Duddy could be roped into career compromise


AMERICA AT LARGE:There are ample grounds for a compromise solution to the John Duddy affair, writes George Kimball 

"Regardless of one's allegiance in the dispute, the process has indisputably been a costly one for Duddy, who stood to collect over €146,000 in purses for the Hill and Hearns fights. Duddy has also rejected a €55,000 payday for an October fight in Donegal

ALTHOUGH IT seems at the moment to be a company without a client, Irish Ropes still holds a New York promoter's licence, as well as a hold on the Madison Square Garden Theatre for the night of March 16th.

Eddie McLoughlin had reserved the date several months ago, in anticipation of the annual, 5,000-strong gathering of the John Duddy Faithful. Now, of course, McLoughlin and Duddy communicate only through their lawyers, but Irish Ropes is gearing up for another St Patrick's Day card in New York, with an intriguing match-up - Andy Lee v Walid Smichet - contemplated as the main event.

Not to be outdone, Duddy's new representatives, provided they can negotiate their way out of what remains a contractual quagmire, are planning to bring the Derry middleweight back to New York that same weekend.

At the moment, Duddy has been pencilled in as the principal attraction on a March 14th card at New York's Roseland Ballroom. No opponent has yet been selected for that Saturday afternoon match-up, but if promoter Bob Duffy wanted to establish an ironic symmetry to the whole affair, he probably ought to put Duddy in with Brian Vera.

At this time a year ago, 2008 loomed as a banner year for Duddy and Lee. Both Irish boxers were undefeated and on the brink of world title challenges.

A €1 million payday to fight middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik awaited Duddy. The arrangement was contingent only on a decent showing in a tune-up bout against Smichet on February's Wladimir Klitschko-Sultan Ibragimov undercard at Madison Square Garden. But Duddy struggled mightily against the Tunisian-born opponent, barely eking out a majority decision and emerging with facial lacerations severe enough to keep him out of the ring for several months.

Lee's career trajectory was similarly derailed a month later, when, ahead on points, he unwisely got himself into a slugfest with Vera and was stopped in the seventh round of their nationally-televised fight in Connecticut.

Duddy and Lee returned to post wins last summer. In June, Duddy outpointed Charlie Howe in Boston, while Lee stopped veteran Willie Gibbs in Limerick in July. Neither has fought since, but subsequent performances of their tormentors didn't do much to enhance the reputation of either Irish boxer: in a November 22nd fight in Las Vegas, Vera was floored twice by James Kirkland and stopped in the eighth round. Exactly a week later in Montreal, Smichet lost a one-sided decision to Don Mouton, a 30-year-old Canadian with an undistinguished, 7-3-1 record.

Lee's inactivity over the latter half of the year stemmed from surgery to repair a cut which had never properly healed. The injury was actually incurred in the course of his February 2007 Limerick win over Alejandro Gustavo Fulliga; the same cut was re-opened in both the Vera and Gibbs fights.

Duddy came out of the Howe fight relatively unscathed, but his hiatus has been even lengthier. Following a protracted, but ultimately unsuccessful, negotiation for a title fight against light-middleweight champion Verno Phillips, the Derryman was scheduled for two fights - a November tune-up against St Louis policeman Sam Hill in New York, followed by a January 17th date with the unbeaten Ronald Hearns at Madison Square Garden - but both disappeared in a puff of smoke when, 10 days before the Hill fight, promoter Cedric Kushner cancelled the show, the first public confirmation of the Duddy-Irish Ropes rupture.

One can't help but be reminded of a similarly unpleasant turn of events involving an Irish boxer two decades ago.

As the unseemly 1987 break-up of the Barry McGuigan-Barney Eastwood relationship played out, the esteemed journalist Hugh McIlvanney was moved to note that it was "like watching an ugly divorce involving two old friends".

Regardless of one's allegiance in the dispute, the process has indisputably been a costly one for Duddy, who stood to collect over €146,000 in purses for the Hill and Hearns fights. (Eddie McLoughlin told the Irish Echo's Jay Mwamba that Duddy had also rejected a €55,000 payday for an October fight in Donegal.)

His withdrawal from the scheduled Hearns fight may also have wrecked any future relationship between Duddy and America's most prominent boxing television network, according to McLoughlin.

"Main events on HBO aren't like buses," the promoter told Mwamba. "If you miss one, you can't just catch another."

Now represented by Craig Hamilton and attorney Gary Freedman, Duddy has filed suit in the United States Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking to terminate his promotional arrangement with Irish Ropes and his managerial contract with Tony McLoughlin, Eddie's brother.

A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for this morning, but both sides expressed hope that a compromise solution might be found.

Conceding that "the marriage is irretrievably broken", the McLaughlins don't even plan to contest the managerial issue. But the 2006 promotional contract, which included a two-year extension that could be unilaterally extended by either party, remains a bargaining chip.

Irish Ropes have secured the approval of Lee's manager and Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward for the proposed Smichet match-up, and matchmaker Jim Borzell is already negotiating with the Tunisian's Montreal-based promoter, Yvon Michel, for the March date.

Whether today's hearing can be headed off, it would seem that there are ample grounds for the compromise solution hereby proposed.

Protracted litigation that would extend Duddy's absence from the ring could only be deleterious to his career, and even if his new handlers succeed in obtaining an injunction that would allow him to proceed with the March 14th date, the Roseland Ballroom holds only 2,000.

It's difficult to imagine promising Duddy a purse of more than €14,600 for a non-televised bout there, a circumstance that would not only barely make a dent in the already-lost wages, but also invite the potential for Duddy being upstaged by Andy Lee two nights later.

A convincing win, or a knock-out, by Lee would not only boost his credentials, but could serve as yet another body blow to Duddy's reputation.

Combining the two cards, then, would appear to provide a middle ground.

One suspects that at this point Irish Ropes will happily abandon any future claim on Duddy in exchange for a once-off appearance on the St Patrick's eve show, where between them Duddy and Lee would guarantee a capacity crowd - especially if Duddy is willing to entertain the notion of fighting Brian Vera.