Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Duddy's still got a lot to prove: Eastwood

For a boxer almost suffocated by hype and overkill, John Duddy is not only refreshingly honest, but has both feet firmly on the ground.

On a count of ten, he is still an 'eight' fighter, and knows it. He is not ready to challenge the world's best middleweight, and wisely will not be rushed into a brass-knuckled war he wouldn't be certain of winning.

"To me, this makes good sense. It's what I expected to hear from the lad," declared Barney Eastwood, who managed seven world champions in his hey-day.

"John is strong, has a good chin, and loves to fight, but Brian Peters knows the business, and we both feel he needs another three or four meaningful fights before attempting to scale Everest. If this means delaying his assault on the summit for a year, so be it."

Eastwood, who hosted nearly 20 world championship contests during the McGuigan-McAuley era, was thrilled to see Duddy get the measure of London-based Howard Eastman on a memorable King's Hall baptism, but there were flaws in his work that BJ was quick to spot.

Like the urge to fight when good old fashioned boxing skills would have reaped more reward; and a defence that looked suspect under pressure, especially at close range.

"Duddy threw more punches than Eastman, but the man from Guyana was more menacing, and with a right uppercut," says BJ.

"John will have learned a lot from this bout, and is a great crowd-pleaser. What he'll need against better fighters than Eastman is a 'plan B' when the going gets tough, and right now he doesn't seem to have one."

Good point. To adapt, and change gear and tactics when in trouble is something all great fighters do naturally and without being told.

This was Duddy's first time in a top-of-the-bill King's Hall role, and to mark his debut with a 6,500-seater sell-out must be glowing testimony to the crowd-pulling magnetism of Ireland's most popular boxer since Dave McAuley.

The soles of John's tasseled boots scarcely touched the floor as he was swept to the ringside on a passionate tide of expectation, and he didn't disappoint. Eager to please, he chose fearlessly, sometimes mistakenly, to mix it with a former European champion now clinging to fading skills, but dangerous, and was caught flat-footed at times.

He can who thinks he can is Duddy's philosophy, however, and even with a splendid contest balanced on a knife-edge, John was still imposing his talent and will, if shy of a hard punch. Clearly something else he must work on before that bid for title glory.

The pride of Derry has animal drive and a sound chin, but supremo Eastwood is right. The ageing Eastman found flaws in his defence that guys like Abraham, from Germany, and the Americans Pavlik, Taylor and Winky Wright would be quick to expose, and cruelly.

Eastman was Duddy's finest scalp in 23 professional contests, but John knows how important it is to be primed, not just to challenge for a world crown, but win it. He'll be back in action in February, possibly against Minnesota's Matt Vanda (37 wins, five loses) and in a supporting role to Maskaev - Peters' WBC heavyweight battle in either Boston or one of Connecticut Indian casinos.

Promoter Peters, meanwhile, must be smelling of roses.

A millionaire publican and restauranteur, Brian, too, was a newcomer to the King's Hall, but should be back again, and soon, after a night of unparalleled emotion.

The atmosphere was electric, a volcanic throw-back to some of Eastwood's greatest shows, most of them house-packers.

And as a stage-manager, Peters, as usual, came out with flying colours.

Former champions Gilroy, Caldwell, McAuley and John Kelly were his ringside guests in company with manager Eastwood, and presentations to all five in the ring clearly won the man from Dunshaughlin a great many friends in the crowd. As did a superbly edited programme, which highlighted thumb-nail sketches on just about every major boxing bill in Belfast since the days of Warnock, Monaghan and Spider Kelly.

What a collectors' item on a night in which it was easy to forget the shambles of a week before!

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