In the upstairs dining room of Jack Dempsey's Bar and Restaurant, John Duddy arrived to his most recent press conference with a mixture of humor and humility. He waded through the photographers, eagerly snapping shots of his chiseled good looks, and offered quick hellos to familiar writers, scribbling down the anecdotes that flowed from his thick Irish brogue.
More than a talented fighter, Duddy stands on the verge of snatching the national spotlight through a combination of punching power, old school dedication and a natural conviviality born of inherent blarney. In just two short years, the Irish-born fighter's record is unblemished, standing at 15-0 with 13 knockouts. Having become one of the most exciting and beloved boxers in New York City, his legions of fans have already sold out the majority of his fight at the Theater at Madi-son Square Garden on the eve of St. Patrick's Day.
Ranked 39th among today's middleweights, Duddy stands out in the midst of a sport saturated with undefeated records, a fact that speaks more to a lack of credible opponents than talented prospects. The combined record of Duddy's opposition stands at 144-56-6, an impressive statistic considering so many of today's young boxers are protected early on by the practice of hand-picking their opponents.
Eddie McLoughlin, a founder of Duddy's promotional team, Irishropes, commented on his fighter's tough schedule thus far at last week's press conference. "Our goals has always been to see how good John really is," he said. "John is making noise because he is bumping guys off who've already gained respect in the sport."
A veteran of boxing for more than 30 years, McLoughlin and his brothers Tony and Martin opened their own gym in the Rockaways to coincide with the backing of Duddy and a stable of other fighters from their native Ireland. When the brothers first heard of Duddy, he was an average amateur working construction jobs in County Derry, Northern Ireland. They recognized a determined streak in him that they cultivated with brutal efficiency inside the ring. "He was lifting larger loads than guys more than twice his size and just throwing them around," Eddie said. "It was clear then, his big-gest danger was to himself, that he might injure himself on the job." Flown to New York and matched with trainer Harry Keitt, Duddy has begun to leave and imprint with one crushing fist after another, all the while flashing a brilliant smile. McLoughlin credited the ever-widening fan base to Duddy's respect for the sport and its audience. "He trains his ass off and gives all he can in and outside the ring," he said. "People relate to him. It's a mirror-like effect."
Fighting up and down the East Coast, from Boston to Florida, Duddy has become accustomed to the attention he generates on both sides of the Atlantic. "I think I've actually become more popular in Ireland since I left," he chuckled. "People pay attention to New York City, and I expect to make a statement that America will not be forgetting anytime soon."
Despite al-ready knocking off a pair of undefeated fighters, Duddy's upcoming fight against Shelby "Show-time" Pudwill (21-2-1, 9KOs) is the most important of his career. "I'm only out to prove something to me self, and as long as I keep me self happy with me performance, then others will be too," he said. "In this sport, it's too easy to make a fool of yourself if you fight bums." Duddy took questions, filmed quick spots for the local news, and even signed autographs. The scene at the restaurant was a scaled-down version of the aftermath of one of his victories, where he takes up to a half-hour or more to return to his locker room because he's busy trading congratulations with his supporters. "It's all part and parcel of boxing, and I'm getting a wee bit better at all of it with each fight," he said.
The following day, Duddy was once again hard at work in Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn. Donning layers of nylon to help sweat off the remaining four pounds before his weigh-in, he worked on his devastating body shots. "We can't worry about it, we're going to have to make adjustments in the ring anyways," Keitt said. "We've done all the hard work. Now we just have to maintain ourselves, like a plane taxiing in to the runway."
Duddy admitted he was gradually slipping into his fighting mentality. "I've been thinking about my opponent for a while now. I wish the fight was tonight," he said. "I'll be a little nervous, a few butterflies you know. But by then, I'll be so ready I won't even know what continent I'm on."