,” O’Neill insisted. “I am living the dream being involved. I am really enjoying this.”
Apparently boxers at this level can have problems with their hands because of the force of their punches, so the Pearson handlers want the best care for their man.
Pearson (25) is from Dayton, Ohio. He was the 2011 US national champion, the 2009 Police Athletic League national champion and he has beaten four former Olympians. He made his professional debut in November 2011 when he knocked out Steven Chadwick in less than two minutes of the first round.
Pearson’s career was up and running. He has been unstoppable since, scoring nine knockout wins as a professional.
There was a full under card of fights before the Mayweather/Pacquiao contest, three of which were televised on HBO. Pearson scored a unanimous decision over El Harrak, and this fight was televised on Sky Sports.
Andrew O’Neill previously worked as cutman for former European champion and World title challenger, ‘Big Bang’ Willie Casey. He also did cutman for rising prospect, Philip Sutcliffe (junior) and was in the thick of the action at two Carl Frampton World title fights in Belfast.
Andrew did a bit of boxing as a amateur, starting with the famous Paulstown club, and later with Crumlin, Dublin, under the watchful eye of trainer and former three times Olympian, Phil Sutcliffe (senior), who is also boss of Dublin based KO Promotions.
Andrew was educated in St Kieran’s College but he never made the hurling team, although he is fanatical about the game and attends all Kilkenny matches. Two of his children, Cody and Eddie are named after two of Kilkenny’s finest, namely Brian Cody and Eddie Keher.
Andrew and his wife, Fiona have three other children, Alannah, Una and Shauna. Incidentally, Eddie’s arrival into the world last September was dramatic. The O’Neills’, all six of them at the time, we all set to attend the All-Ireland final between Kilkenny and Tipperary when Fiona went into labour.
Andrew was working at a Frampton title fight in Belfast, and he had to make a mad, dawn dash home. Obviously the trip to Croker was cancelled, but all seven members of the family attended the replay win over Tipperary, and they got to meet former President Mary McAleese afterwards.
“That was a great day for a whole variety of reasons,” Andrew laughed. “Boxing and hurling are my games. We are at all the Kilkenny matches.”
Forty year old Andrew worked in England on the buildings for a number of years. When he returned to Ireland he gained employment in Dublin with South Eastern Builders, and he is now a foreman with the company.
He sort of fell into the role as a cutman. He knew ‘Big Bang’ Casey and sparred a bit with him and others. He worked on injured boxers here and there, and the rest, as they say, is history. He was cutman for the first time at a Casey fight in March 19, 2010.
“That was my first experience of the big stage,” he recalled.
He had been doing the ‘cuts’ job for about three years or so around the pro game when he got that call.
What’s the trick for a quick fix of a cut?
“Applying the adrenalin as quickly as possible into the cut is the key,” he revealed.
Andrew makes up a variety of cotton bud like treatment sticks of varying sizes as part of his treatment kit for the fight. The size of the cut then dictates what bud he uses. Nose bleeds are treated also.
“I make them to suit the boxer before the fights,” Andrew continued. “Pearson got a bad cut, a really bad one, but we got it sorted.”
He is expected to perform his magic in seconds, under extreme pressure.
“I have no problem working under pressure,” he assured. “When watching the fight all you are looking at is your boxer just in case he gets cut, a black eye or whatever. You don’t get to enjoy the fight because you are watching for a potential problem.
“You must be ready when you are needed. When a fighter gets cut I am the most important man in the corner. I am in the ring. The coach stays outside the ropes.”
He saw Pearson get cut, and was ready when he came back to the corner. The swabs with the adrenalin on them were out. O’Neill sprung into action once Pearson sat down in his corner.
“Once you have the experience of doing this you are laughing,” Andrew laughed. “I have the experience. The big shows don’t phase me after being with Carl Frampton.”
He has been a cutman for nearly 10 years, and the word about his expertise continues to spread. He is even in demand at amateur level.
The fact he ended up working ringside in the ’States came about by sheer chance. Years ago when he was boxing himself, he guested with an Irish Garda team - don’t ask! - that travelled to New York for a tournament.
O’Neill was due to box an opponent by the name of Brian Burke, who just happens to be stepson of former World heavyweight champion, Floyd Patterson. Anyway, the pair didn’t get to fight, but the replacement for Burke was knocked out by the Kilkenny man.
Burke, who is now a property developer in New York, was impressed and offered his congratulations to O’Neill. The pair struck up an immediate friendship that continues to this day, with the families regularly visiting each other on holidays.
Burke knew of O’Neill’s expertise as a cutman, and through his connections in the fight game, he helped O’Neill land the plum job in Vegas when a vacancy occurred on Pearson’s backroom team.
“It is a tough, tough game for these guys, a ruthless game,” Andrew said of professional boxing.
Before his next big boxing assignment, O’Neill will get time to indulge his, and the family’s passion for hurling, and his hope is that the Cats will prove to be a knock-out again this season.