Belfast Telegraph

Neeson’s hoping Duddy sparkles

By David Kelly

It wasn’t so long ago that John Duddy’s American dream was turning into a nightmare. Now he is on the cusp of a world title shot.

An acrimonious split from his management and promotional team was followed by his first defeat to American Billy Lyell last April had come 12 months on from a bloody battle with Walid Smichet which ripped up his hopes of fighting WBC middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik.

It took time to get his career turned around but manager Craig Hamilton has done just that and served up a WBC World title eliminator with Julio Cesar Chavez jnr (below) in the early hours of tomorrow morning. Life it seems could hardly be better for the gritty Ulsterman, who has a fan in top actor Liam Neeson.

Duddy, who weighed in a pound lighter than Chavez jnr at 159lb, said: “There was a fundraising evening at the Irish arts centre in New York and Liam came over to me and told me how he had been following my career.

“He knew about this fight and how big it is and if he hadn’t been working he would have come down to watch it.

“He has obviously had a tough year with the loss of his wife and seems to have thrown himself into work so I thought it was great that he took the time to give me a hug and say he was right behind me. He said it was good to see another Northern Irishman doing well.”

Duddy admits that he found it hard to handle the drawn out split from the McLoughlins, whom he teamed up when first arriving in the Big Apple.

The eight months of inactivity he suffered didn’t help and then came that shocking loss to Lyell.

But he has responded with three good victories and now meets Chavez jnr in a make or break fight for both men at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio.

Both men have something to prove to the world. The Mexican is trying to step out of dad Julior Cesar’s shadow, while Duddy can once and for all prove his world title challenger credentials. To the victor a WBC world middleweight title clash with Sergio Martinez, while the loser will be left looking at a long road back.

Duddy is adamant that it could not have happened without the help of manager Hamilton.

“I know more about the business of boxing than I ever did,” he said. “Craig says that he works for me and he’s a guy who has a working relationship with all the top promoters. But he’s a man who causes them problems because he looks after his fighters. They know he’ll always ask for more money!”

Around 99 per cent of the crowd will be roaring on Chavez jnr on this pay per view event in the States and his new coach Freddie Roach believes his man will prevail.

Roach said: “He’s a quick learner and is going to be a more complete fighter. He’s shy about his English, but understands everything I say.

“We’re working on his jab, to throw it and set something up after throwing it. He’s getting a real idea of what I would like him to do.

“He works hard, likes to run, knows the game. Duddy is trouble because he is so strong. I think Chavez Jr has more boxing skill and that will be the difference on Saturday night.”

But, Duddy’s natural strength at middleweight and his body shots should also be a big factor in what is an intriguing duel.

Should 31-year-old Duddy prevail at the Alamo, it would be one of the best results by any Irish fighter away from home but it will take the performance of his life.

Belfast Telegraph

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