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Duddy A Winner In “Kid Shamrock,” New Play Written By Bobby Cassidy Jr.

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IMG_0581Duddy has taken a liking to the stage. The reviews have been kind to the man from Derry, who last month decided he'd hang up the gloves. (photo by Guy Warren) Does life imitate art, or art imitate life? Five years earlier, Wayne Kelly had been the referee who took Shelby Pudwill into protective custody the night John Duddy knocked him down three times in the first two minutes of their fight at Madison Square Garden. Now here was Kelly, counting over Duddy’s prostrate form in a ring on the stage at the Atlantic Theatre Company.

At almost any time you could name over the past half-dozen years, providing John Duddy with the look of a busted-up prizefighter would not have been an exercise that greatly challenged the creative powers of a resourceful theatrical make-up artist.  Even when he won, which he usually did, the Derry middleweight could reliably be counted upon to spring new leak or two, and there were at least a few fights over that stretch from which Duddy emerged with his face looking like freshly-chopped hamburger.

Which helps to explain Lou DiBella’s surprised reaction when he ran into Duddy and his wife Grainne at the New York premiere of “Lights Out” in early January. Seven months had elapsed since the boxer had last been bloodied, in a loss to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in San Antonio, and time seemed to have eradicated any vestigial residue of that night’s carnage.

“I was struck by how good he looked,” recalled the promoter. “I’m talking movie-star looks. It had been long since I’d seen him looking so fresh.  

“'John,’ I told him, ‘You look marvelous. Taking all that time off has obviously done you a world of good,’” recalled DiBella. “Looking back on it now, I can’t believe what I said next. I actually told him ‘You look so good that you really ought to think about not doing this much longer. Who knows? Maybe you have a future in the movies yourself.’”

Just few days earlier, DiBella had successfully concluded negotiations with manager Craig Hamilton for a March 12 Duddy fight against Andy Lee at the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut.  The St. Patricks week bout on the Mashantucket Pequod tribal reservation would be the co-feature of a card headlined by Sergio Martinez’ middleweight title defense against Ukrainian Sergey Dzinziruk. Making the fight had been an arduous process, and in the end DiBella had to strong-arm HBO into televising the bout only by mortgaging future Martinez bouts as collateral, which in turn provided $100,000 guarantees for the two Irish middleweights.

DiBella was unaware at the time that Duddy had already taped a yet-to-be aired episode of “Lights Out,” the FX channel’s new boxing-themed series, but he was about to find out. The “Lights Out” premiere took place on January 5. Ten days later Duddy stunned the boxing world by announcing his retirement.

“I wish I still had the hunger, but I don’t,” said Duddy in the January 15 statement released by Hamilton. “The fire has burned out.”

Ten days after that came the announcement that Duddy would make his theatrical debut in an Off-Broadway revival of Bobby Cassidy Jr.’s 2007 play “Kid Shamrock.”  The seemingly precipitate haste of the second announcement led many to suspect that the two events must have been connected, but Duddy insists that this was not the case.

“Just a couple of days after I announced my retirement I got a phone call from Seamus McDonagh asking if I’d be interested in the play,” said Duddy, who portrays the younger, fighting era version of he eponymous lead character, plainly based on the playwright’s father Bobby Cassidy, a useful middleweight and light-heavyweight of the 1960s and 70s.  (McDonagh plays the older Shamrock, recounting the events depicted from the vantage point of a saloon bouncer years later.)

“My initial reaction was that I was pissed off,” said DiBella. “I’d had to fight tooth and nail to make the Lee fight, and I’d gotten both boxers exactly what they’d asked for. I felt betrayed.

“But when I thought about it, and it didn’t take very long, I realized that he was right. If he felt the way he did, Duddy should have retired. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to go through the motions and take $100,000 of my money for just showing up. Instead he did the honorable thing.”

After Duddy’s departure, DiBella secured the services of unbeaten, Edinburgh-born Craig McEwan as Lee’s March 12 opponent in the HBO fight.  And Duddy went straight into rehearsals with Dublin-born director Jimmy Smallhorne for “Kid Shamrock.”

Like Duddy and McDonagh (who two decades ago fought Evander Holyfield for the US heavyweight title), every member of the seven-man cast had some boxing connection, guaranteeing the presence of the Fight Mob for the seven-night run at the Atlantic. It’s a fair bet that at least half of Tuesday’s opening-night audience was there to see Duddy, and that a substantial portion of those showed up expecting to see him fall flat on his face in his theatrical debut. If so, they were disappointed.

You might not say that Duddy stole the show (Patrick Joseph Connolly, the veteran character actor who plays an inebriated salesman whose barroom conversation serves as a foil for the older Kid Shamrock’s reminiscences, did that), but he was almost astonishingly competent, delivering his lines (in a New York accent) with a flawless ease.

The boxing scenes, most them based on Cassidy pere’s 1971 Madison Square Garden fight against future middleweight champion Rodrigo Valdez, may well be the best-choreographed fight action ever seen on a New York stage, on or off-Broadway. And casting ex-pugs in every role might have seemed a gamble, but it paid dividends in verisimilitude: Gary Hope, the onetime English cruiserweight who plays the Kid’s cornerman Paddy Flood, is believable because he acts like a boxing trainer.

And Wayne Kelly certainly knows how to act like a referee. In fact, Kelly’s understudy had to work the second night’s performance of Kid Shamrock. Unaware of the potential conflict with the Atlantic Theatre Company, the New York State Athletic Commission assigned Kelly to work DiBella’s real-life Broadway Boxing card at B.B. King’s Blues Club tonight.

While confessing to a case of opening-night jitters, Duddy seemed gratified by his reception and was looking forward to the rest of the run, as well as to what now looms a second career.

Not that he’s turned his back entirely on his former pursuit.

“I’m going up to Connecticut to watch next month’s fight, and I’m actually looking forward to it,” he said. “I like Andy Lee’s chances against the Scotsman for a couple of reasons. Because they’re both southpaws, McEwan won’t be able to run the way he might against an orthodox boxer. He’ll have to stand and fight, and Andy has more of a punch than McEwan does; he hits harder.

“You know, I’ve enjoyed this even more than I thought I would,” added Duddy as he toweled off after his first turn before the footlights. “I don’t know what the future holds, but of course I’d like to do more of it.”

What comes next? “Have your people talk to my people?”

This column originally appeared in the Feb 10 edition of The Irish Times. Copyright (c) 2011 by The Irish Times Newspaper Company, Ltd.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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