Matthew Hurley: While many in the boxing community gave little chance to Irish middleweight contender John Duddy, 24-0 with 17 KOs in his proposed June match up with champion Kelly Pavlik, the fighter from Derry did nothing to assuage even his staunchest supporters in his very shaky outing against Tunisian journeyman Walid Smichet, 17-4-3 with 13 KOs. Duddy escaped with a controversial split decision victory Saturday night on the undercard of the Wladimir Klitschko – Sultan Ibragimov heavyweight title unification bout at Madison Square Garden..
Fighting on his adopted home turf the popular banger left the ring amid a scattering of boos and sporting a severe cut over his left eye. He also had to contend with the fact that his shot at Pavlik, which would also provide him with a million dollar purse, will have to wait until at least later this year.
Speaking with the assembled media promoter Bob Arum did not dismiss Duddy as a future opponent for Pavlik, whom Arum has blusterously been touting as potentially one of the all time great middleweights, but did insist that June 7th is out of the question.
“A Duddy – Pavlik fight is not off for good,” he said, with obvious disappointment. “The fight could be made for later this year but he needs time for his cuts to heal.”
Despite the fact that most people believe Duddy would be the proverbial lamb led to the slaughter should he step through the ropes to trade leather with Pavlik the fight would be an instant sellout at Madison Square Garden. Such is Duddy’s popularity in and around New York and Pavlik is now achieving a star stature that reaches beyond his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
For his part Duddy was reflective after struggling against his tougher than expected opponent.
“I’m happy I won,” he said afterwards, “but I’m disappointed with my performance. I trained much better than how I looked in the ring.”
The hard fought battle was reminiscent of Duddy’s struggle against aged former junior middleweight champion Yori Boy Campas back in 2006. That fight was not only the ninety-sixth professional career bout for Campas but also one of his strongest showings in years. Duddy won a unanimous decision but had to fight tooth and nail every round to earn his victory. It was that fight, against a wily but withered veteran, that seemed to prove that the gutsy young kid had perhaps leveled off in terms of skill and technique.
His performance against Smichet solidified that notion. Duddy was inexplicably an easy target for continuous overhand rights. His sturdy chin served him well against Smichet but such defensive inadequacies will prove disastrous against a power-punching sharp-shooter like Kelly Pavlik. He’s a marketable young fighter with an exciting style but he is not yet even worthy of a title shot. His good looks, engaging manner and come-forward aggression however has led to an immense localized popularity and it would appear obvious now that his management team is hoping to land the big pay day against Pavlik before a lesser fighter puts a loss on his record.
There is an alternative however; Felix Trinidad, who acquitted himself well against Roy Jones in a losing effort last month, is in desperate search for an opponent. Pavlik is out of the question because Trinidad can’t make 160 pounds anymore and the sanctioning bodies will not rank him so a popular New York based fighter like Duddy could provide both boxers with the marquee bout they both desire. A Duddy – Trinidad fight in Madison Square Garden would be huge. And if the Irishman has to fight at around 164 he should take it because it represents the big payday he and his camp are looking for. A win over Trinidad, no matter how depleted the Puerto Rican icon may be, will only serve Duddy well should he get that title shot against Pavlik towards the end of the year.