One of the defining moments in the modern era of Irish sport took place ten years ago today, the stunning eleven round war for the WBA Super Bantamweight title between the Panamanian world champion Ricardo Cordoba and Ireland’s own Bernard Dunne.
Today marks a decade since one of the most memorable evenings of action the Irish have ever experienced in our rich sporting history.
History, as they say, often has a habit of repeating itself. 61 years on from the dual capture of Six Nations Grand Slam and boxing world-title honours by Irish athletes on the same day, a 29-year-old pugilist from Clondalkin stepped into the O2 Arena knowing full well that the Irish rugby team had held up on their end earlier that afternoon.
Three fights removed from a brutal first-round defeat at the hands of Kiko Martinez, the hometown hero strode to the ring that night with the type of harsh lessons in his back-pocket that can only be learnt by a set-back such as that one.
As soon as the bell rang to begin the first-round, there was the sense that we were seeing a very different Bernard Dunne – a stronger Bernard Dunne in ways that mattered more than the physical.
And it became very evident early on that he would need every inch of mental toughness to last in this one as he and Cordoba engaged in a high-octane battle from the get-go.
Only one man was ever going to get out of this one alive.
Scoring those first two rounds could have seen you give the call to either man, but by the looks of things, the crowd in attendance realised very quickly that this one was going to be an absolute barn-burner.
If there was any doubt over the winner of the first two, Dunne managed to grab the wheel with both hands in the third, bobbing and weaving in front of his Panamanian adversary before – gaining confidence all the while – before knocking him down hard with a thunderous left-hook.
Instantly, the Dublin arena was filled with electricity as both men gathered themselves in their respective corners.
Round four could well have been the last for lesser men than Ricardo Cordoba but he managed to recover well – battling through his first setback admirably before enjoying his greatest round in the fifth.
Those minutes between the third and fifth round likely felt like an eternity for Ricardo as the Irishman in front of him continued to turn up the heat but once the bell rang for the fifth, he came out there and swung the momentum right back in his favour.
Clattering Dunne to the canvas twice in a round that showcased a fighter rejuvenated, Cordoba brought this one back onto level terms heading into the sixth.
It truly does takes two to tango and when it comes to a fist-fight, matches like this are hard to come by.
The middle-section of the fight saw the stamina of both guys become a greater factor.
Dunne’s ability to turn it up at points did appear to be wearing on Cordoba but even still, the sheer volume of hard shots fired on both sides was commendable.
Hooks were traded with fight-ending ferocity and while Dunne was seemingly growing where Cordoba was fading, as the legendary commentator Jimmy Magee put it at the time, it was no time to be counting chickens.
When round ten came, the champ started increasing his output, particularly to the body, pummelling away at the Clondalkin man – showcasing his experience in an effort to break his opponent late on.
The tenth stanza finished and again, the ever-prophetic Magee chimed in with another fine soundbyte – unaware of the triumphant display of killer instinct that would follow shortly.
“In years to come, they’ll surely talk about this one.”
At that point, it was still anyone’s fight. Coming into the eleventh round, both men had done enough to write this battle into Irish boxing history but, of course, the end was fast approaching and only one man would leave the ring as champion.
Round eleven was perfection in many ways.
Sure, the finish was superb from Dunne, but everything from the excited roars of the crowd to Magee’s live declaration of Bernard as the champion made this what it was.
Dunne dropped his man on three occasions to seal the deal – a fitting end for a battle containing within two men who would simply not give up.
The Dubliner bet Cordoba’s body into submission and left the O2 Arena a world champion.
It was beautiful to behold and a moment that stands alongside any of this country’s finest – both inside the realms of combat sports and beyond.
Ten years on from then, who knows how many young hopefuls gained the inspiration they needed to take the plunge and lace up gloves for the first time.
Who knows how many of those have yet to fully blossom.
It was one helluva fight and one helluva win by one of Ireland’s finest, one that is worth rewatching again and again whenever the mood strikes.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena