Interview: Anthony Cacace on becoming Ireland's first ever Super-Featherweight World Champion

Interview: Anthony Cacace on becoming Ireland's first ever Super-Featherweight World Champion

Anthony Cacace made history last month when he overcame the odds to defeat a two-time Super-Featherweight World Champion and former Olympian, Joseph Cordina, in Saudi Arabia.

Cacace, described by Carl Frampton as the "hardest person he'd ever been hit by," produced the display of his life to upset the favourite in scintillating fashion on the undercard of the undisputed world heavyweight title fight between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

In the third round, Cacace caught Cordina with a left hand, rocked him, shook him, and sensed blood in the fight. Cacace managed to get Cordina on the canvas with 56 seconds left on the clock, but, luckily for Cordina, the bell came to his aid.

Cordina recovered somewhat in the fight, but the older fighter, Cacace, landed 116 power punches to Cordina's 41, according to a boxing stats website.

It was the eighth round that produced a moment of history in Saudi Arabia. Thirty-nine seconds into the eighth round, Cacace, going for the jugular, once again rocked the Welshman, and after an intervention from the referee, the contest was decided in Cacace's favour.

The win was huge for different reasons, but for Cacace, it meant that he became Ireland's first-ever super featherweight World Boxing Champion, and Belfast had another famous boxer on its historic roster. Belfast's rich history of boxers includes Carl Frampton, Michael Conlan, Eamon McGee, and now Cacace himself. 

This month, Cacace sat down with the Irish Post to discuss the famous boxing city and its heritage, his recent achievement, his emotions in Riyadh, his friend Carl Frampton cheering him on, and lots more.

Cacace on his upbringing

Cacace, an Andersonstown native from west Belfast, first told the Irish Post about his boxing upbringing and how Mickey Hawkins Senior, the veteran boxing coach, and others helped him grow into the boxer he has become.

"Well, Oliver Plunkett Boxing Club was across the street from where my parents lived, so it was easy," said Cacace when asked about his early boxing memories. "It was just one of those things, really. I played football, Gaelic teams, and whatever else. I tried it all. But boxing was the last one, and as soon as I joined boxing, that was it.

"I would say that people like Mickey Hawkins Senior and all these great boxers have given years of their lives to bring talent through. I think it's all down to the coaches and the people behind the scenes, really."

The early rounds in the fight

Normally in boxing, there can be bravado and extreme confidence, but Cacace humbly acknowledged that he never harboured dreams of being a boxing champion at an early age. Boxing was seen as a hobby, more than a life goal, at a young age.

"No, no, no," said Cacace emphatically when asked about his dreams of being a champion. "It was just a hobby, an attempt to get off the street, and an attempt to do something.

"However, I knew as soon as Patsy and Anto Taylor took an interest in me, I had a little bit of talent, so that's what made me stick to it."

Cacace's takedown of Cordina will go down in history. His aggressive nature and elite skills were evident in Riyadh. The man known as "The Apache" went into further detail about the third round before the win.

"I hit him with a body shot at the start of the round, and it didn't look like much on TV, but I heard him wince a bit, so I knew it was there, and then I had him.

"The referee called a break, and I caught him at the same time. I was in full swing and couldn't pull it back. It was just one of those things. I hurt him before that, but I put it down to that."

Anthony Cacace punches Joe Cordina during the IBF and IBO World Super Featherweight titles' fight between Joe Cordina and Anthony Cacace Anthony Cacace punches Joe Cordina during the IBF and IBO World Super Featherweight titles' fight between Joe Cordina and Anthony Cacace (photo by Richard Pelham/Getty Images)

Carl Frampton's comments,  his underdog status, and his emotions in the win

Keeping a lid on your emotions during a high-risk, high-reward fight can seem like a difficult skill to master. Cacace once again smelled blood in the 8th round and went on the offensive against Cordina. Using aggressive tactics against a dazed opponent can leave you open to a counterpunch, but the 35-year-old kept a cool head to win the contest.Cacace described the feeling of keeping his cool under pressure:

"It was just experience. I have been there before and tried to rush it. All you're really doing is smothering your work. I have had that happen before, but it came perfect on the night. It's all life lessons, you know what I mean," he added.

"In the ring, I was just focused on getting it done. That was my opportunity. I felt like I was settled into the fight and everything was going right for me. I felt he did very well to recover from that heavy knock in the third round to the eighth, and that's the reason why he's been a world champion."

Cacace can be seen in the highlights on YouTube celebrating in emphatic fashion, and to be fair, who wouldn't? When asked to describe what the feeling of being a first-time boxing champion feels like, the Belfast man claimed it was hard to put into words.

Cacace on Carl Frampton's comments, his underdog status, and his emotions

"It was just pure relief. I can't even describe the feeling. I have been trying to explain to people and the missus. I can't explain it. It was years and years of built-up pressure. Everything in that moment was relief. It was like, "I've done it, I've done it."

The Belfast boxer also added that being described as an underdog in the fight was not something that bothered him. 

"No, not at all. I knew coming into the fight that I was the underdog. Joe was the champion, an Olympian, and unbeaten in 17 fights. So, I knew, having been around this game a long time, what was at stake. I am not delusional," he claimed.

"Going into the fight, I was like, 'I have nothing to lose here. If I win, lose, or draw, if I fight to the best of my ability, I'll be happy.'"

After the fight, fellow Belfast local and former boxer Carl Frampton said, "Anto Cacace is the hardest person I have ever been hit by. He has freakish power. He whips his shots in, and it’s frightening."

This comment is intriguing because of Frampton's record in boxing and who he has faced. Nevertheless, Cacace admitted it was great to hear a comment like that come from one of Belfast's finest former boxers.

"It's a serious compliment," added the Belfast native. "One thing I do believe about myself is that I have big punch power. I am heavy-handed. Carl saying something like that does mean a lot to me, to be honest, and I know he's been with some amazing fighters over the years. For him to say, "Anthony Cacace, a boy from Belfast, is one of the hardest hitters," is great to hear."

Cacace on meeting Cristiano Ronaldo after his momentous win

The stadium saw a host of big celebrities attend the fight in Riyadh. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and others saw Cacace's fight and statement win against Cordina. The new Super Featherweight champion admitted that he managed to grab a photo with Ronaldo after.

"That was the priority as soon as it was over. It's not every day you have Ronaldo watching you fight, so that was a photo opportunity I had to get, and we did it by any means necessary," said Cacace with a laugh.

Cacace and the homecoming celebrations in Belfast, and what's next 

On Monday, May 20, the boxing champ was greeted by fans during homecoming celebrations in west Belfast. One would think that there would be intense celebrations by Cacace and company, but according to the "Anderstown Apache," that wasn't the case.Cacace is just happy he was able to provide a life for his family heading into the future

"There hasn't been much celebration, really. I am not a celebratory person. I spent time with my friends and had a laugh. There was no drinking or nothing. I've reached a goal in my life, and my children are going to have a house now. That's what makes me happy about the whole situation," he added.

Cacace has achieved what few will ever do in their lifetime. To become Ireland's first-ever super featherweight champion is a phenomenal feat. The goal of added success often drives athletes, and a rematch with Joe Cordina has been mentioned, but according to Cacace, anything that comes after his statement win last month will be a bonus for him.

"For me, going into the fight, I didn't know what was going to happen. So, anything that happens here on in is a bonus for me, and I am living the dream. Whatever happens, happens, and I am going to be there to fight and enjoy it," he added.