JOHN DUDDY is remembered fondly as one of the true ‘Garden Greats’ by New York boxing fans but tomorrow night he will sit proudly at ringside watching an old friend duck between the ropes at Madison Square Garden as Eamonn O’Kane attempts to make his own history at the famous venue.
When the Galliagh man made his ‘Garden’ debut against little known American, Patrick Johnson in his 10th professional fight in June 2005, it was the start of a love affair with the Manhattan venue where many of the greatest fighters of the past have exchanged punches.
The ‘Derry Destroyer’ went on to thrill New York’s boxing fraternity with nine exciting fights at the venue, including those memorable bloody wars against ‘Yory Boy’ Campas and Walid Smichet.
“It’s a special place for every boxer - it’s Madison Square Garden,” explained Duddy. “That’s why boxing at the Garden is such a special thing. Win, lose or draw the whole world will hear about it!”
In fact Duddy (29-02-0) headlined bouts and enjoyed an unblemished record of nine wins from nine at MSG as New Yorkers took him under their wing, quickly buying into his Irish working class roots and warrior heart.
Fighting at the Garden was undoubtedly the launch-pad for Duddy’s success in the sport as he rapidly went from relative obscurity in America to becoming an enormously popular fighter, drawing thousands of fans to his fights at Madison Square Garden because of his blood-and-guts style.
Duddy, who has stepped away from the sport since his retirement in 2011, will return to Madison Square Garden tomorrow night to watch a friend from his amateur days, ‘King Kane’ attempt to secure a shot at the world middleweight title with victory over Tureano Johnson.
O’Kane has been drawing inspiration for his world title eliminator by watching replays of the Galliagh man’s fights and Duddy claims it doesn’t get any bigger than fighting at the ‘home of boxing’ on the undercard of the biggest name in middleweight boxing right now, Gennady Golovkin.
And he expects the Irish American contingent to get right behind the Co. Derry man - a man he has history with as an amateur.
“I saw a photograph on Facebook the other night and Eamonn was sitting watching TV and one of my fights came on,” he laughed. “The Irish - they always come out to support their own. I’m sure he will have a great fan base and I know there’s plenty coming over from back home as well. I’m sure it will feel more like a hometown audience for Eamonn than his opponent.
“When I fought Howard Eastman back in Belfast in the King’s Hall - which was probably the highlight of my career fighting in the King’s Hall - which is our Garden - I came back to New York a week later and everyone was asking me when I was next fighting. It was a big moment for me but coming back to New York nobody had heard about it. When I boxed in New York, everyone back home knew about it.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than this for Eamonn,” he added. “He’s on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin. He’s got a great opportunity to put in a good performance.”
Deserves his shot!
Duddy knows better than most how hard it is to make it at world level in boxing and he believes O’Kane has earned his shot. While Duddy has distanced himself from the boxing scene of late and hasn’t seen much of O’Kane’s rise to the top, he has fond memories of when their paths crossed as amateurs. In fact, Duddy is proud of the fact he was the last Irish Senior light-middleweight champion after defeating O’Kane in the final at the National Stadium, Dublin as the IABA scrapped the light-middleweight division the year after!
I can’t wait to see him in the big lights where he deserves to be. You don’t get to fight in the Garden without earning it and he’s done it.John Duddy
“The last person to win the Irish senior title at light middleweight was me,” he smiled. “But I can’t wait to see him in the big lights where he deserves to be. You don’t get to fight in the Garden without earning it and he’s done it.
“We were roommates together when we boxed for the N. Irish team,” he recalled. “So I know Eamonn and his father Laurence. He prolonged his amateur career but he now has 18 pro fights and he’s fighting at Madison Square Garden under the biggest middleweight in the world.
“Everybody says things happen for a reason and it couldn’t happen to a better man. Good luck to him and I’ll be there supporting him with all the other crazy Irish fans,” he laughed.
Duddy has many happy memories of fighting at MSG during his colourful seven year pro. career and the fact that he remained unbeaten after nine contests is a record he treasures most.
Duddy’s unanimous decision win against former light middleweight titlist ‘Yory Boy’ Campas in September 2006 was one of the most brutal and action-packed fights in recent years and the fight is replayed on a regular basis on American TV.
The Galliagh native now rents an apartment in the Middle Village section of Queens with his wife, Grainne and he still gets recognised on the streets for that enthralling battle.
“One of my fights was the main event at the Garden - it was the night I won the IBA world title. I wouldn’t say it was my greatest moment but I’ll never forget getting out of the ring and there was Joe Frazier.
“And who is sitting beside him but Martin McGuinness. I asked him what he was doing there and he laughed and told me ‘I’m here to see you son’. I’m in New York and there’s a legend in Joe Frazier and then another legend in my eyes, Martin McGuinness sitting beside him.
“That’s the kind of highlights I remember. The fighting side of things seem to get rolled into one.
“Joel Fisher (Executive Vice President of MSG Sports) a few years ago after the Golden Gloves Finals where I was doing some commentary work - presented me with a beautiful montage of photographs from my fights and on the bottom was inscribed ‘A Garden Great - John Duddy 9-0 (4Kos)’.
“Usually the boxing memorabilia I have I send it back home or have it locked away in a box but that sits proudly above my fire place at home.
“I enjoyed it while I did it. When I stopped enjoying it and realised I could do something else with my life other than getting beat up, I chose to leave it behind.
“I still get recognised. But I fought in the most famous arena in the world so I would be more surprised if nobody knew me. I’ve now closed that chapter and I’m looking forward to what I’m doing next. At the end of it all I made New York my home. Derry will always be my home but New York is a home from home for me.”