Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Curious Case of John Duddy

For those of you that may not have seen the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the basic storyline is that actor Brad Pitt is born as an old man and then ages in reverse before dying as an infant.

For fringe middleweight contender John Duddy, life has begun to imitate art – disturbingly so.

He began his career in 2003, seemingly at the apex. He would score highlight reel knockouts, send opponents crashing to the deck in heaps of broken humanity and he packed the house wherever he hung his hat.

But after running his record 17-0, 15KOs, Duddy was matched with veteran Yory Boy Campas in the basement of Madison Square Garden. It was a hellish fight and one in which the young Duddy was pushed to the bloodied brink of defeat on more than one occasion. Through sheer grit, he repeatedly pulled himself back from the abyss and he was fortunate to have emerged with a unanimous decision win.

But since that night in 2006, the Irishman has seemingly been on a slow decline.

Instead of improving and becoming stronger with each successive fight, over the past three years it's as though his skills have been regressing. Instead of scoring big wins over gradually better opposition, Duddy has struggled mightily against second and third tier fighters. Instead of fulfilling his once awesome promise, he dropped a split-decision in his last bout to a clubfighter named Billy Lyell who had a spotty record of 18-7.

On two occasions, Duddy was so close to a title shot that all he had to do was win – and look good in so doing – and he would have immediately been matched with world middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik. But for whatever reason, call it bad luck if you want, things happened that derailed all of those best-laid plans.

Granted, Duddy has been through the promotional and managerial wringer. He underwent a messy, prolonged and protracted split with the McLoughlin brothers and their Irish Ropes Promotions.

He bounced from trainers Harry Keitt to Don Turner to Pat Burns and ultimately back to Keitt. Turner and Burns tinkered with his free punching, defense-be-damned style and the John Duddy they produced looked nothing like the one who began his career with nine knockouts – seven of those coming in the first round.

Aside from that, Duddy was dividing his time between Ireland, North Carolina, New York and Florida. With all of those things blurring his focus, many say it's a wonder that John Duddy could win a fight at all.

Now, six years after he first laced up the gloves as a prizefighter, Duddy is ready to again begin the journey to a title shot. At age 30, time is not on his side and should he lose again, especially against the opponent he will face tonight at Madison Square Garden's WaMu Theater, it could spell the end.

Like Benjamin Button, the career of John Duddy could die in its infancy.

"All of the problems with my former management is now over," said the likable and engaging Duddy earlier this week. "I'm now back with my original trainer Harry Keitt and I truly believe that my future now is as bright as it always was."

In a fight and a night designed to help get Duddy back on the fast track, he will meet the non-threatening Michi Munoz, a Mexican who now calls Topeka, Kansas home. Fighting in Madison Square Garden for the eighth time and with new management and promoter Bob Arum behind him, Duddy is hoping all of that will be enough to lift him out of the quagmire that has become his career.

"I'm looking forward to finally getting back into the ring on Saturday night," he says. "I hope it all goes well for me, that I get the win. I can't wait to be honest with you."

The long range plans for Duddy, who is a proven ticket seller in New York, Ireland and Boston is to meet up with Arum's undefeated protege, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. who will fight on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao vs. Miguel Cotto mega-fight next month in Las Vegas

"As long as Chavez gets by November 14th, the plan we have is for the both of them to fight on the same card in Cancun, Mexico in December," said Arum. "We'd like to then put the two of them together against each other in a big fight back here in New York around St. Patrick's Day. Duddy is a big crowd favorite in this area and we expect him to be featured in some major fights down the road."

Certainly Duddy, were he to get himself into the position to fight for a world title and win it, would be huge for the sport. He is movie star handsome and has the type of smile that makes him a marketer's dream. Well-spoken and intelligent with a loyal and enthusiastic fan base, Duddy is just the type of fighter that could go a long way in a short time.

When he emerged earlier this week from the six-month hiatus following the embarrassing loss to Lyell, he appeared fresh and ready to go. He married his longtime girlfriend and purchased a home in Ireland during his time off. The break seemed to have done him some good.

The reunion with Keitt, who pushes Duddy in training and is a proponent of the "throw punches first, ask questions later" mentality also seems to have taken away some of the doubt that Duddy had about his identity as a practitioner of the sweet science.

"I know now what I'm capable of doing," said Duddy. "I know where my strengths are now and my days as being a pretty dancer are over. I've got to work on what works for me. I'm going back to being the explosive and snappy puncher that I once was. I'm very happy to be going back to Madison Square Garden. At the end of the day, I'm just a rough and tumble type of fighter."

Duddy is not saying that he is going to put all of the unfortunate things that have happened to him these past few years out of his mind. He's also not saying that he's going to forget the sage advice of veteran trainers Don Turner and Pat Burns. But call this version of Duddy a little of the old and a little of the new.

"I’m just looking to get back to a wee bit of the old and maybe add what I’ve picked up these last two years and hopefully put on a bit of a performance," he explains. "Maybe I'll show I’m a bit more of a mature fighter for what I’ve come through."

And instead of being at the end, maybe The Curious Case of John Duddy is now just beginning.

October 2009

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