Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Night John Duddy Became a Fighter

Ireland's John Duddy (right) fires a punch at Yory Boy Campas in their September 2006 bout in New York City.

BOSTON - Nobody has yet written a book on Ireland's John Francis Duddy.

But if they ever do, the first page should begin with the night that he spent a hellish twelve rounds locked in the ring with Yory Boy Campas in the basement at Madison Square Garden. For that was the night John Duddy says he became a fighter.

"I think at the moment, with the Yory Boy Campas fight, that he was the first fighter that actually asked me the question: Do you really wanna' be a fighter? Do you really wanna' have this career? Do you think you're good enough to stay at this level?" says the personable 29-year old middleweight contender who will be facing Charles Howe tonight at The Castle in Boston, Massachusetts.

"It was like the first time I experienced that and I enjoyed it, as much as it was hard. I enjoyed it 'cause I knew that I had the answer. Yes, I do want this…I do want this experience. This is what I came for…I asked for it…I'd been dreamin' for it. As people say; 'Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.' Well, I got me wish that day," says the undefeated Duddy who sports a record of 24-0 (17) KO’s.

The fight with Campas was a bloody brawl, the type of fight you read about in the boxing history books that are today referred to as "throwback" fights.

Going into the September 2006 fight, it was expected that Duddy would roll right over the top of Campas and continue his ascent up through the world middleweight rankings.

But a funny thing happened on Duddy's way to the top: Yory Boy Campas decided to show up in great shape, ready to fight and he turned in a performance better than he had in years.

"I knew I was going to be taken to school, so to speak, and it was a great lesson for me physically and mentally," says Duddy of his bout with Campas.

"I enjoyed it and hopefully now that I've had that experience I'll be able to exploit what he exploited on me’self and work on it and make sure it can't be exploited again," he says through his thick Irish brogue.

A rare picture of John Duddy moments after a fight sporting no cuts or bruises.

The Campas fight turned out to be a vicious, back and forth, crowd-pleasing war. Duddy suffered horrific gashes over both eyes, was nearly knocked down and there was never a point in the bout that he looked like a sure winner.

"I think the fight with Yory Boy, the way it turned out, it was a great education about John Duddy. Knowing what I can and can't do. In some cases you can't fight fire with fire. I showed another side of me’self that many people thought I didn't have."

"I said to me’self, 'You're gettin' beat John, you're losin'. What are you going to do to be able to turn this around?'

"And then I found this wee voice…way, way in the back of me head goin' – ‘Keep goin, keep goin', keep goin' - don't stop. This is what you're built for. This is what you've wanted to do since you were five years of age.’

"It's not always pretty," continues Duddy, "But this is what it is. It don't get no harder than this."

Duddy, originally from Derry County, Northern Ireland and now residing in Queens, New York fought on for twelve rounds through the blood, through the pain, through the exhaustion and through the relentless assault of the old lion and former champion in Campas who stubbornly refused to go quietly into the night and Duddy managed to pull out a unanimous decision win.

Strange as it may seem, he claims it was the type of fight that he always wanted.

"I wanna' know how good I am," says Duddy, who is ranked in the top 10 by all of boxing’s major sanctioning bodies and who also could be on the verge of a title shot.

"I wanna' be tested. I don't wanna' be sittin' when I'm 36 or 37 goin', I wish, I wish, I wish."

Well, Duddy has definitely gotten his wish. Since the win over Campas he has had several fights where he has been tested. After the Campas fight he had to lay low for several months to let his cuts heal and then he came right back in another tough fight against ‘The Contender’ season one participant Anthony Bonsante whom was stopped in nine fast paced rounds.

In another winning effort, Duddy attacks the mid-section of Anthony Bonsante.

Duddy then managed a ten round decision win in New York over Dupre Strickland before going back to Ireland for most of 2007 under the auspices of trainer Don Turner to pick up three wins, including a close decision over middleweight gatekeeper Howard Eastman.

In February of this year, Duddy returned to America on the undercard of Wladimir Klitschko vs. Sultan Ibragimov at Madison Square Garden. He faced the unheralded, Tunisian born Walid Smichet who fights out of Montreal.

Had Duddy won impressively and looked good against Smichet his next fight would have been a title shot against world champion Kelly Pavlik. But things didn’t go so well. Duddy showed an alarming tendency to be nailed with lead right hands and he suffered three cuts on his face; one over his left eye which was particularly deep.

Even though Duddy won a majority decision against Smichet, promoter Bob Arum yanked the title shot against Pavlik off the table, and now Duddy has been forced to get back in line for a chance at one of the belts.

"I think, to be honest with you, it wasn't me greatest performance," says Duddy of his fight against Smichet.

"Me timin' wasn't what it should be, you know? I had a good trip back to Ireland and I wanted to come back to the States with a bang. But I think I was tryin' too hard to impress from the get go and you know, Walid is an experienced guy and he made it a much closer fight. But I think at the end of the day I definitely did enough to win it."

Duddy endured heaps of criticism from many in the boxing press after the Smichet fight. The pundits simply wrote him off as another over-hyped, cut prone, hittable fighter from overseas that seems to do well when he’s in Ireland – but not so well when he’s away from home.

"I couldn't believe it, the way people were talking to me it was as if I'd been beaten. I won the fight for goodness sake!" said Duddy of the aftermath of the Smichet debacle.

Duddy has a attracted a loyal and growing fan base and he has become a ticket selling sensation from Ireland to New York to Boston.

"In this business it's always about gettin' the win and that's what I did, and I'm still on course for a shot at the world title."

Not long after the Smichet fight, Duddy and his team decided that the laid back style of Don Turner was not what they needed in the corner, so they recently hired the intense and wise Pat Burns who they are hoping will be a better fit for Duddy’s aggressive style.

Duddy is keenly aware that every fight needs to be impressive from here on in if he hopes to get a shot at the title in the near future. The Irishman, however, isn’t looking back at his missteps and he has an inner drive that seems to propel him forward. He feels like all of the questions about him have been asked and answered and he's now very aware that it’s up to him to make his statements in the ring.

"Now I've got this guy in Boston and I plan to do a job on him and show people that I learned from the mistakes I made in the Smichet fight," says Duddy about this weekend’s opponent.

And thanks to the night he spent in the basement of Madison Square Garden with Yory Boy Campas, John Duddy knows he’s ready for whatever comes his way.

June 28, 2008, Boston, Mass.

No comments: