By Jay Mwamba
The looks may be deceiving, but at 12-0 with 11 knockouts, the record is not.
Martin O’Malley, born in Edmonds, Wash., and raised in County Wicklow through his formative years, could be the first big Irish boxing star of the new millennium.
The 24-year-old lightweight with movie-star looks and dynamite in his knuckles is catching many an eye in the fight game.
Among those smitten by the 5-foot-9 prospect, whose father, Martin Sr., was an amateur pug in County Mayo, is Hall of Fame trainer Lou Duva.
"I think he can turn out to be one hell of a fighter," the septuagenarian trainer said from his New Jersey home last week.
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Duva, who has worked with likes of Evander Holyfield, Pernell "Sweetpea" Whitaker and Andrew Golota, has taken O’Malley under his wing.
"I had him in camp in Las Vegas with my son-in-law Tommy Brooks, training with Mike Tyson," Duva said. "He [O’Malley] likes to brawl, and we had to hold him back a bit. He can punch and he’s got a good chin."
O’Malley could take his first step into the limelight later this month with his first nationally televised bout, on ESPN2.
"There’s a possibility that he’ll appear on the Jan. 28 [card] from New Orleans," Duva said.
"My goal is to win a world title within a year," O’Malley said from his home in Edmonds, which is outside Seattle. "I feel that I can beat the guys out there. But I need more fights to get more rounds against durable guys that can extend me."
This may sound like mere bluster, coming from a fighter with only 12 pro bouts under his belt. But O’Malley’s impressive amateur roots and frequent sparring with some of the top fighters in the business suggests more than a cute braggart.
He started boxing at age 14, shortly after his family had returned to Edmonds from Ireland.
"My father had been a boxer in Ireland and he took me to the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle. I wanted to box the next day," O’Malley said.
He could bang even in the amateurs, scoring an astonishing 30 stoppages in 49 victories between 1990 and 1996.
Along the way, O’Malley picked up a bushel of honors, including the 1991 Junior Olympic title at 85 pounds, the 1993 National Police Athletic League flyweight championship, and Golden Boy accolades in 1995 (bantamweight) and 1996 (featherweight) for best boxer in the Las Vegas Golden Gloves.
O’Malley’s raw power and talent was not lost on the international selectors. He was picked for the U.S. team to the 1994 Goodwill Games in Russia, where he suffered one of only seven amateur losses, to a Russian in the quarterfinals of the flyweight competition.
It was also in 1994, that the 19 year-old O’Malley made a triumphant, if not sentimental, return to the Emerald Isle as a boxer, in a tournament between the United States and Ireland in Dublin.
His last year in the unpaid ranks would be eventful. O’Malley powered his way into the final of the 1996 National Golden Gloves Championships in Cleveland only to lose a decision to one of the best fighters to emerge in recent years, Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
"It was pretty close," O’Malley said.
Mayweather, now a world champion and a member of that elite group fighters who vie for the mythical Pound for Pound title, went on to fight in the Atlanta Olympics, while O’Malley was disqualified during the Olympic trials for a controversial low blow.
The two fighters’ paths crossed again in 1998. "I was a main sparring partner of Genaro Hernandez for his title defense against Floyd," O’Malley said.
Hernandez lost the match and the World Boxing Council (WBC) super featherweight crown to Mayweather.
O’Malley, who has also sparred with top welterweight "Sugar" Shane Mosley, made his pro debut in October 1996 with a second round KO over one Michael Vidal.
He has since taken his fistic pyrotechnic show around the U.S. — to places like Idaho, Tennessee, and New Orleans — and even back to Dublin, where he iced Englishman Pete Buckley in three stanzas at the National Stadium last April.
"All my family were there," said O’Malley, who has six siblings. "I sold over 100 tickets."
High on his list of goals, along with a world title shot, is to win an Irish championship.
"I definitely want to fight there [Dublin] again for an Irish national title. I’m eligible to fight for it," he remarked.
O’Malley is tall for a lightweight, an advantage he has exploited to devastating effect in his fights thus far.
Notes Martin Somers of the boxing management group Fiann: "Martin O’Malley is a talented lightweight. At 5-9, he has a size advantage over most lightweights."
That includes the 5-foot-5 WBC titlist Steve Johnston and fellow contender Angel Manfredy (5-6), both of whom O’Malley would like to fight.
"That would be a great fight," he said of a possible matchup with Johnston. "I definitely have the style to beat him."
O’Malley would also jump at a chance to fight the flamboyant little featherweight champ Hamed Naseem, who holds a win over Wayne McCullough.
Eager to succeed, O’Malley’s has committed himself entirely to boxing. He often spends long periods from Edmonds, training in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
"I’m dedicating everything full time to boxing," he said.
The O’Malley File
Michael Vidal, TKO 2
Adriel Pebenito, KO 3
Leon Rivera, TKO 1
Thomas Baker, KO 1
Torrence Brown, TKO 4
Jose Francisco Hernandez, UD 6
Chuck Dairy, TKO 3
Pete Buckley, TKO 3
Carlos Navarez, KO 4
Tony Duran, KO 2
Tito Tovar, TKO 4
Gilbert Salinas, KO 3