‘The Fire Byrnes no Longer’: Dean Byrne opens up about his life in Boxing
On Saturday 17 September, Dean Byrne’s mother received the “best birthday present” her son had ever given her.
Dean phoned her up to say, “Mum, I’m retired.”
No more risking his health for a sport which has a perilous past of being brutally unforgiving.
After hearing his mother’s relieved response, 32-year-old Dean ‘Irish Lightning’ Byrne felt content with walking away from a career that had once promised him so much.
However, boxing can be the cruellest of trades.
But Byrne exits boxing blessed. From our long and detailed conversation, his authentic ability to articulate his thoughts was notable.
Let’s return to where the roller coaster journey started.
Being disqualified from a semi-contact kickboxing competition as a boy for “hitting too hard” steered the enthusiastic Byrne towards the sweet science.
After the disqualification, Dean asked his father to bring him to a boxing gym.
That’s when he first met trainer Philip Sutcliffe at Crumlin BC.
Byrne commenced sparring that night and two weeks later won his first fight, being awarded “boxer of the tournament”.
“Phil said from when I was a young age that I could go on to win a world championship,” Byrne told Fightstore Media.
Byrne recalled how a two week trip to Australia with Crumlin Boxing Club altered his path in life.
Hall of Fame coach Johnny Lewis, renowned for training world champions like Kostya Tszyu, spotted Byrne’s talent after the Dubliner won an Australian amateur belt.
The ambitious Byrne subsequently returned to Australia to initiate his professional career.
“I never thought I would leave or outgrow Dublin,” Byrne said. “When I was in Australia I realised Dublin was just a little dot on the map. Australia opened me up to a better life and a better future.”
“Then, I thought I would never leave Australia,” laughed Byrne.
LA, teaming up with Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao
“I wanted to further my career, get better as a fighter and what better place to do it than go to America? I thought it was a dream.”
Byrne added: “I had family in California and Freddie Roach was there so I went there. I just walked into the gym with my bag.”
After impressing in a spar against Michael Katsidis, Roach agreed to take on the elusive counter puncher Byrne in his Wild Card Gym.
Three months later, it was Manny Pacquiao who stood opposite him, which Byrne describes as his “toughest ever spar”.
Following his first spar with the Philippine champion, the Pac Man assured Freddie Roach that “yeah, he can fight”.
Byrne then helped Pacquiao prepare for three of his famous clashes with Juan Manuel Marquez.
“I really enjoyed the experience. It was like it lasted forever; Manny Pacquiao is a legend, Freddie Roach is a legend. I have that on my resume.”
Carson Jones fight
After enjoying an unbeaten run in the States, Byrne settled in England where he still currently resides.
On just three days’ notice, Byrne was offered a fight with American Carson Jones in Sheffield.
Jones was coming off a defeat in an epic contest with Kell Brook in which the latter was hospitalised afterwards with a broken nose.
Speaking of his contest with Jones, which ended in a draw, Byrne stated: “I thought my life, my career, would change at that point. My career hadn’t gone the way Freddie Roach and Johnny Lewis said it would go and that was down to myself and some decisions that weren’t correct but you live and learn.
“If I beat this guy and go on to sign with Matchroom my career could flourish and that was the idea. But I was thrown a spanner in the works with Eddie Hearn’s plans because they wanted Jones back in a rematch with Kell Brook. They obviously didn’t want me getting the decision. So I got a draw with thousands in attendance that seen that I beat him.”
He added: “I was then an avoided fighter. I didn’t get a fight for a year and a half. Believe me when I say this, and I say it to all fighters, you need to be active especially if you’re young. If I stayed active throughout I would have been a world champion, I should have been.”
Outside the Ring
What was the reason for Byrne never accomplishing winning a world title?
“Politics,” he answered bluntly. “I’m probably one of the most unlucky Irishman I know when it comes to boxing. When I look at it from a different angle I made some bad decisions, it’s known that I’m a compulsive gambler, I’ve had a problem with that my whole career. That never helped me. The advice I would give to younger fighters is work really hard and sign with me,” Byrne joked.
Byrne has been in gambling rehabilitation for five years.
He continued: “From every negative I take a positive. That’s how I live my life now. I don’t have any regrets. I don’t have any resentment towards any boxing promoter, any boxing manager, anyone in boxing, much love to them all. It’s a tough game.
“I’m staying in it and I love this sport. I don’t hold resentment; I could work with these people again, who knows. I’m just not going to get punched in the head, although I was hard to hit and clever.
“But I’m clever outside of the ring, I’m not going to get in there anymore. I’m going to pass my knowledge on and hopefully bring on some future hopefuls and get that world title.”
Byrne’s final dance was a six rounder against Jamie Robinson at the Sheffield Arena in March. He bowed out of boxing victorious. But it wasn’t his plan to stop there with his record at 18-6-2.
The Dubliner explained: “Jamie Robinson was one of the top prospects they said and I told my trainer to tell Eddie Hearn that I was beaten and a shot fighter and that I’m guna go on the road, blah blah blah, fill in the blanks, just to get the fights.
“So I had three fights scheduled, back to back. And I thought ‘here we go’, I will beat these prospects, and then maybe creep up into the mix again. The first was Jamie Robinson. I performed really well. I showed my skill, potential and that I still had it.
“Those next three fights all of a sudden stopped. So I got left on the shelf. Once again. When I beat prospects that’s supposed to further me but it doesn’t, it just knocks me back even further.”
The decision to retire
York Hall, 17 September 2016.
Byrne was in attendance to watch his friend Tyler Goodjohn fight Johnny Garton.
He recollected: “Tyler done well but he hadn’t fought for a whole year and for me I know what that feels like. It was a great fight, the fans won but he lost and I had a chat with him after. I seen his face all beaten up. I told him that ‘I made a decision before I came here that I was retired and you made my decision so much easier.’
“What is it for? I love it but its’ not worth it. I can’t do that to myself. I’m smart, I can do other things and help people. I don’t have to take punches to the head and have my kids see me all beaten up after coming out of the ring. It’s not just for me and my kids it’s for my grandkids.
“I can speak to them and they can recognise me. I’ve seen it too many times, too many fighters stay in it too long, their slurring their words and their speech isn’t good.
“I feel buzzing, I wanna write a book. I will write a bestseller one day and I can’t even spell,” Byrne said before laughing.
‘Irish Lightning’ has applied to the British Boxing Board of Control for a coaching licence.
Why would Byrne make for a good coach?
He said: “I’m 32 years of age, have a wealth of knowledge on boxing and have worked with some of the best trainers around the world. One of my number one trainers of all would be Phil Sutcliffe. I learnt everything from him. He’s the one I owe it all to.
“Right now I wanna give back to the younger generation that’s coming through and help them. Boxing has given me a lot of experience and I will pass that on. Hopefully I can make a champion but if not I can further someone on in their career.”
It was admirable seeing a boxer bravely leave a sport that has been instrumental to their life and rather put their health and family first.
For a lot of fighters, that decision is made all too late.
But Dean Byrne can now look forward to a bright future with his partner and children and Fightstore Media would like to wish ‘Irish Lightning’ good fortune in his future endeavours.
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