Wayne Pocket Rocket McCullough is a former professional boxer from Belfast, Co Antrim who competed from 1993 to 2008. He held the WBC bantamweight title from 1995 to 1997, and challenged six times for world titles at super-bantamweight and featherweight. As an amateur, McCullough represented Ireland at the 1992 Summer Olympics, winning a bantamweight silver medal. He also won flyweight gold at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, representing Northern Ireland. In addition to McCullough’s dogged, relentless attacking style, he was renowned for his durable chin, having fought two of boxing’s biggest punchers in Naseem Hamed and Érik Morales, and gone the full distance with both of them. During his bout with Morales in 1999, HBO commentator Larry Merchant joked, “If you look in the dictionary, under ‘Tough Irishman’, you’ll find a picture of Wayne McCullough”. McCullough was never once knocked down in his professional career. He also stopped the late Arturo Gatti as an amateur.
McCullough had a very successful amateur career, amassing a record of 319 wins and 11 defeats, with over 100 wins coming by way of knockout. As an amateur living in the staunchly loyalist Shankill Road area of Belfast, he was selected by the island-wide Irish Amateur Boxing Association to participate in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea, and asked to carry the Irish flag as the youngest member of the team (aged 18). He went on to win a silver medal for Ireland at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
Representing Northern Ireland at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, Auckland, he won a gold medal and carried the Northern Ireland flag in the closing ceremony. The medal ceremony for his Commonwealth title was marked by an unusual incident. A technical problem with the public address system made it impossible to play the recording of the song “Danny Boy”, used instead of an anthem for medalists from Northern Ireland. The New Zealand official in charge of the sound, Bob Gibson, promptly took the microphone and sang the song unaccompanied. In 1990, McCullough also won Bronze for Ireland at the Boxing World Cup in Mumbai, India.
In 2007 McCullough signed to fight Spain’s Kiko Martínez who had just defeated Bernard Dunne at the Point Depot, Dublin for the European super bantamweight title. The fight between McCullough and Martínez was due to take place at Belfast’s Kings Hall on 1 December 2007.
McCullough had not fought for over two years and the Kings Hall venue was sold out for the fight. It was agreed that the non-title fight would take place at 8 st 12 lb mark. However, on the day before the fight there was uproar during the weigh-in and the fight was cancelled by the BBBC amid chaotic scenes.
McCullough had already contracted to fight at 2 lb over the 8 st 10 lb championship weight and he weighed in at 8 st 9 lb. However, Martínez failed to make the agreed weight and was 1.75 lb over the agreed weight.
Martínez was given a couple of hours to shed the excess weight, but did not return to weigh in again and the scales were closed by a BBBC official. A furious McCullough stated “I couldn’t believe it. He comes in over the weight and then after being asked to take it off he just sits there and does nothing. I just can’t believe what has happened. I was ready to fight and ready to win and he comes in that much over the weight.”
On 20 June 2008, McCullough fought Juan Ruiz in the Cayman Islands, his first fight in three years. He lost in six rounds, retiring on his stool. Despite being ahead on two of three judges’ scorecards after six rounds, he told his corner he could not go on due to an injury he had sustained in training. The Belfast boxer took the microphone and revealed this might be his swansong. He said: “I think this could be my last fight and I want to thank you all for coming. I am disappointed with the way things went but I just felt I could not go on.”