John Duddy’s Rocky Road to a World Title

By Dan Fitz-Simons: John Duddy’s recent victory over Charlie Howe (“the Hassle in the Castle”) has upped the Derry Destroyer’s record to an impressive 25-0 (17 KOs). Duddy is currently listed # 2 by the WBC and the WBO, # 5 by the WBA, and # 10 by the IBF in the middleweight division.. Yet the path to his ultimate objective, a world title, has been strewn with pitfalls. Duddy has had three different trainers during the course of his career; Harry Keit, Don Turner, and currently Patrick Burns. As a result of these changes, his style has undergone a full cycle from amateur boxer to bar room brawler and back to boxer-puncher.

What hasn’t changed throughout Duddy’s turbulent career are two personal attributes that enabled him to arrive where he is, guts and determination. John’s affable personality has also earned him a huge fan-base which is not exclusively Irish. Yet it’s precisely because he carries no chip on his shoulder that Duddy is despised by fans who believe a genuine contender must fit the mold of a frowning thug. Thus, while Duddy is popular with many fans, he is also maligned by others as an over-hyped, C-level pretender.

Yet whether at Madison Square Garden, the King’s Hall in Belfast, or Boston Castle, Duddy comes to fight and keeps winning. His crowd-pleasing style continues to pack in fans by the thousands. Nevertheless, it is impossible to deny there are serious flaws in his style and game plan. Duddy has a temper (he is Irish) which he sometimes looses after being tagged by an opponent. After going toe-to-toe with Yori-Boy Campas, Duddy was sucked into a brawl from which he emerged shaken and cut to pieces. He won, but just barely.

Another problem is Duddy’s belief that he must always display his bravery to his fans. This attitude was evident when he initiated a brawl with Walid Smichet that almost cost him the fight and could have resulted in serious eye injuries. Duddy’s disdain for his own defense was frightening, and he later joked that it was impossible for him to improve his defense, since he never had one. After three rounds, he managed to box his way to a narrow victory, but his poor showing caused Bob Arum to cancel a million dollar title fight against Kelly Pavlik.

Many Duddy fans felt the cancellation was a blessing in disguise, since it was clear John wasn’t ready to take on Pavlik. Irish Ropes also realized changes had to be made. Turner was replaced by Pat Burns, a veteran U.S. Olympic coach and trainer of former middleweight champion, Jermaine Taylor. Burns switched the training camp from North Carolina to Florida and brought in his brother Joe as a conditioner. A weight lifting regimen was introduced, and Burns emphasized the importance of “fighting smart” as opposed to being a crowd pleasing brawler.

Burns’ emphasis on boxing was soon apparent when Duddy defeated Howe in a textbook match that went the distance. John took every round on points, although he was on the verge of knocking out Howe twice just before the bell. Duddy used his left jab to wear down Howe and set up combinations. He also threw effective upper cuts and hooks to the body. Burns was pleased with the results; however, he also stated that John had a tendency to coast in mid-round, denying himself an opportunity to finish off his opponent before the bell.

But where does Duddy go from here? While he is well positioned for future bouts, serious issues remain. The loss of cut man Big George Mitchell could be crucial, considering John’s problems with cuts. In addition, Duddy has never fought a top 10 middleweight contender; Howe is a long way from Pavlik. Many fans and aficionados also felt that Duddy wasn’t at top form in his last two fights. Pat Burns argued that the problem could be resolved by John dropping down to light middleweight. At 154, Duddy, a big fish in a smaller pond, could challenge Verno Philips for the IBF title, or Sergio Mora for the WBC belt.

Moreover, Duddy loves to fight in Belfast, which is only a bus ride away from his hometown Derry. His previous string of wins in Ireland (Furlan, Prince Aaron and Eastman) reinforces the possibility of him fighting in Europe again. He also likes to stay busy, and with only a minor cut from the Howe victory, he could fight again as early as September. It’s still not clear which road Duddy will take to obtain a world title. But one thing is certain, whatever road the Derry Destroyer chooses, the results will be controversial and exciting.

Article posted on 17.07.2008

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