Wayne reigns on

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The Independent Online
THE Kings Hall roar, that freak of acoustics which demoralises opponents and inspires the home fighter in equal measure, was heard again last night as Belfast's Wayne McCullough retained his WBC world bantamweight title by stopping Danish challenger, Johnny Bredahl, in the eighth round at the famous old arena.

It was a triumphant homecoming for McCullough, who moved to Las Vegas to launch his professional career and then had to travel to Japan to win the title in June. By any standards, that could be considered doing things the hard way, but he did not look for a soft touch last night; Bredahl himself is a former world champion and his unbeaten 26 fight career included three bouts for the WBO super-flyweight title.

But he lacked the power to hurt McCullough, or the strength to contain the relentless aggression of the champion, whose "Pocket Rocket" nickname is well earned. McCullough never stopped throwing punches, and the Belfast crowd loved him. The hall was virtually sold out, and the atmosphere echoed the great Barry McGuigan nights here.

There have been good Irish fighters since, but the likes of Dave McAuley and Ray Close, while competent and honest performers, never quite captured the imagination in the way that McGuigan did. McCullough is different, and the public reaction to the champion's homecoming suggests that the McCullough era might be every bit as stirring as McGuigan.

He took time to get to grips with the elusive, smart-boxing Dane, whose side-to-side movement made him a difficult target in the early rounds. McCullough missed more often than he would have liked, sometimes grimacing in exasperation, but he never allowed himself to panic and kept coming forward, taking every opportunity to deliver strength-sapping hooks to the slightly built challenger's body.

Even so, it took him almost five rounds to make the breakthrough, when for the first time Bredahl looked hurt after being driven across the ring and into a neutral corner by the sheer volume of McCullough's punches.

From that point onwards it was increasingly an exercise in survival, with Bredahl's counters becoming fewer and fewer as McCullough closed the range. The Dane was marked around both eyes with a nasty swelling obscuring his vision in the left eye, and as the rounds progressed one could almost see the confidence drain from him.

The Mexican referee, Guadalupe Garcia, was keeping a close watch on the challenger and spoke to him at the start of the eighth to warn him that unless he started punching, the fight would be stopped. But Bredahl's challenge was spent, and when McCullough caught him again with a flurry of hooks as Bredahl backed against the ropes, the referee waved the fight over.