Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

How Barry McGuigan and Barney Eastwood's friendship fell apart

Boxing manager Barney Eastwood and Barry McGuigan
Barney Eastwood and Barry McGuigan

It was the father and son relationship that captured the world. Two men locked on a mission to rule boxing's universe. Barney Eastwood and Barry McGuigan lived the dream — and then the nightmare.

Before the backdrop of ‘The Troubles' in the 1980s, the boy from Clones travelled through boxing's minefield at the direction of his mentor and together found themselves in the Promised Land on June 8, 1985. Loftus Road was the stage upon which they strode, McGuigan wrenching the WBA World featherweight title from Panamanian Eusebio Pedroza.

“Son, we've done it, we've done it. You are some kid. What a performance,” smiled Eastwood before they embraced in the dressing room and McGuigan allowed himself a tear in celebration.

Mission accomplished and yet the beginning of the end, as reiterated in ‘Hooked on the Jab' The Barney Eastwood Story by respected journalist Denis O'Hara.

Their journey to the top is recorded as well as the torturous crumbling of a special relationship which afforded Eastwood the opportunity to manage a World champion for the first time and McGuigan to realise his potential, while setting himself up for life along the way. They were good for each other before going toe-to-toe in two expensive court cases.

Eastwood's wife Frances reveals how she didn't want her husband to enter into boxing again, having worked in the sport in the 1960s along with veteran boxing man Mike Callahan. But Eastwood was drawn to McGuigan, he could see an uncut diamond.

“Let me be blunt. I would not have signed up McGuigan in the first place, would not have gone to all the trouble, all the planning, building our own gym, if I didn't think he had the ability to go to the top. I had faith in him, that he could do it,” says Eastwood.

“We had to be patient. We had to know the possibilities as we went along and we matched him against opponents in such a way that we generally had that vital extra edge. He also had great charisma, that showbusiness about him.

“It was a good time and great for the public. It was during a period when people were crying out for something to lift things, brighten life, someone they could support in sport.

“He just came at the right time. He was also king of the gym, although there is no doubt I had far more respect and more camaraderie with all the other fighters in the gym. They got on well with me, and never complained. He (McGuigan) was always travelling first class, while the other boxers were in tourist class.”

Just how close they were in the early stages is revealed by son Brian, who was heavily involved with the boxing business along with brother Stephen who promoted the Clones Cyclone's great nights up until Loftus Road.

“As a member of the Eastwood family I can candidly state my father ate, drank and slept the Barry McGuigan project from the moment he signed up the fighter. My brothers agree with me that McGuigan for a time was dad's favourite son. It was as simple as that in those early days. But when people got between that arrangement it soon began to sour.”

Mum Frances felt the intensity of the relationship as well, saying: “There was nobody treated as well as Barry McGuigan when he first came to our house. From day one he was treated like God Almighty. He wanted for nothing and even things he didn't want we got for him. He was absolutely ruined. It was an exciting time all right, from the start I suffered terribly with pressure.

“When he was fighting, I worried he might suffer an injury. I even felt stress when he left the house in the morning to do his roadwork. Remember this was the early 1980s. I didn't tell Barney that I suffered awfully from the stress of it all.”

British and European titles were won before the eclipse of Pedroza and by then an incredible fan base had been built up on both sides of the Atlantic. America was to be the next stop after two defences.

By now the relationship was unravelling, with McGuigan signing up with Roddy Carr on a merchandising contract. Eastwood wanted a New York battle with the great World super-featherweight champion Wilfredo Gomez but McGuigan declined and they ended up in Vegas.

Steve Cruz would never have beaten McGuigan in the King's Hall but under the searing Vegas summer sun this Texan had a chance and he grabbed it. McGuigan would end up in hospital exhausted after the defeat, while all the life had just been sucked out of his relationship with Eastwood.

The recriminations followed. “The place was full of rumour after Las Vegas. I became the really big bad wolf. I was a bookmaker, a gambler, so it stood to reason lots of people would willingly believe the rumours and think I had money on Cruz. There were lots of stories flying about, putting the blame on me. I asked around. Apparently there was a big gambler from Texas who backed Cruz at 6 to 1,” said Eastwood.

The legal eagles took over and McGuigan would go on to be promoted by Frank Warren for two fights before losing a third to Jim McDonnell and retiring.

For all the pain they may feel about how matters panned out, both men know that together they were a unique combination.

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