It's difficult to tell what's going on behind the eyes of Caoimhin Agyarko Hynes. In photographs of the Irish middleweight, the image is both wary and self-possessed. It is business. There are no fake smiles.
The handsome 25-year-old mixed-race boxer has already become a hazard to others in the division. After 10 bouts, his reputation is calcifying as a fighter of dangerous power and speed.
“I’ve a very fast fighting style that a lot of people like to watch,” he says. “And I’m aggressive.”
Here he is in the pose all boxers, male and female, strike, where the ribs and biceps pop and the stomach vanishes. He works it well. Here’s another passive aggressive Ghanaian-Irish look, orthodox stance asking is this kit not high spec, the eyes above a fixed stare.
Agyarko Hynes's mother Rosaleen is from Belfast. When she arrived almost 20 years ago from Croydon in London to live in the west of the city, the area she knew best, her son Caoimhin was seven years old. His father Atta, remained in Britain.
Since then, he has worked hard for what he has gotten, which is the powerful promoter Katie Taylor also uses, Matchroom's Eddie Hearn, and this week a fight against the 25-year-old Mexican Juan Carlos Rubio on the undercard of Michael Conlan's WBA featherweight world title fight.
On the left side of Agyarko Hynes’s face is the scar.
Beneath dark growth, it starts high up as a trace weld about equal to the midpoint of his ear. It was there in May 2017 outside a fast-food outlet in Belfast's city centre that the Stanley knife was pushed in, then pulled down his cheek and under his chin for six or seven inches, stopping on his neck.
The physical damage done by the gang attack, triggered by a thrown drink in a queue, would take two weeks to begin healing. The unseen damage and his tumble into a more difficult internal conflict would take more than two years.
“I think the depression came from the mental side of things, from getting stabbed,” he says. “There were things that changed dramatically. It stopped me from going out. I looked over my shoulder and when I was out I was a bit... paranoid. And I’d a six- or seven-inch scar down my face.
For me it was about my career and trying to do great things. They outweighed me trying to get revenge
“I think boxing kept things off my mind. It was a very, very long process. Boxing definitely played its part in getting me through the tougher times. It was one of those things where I had to go and get professional help because of how it was affecting me.
“Going down the wrong path would have been seeking revenge and getting my own back on the people that did this to me. That only ends one way. You end up in jail. Know what I mean. For me I wasn’t going to throw that away.
“It’s one of those things where you have to make a decision. What do you do? Do you go and seek revenge or do you live with it, go down a different path and control your career. Was it worth it? For me it was about my career and trying to do great things. They outweighed me trying to get revenge. Know what I mean. I understood that.”
The passing notion and dismissal of revenge seeped into his thinking because, despite a police investigation and the prevalence of CCTV around Royal Avenue in the heart of Belfast, nobody was caught.
The day after the attack his boxing club in Turf Lodge, Holy Trinity, put out a tweet. "Just left the Ulster hospital visiting Caoimhin Agyarko Hynes. He is very lucky to be alive after a stabbing incident last night. He is in good spirits but will go through an operation later today."
The police later informed him they hadn’t questioned anyone of interest with regard to the incident, but if caught the offender would be charged with grievous bodily harm. Ultimately nobody was arrested. There was no prosecution, no sense of justice.
I look at the scar every day and I see how far I have come in life
“I honestly don’t know if it was my colour or my religion or what,” he explains. “I do remember being called a name. But I don’t think it initially started because of that.
“I think it was an unfortunate situation where it started with a McDonald’s drink being thrown and it happened to hit me. Whether it was religion or race I don’t know.
“I was with my ex-girlfriend. I just stepped out and asked who it was and a fight broke out. There were 20, 30 people and I was stabbed. It was an inch from one of my main arteries in my neck. I could have bled out in 12 seconds so...”
He says now when he looks in the mirror each day and the scar is there, it’s a reminder of where he has come from and where he is now.
From the seriously injured 20-year-old bleeding on a Belfast pavement to an unbeaten professional on the rise, his reunion with Conlan next weekend will also be a passing reminder of how amateur boxing spat both of them out.
His memories of being in an Irish singlet are proud but also of regular bad decisions and official incompetence. The truth of that was laid bare by the McLaren report that showed judges in Rio used hand signals to fix fights. Decisions were due to corruption and cynicism, not lodged in the imaginations of defeated boxers.
“Fighters dedicate their whole lives trying to chase their dreams that nobody else can achieve only for it to be taken away by three judges sitting at ringside,” he says without bitterness.
“I have come a long way and achieved great things since then. I look at the scar every day and I see how far I have come in life.
“After the stabbing I think there were 30-40 stitches on the outside and I had internal stitches too. I don’t know how many. I had to have nerve damage repaired so, yeah, it was bad.
“Physically, I was fine in two weeks. The cut healed up but obviously afterwards I couldn’t train for three or four months, although, mentally it stayed with me. But I’m a long way from my struggles in terms of my mental health. Maybe that took two to three years.”
Just one contest under Hearn and Agyarko Hynes won his first ranking belt. It was a stoppage victory over unbeaten American Noe Larios on the undercard of Taylor's world title fight in the Liverpool Arena last December.
Referee Howard Foster stepped in and signalled the end to a one-sided bout with 53 seconds left in the ninth round. The WBA International Middleweight title is in Ireland. It's a stepping stone. It keeps the dream alive, the dream of "Black Thunder" becoming Ireland's first black world professional champion.
These days he spends most of his time away from friends and family in Belfast. His roaming grounds, when he is not in training camp in Bromley, London, are around the Turf Lodge area, where his club Holy Trinity is located.
It’s a tough, proud working-class area nudging up towards Divis Mountain and it is one he misses more than anything else. The professional life suits him, the training and the thrill of improving and chasing a goal that he believes is within reach.
“This has been my whole life since I was seven years old,” he says. “At the end of my amateur [career] I was falling out of love with the game. When I turned professional I fell back in love with it.
“Yeah, I miss being away from friends and family. At the weekend there, my friends, they went down to Dublin for a birthday and went to Conor McGregor’s restaurant. Stuff like that.
I'm a hard-hitting middleweight. I have fast hands and fast feet, I can do anything
“But it’s about not getting side-stepped. I’m a fighter that comes from across the water. Get a flight home and go out with friends. It’s easy to go home for a weekend. But you realise what you are doing it for. I’m sacrificing this for a better life.”
He now understands the stabbing was a pause and maybe the things that came with it were not all bad. The violence of a fun night out becoming an almost fatal night out changed his sense of vulnerability. But making it through depression and emerging without harbouring rancour or animus, or seeing reprisal as the only solution, was not just wise but empowering. The upshot is he took control and over the years that has strengthened.
“I don’t think I, 100 per cent, will ever fully recover from it,” he says with no self-pity. “I had to bring myself out of a very dark hole. I learn how to deal with it as days go on.”
But it is not dragging him back. Agyarko Hynes’s gaze is forward.
“I’m a hard-hitting middleweight,” he says. “I have fast hands and fast feet, I can do anything.”