Tuesday 20 February 2018

Pound for pound, we're on the ropes

Eamonn Sweeney

John Duddy's retirement brings to an end an eminently honourable professional career. The Derry middleweight was always game, tough and aggressive and his 2006 points win over Yori Boy Campas and the last-gasp knockout win against Alessio Furlan a year later in his homecoming bout at the National Stadium were genuinely, viscerally exciting.

If Duddy feels he's gone on long enough, he has every right to make that decision.

His next fight was to be against Andy Lee on March 12 as part of the undercard for Sergio Martinez's world middleweight title defence against Sergei Dzinziruk. Emanuel Steward, Lee's manager, declared that the Lee-Duddy donnybrook would be the biggest fight between Irish boxers since Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey fought for the heavyweight title in 1927 and also that Lee is 'the best middleweight in the world'.

The problem is that, even by the hyperbole-rich standards of boxing, the Kronk maestro's statements aren't even the first cousin of the truth. The Lee-Duddy showdown's situation as a supporting act reflected pretty accurately where both boxers stand in the middleweight pecking order at the moment. Lee is a very talented boxer but he hasn't done anything to justify the exaggerated claims of his manager. In the current Ring rankings for his division, he doesn't even appear in the top ten. Neither did Duddy before his retirement. For that matter neither does Julio Cesar Chavez Junior who won almost every round in outpointing Duddy in what has now proved to be the Derry man's last fight.

At the moment we are being sold a bill of goods as regards Lee. This is not to say that he can't make the jump to world class. But at the moment the likes of WBC and WBO champion Martinez, the man he dethroned Kelly Pavlik and WBA champion Felix Sturm are operating in a different league altogether to Lee. What would give his claim to world-class status some credibility would be a victory over European champion and Tipperary hurling fan Matthew Macklin who is currently ranked number six by The Ring. Now that would be a fight to savour.

Yet it remains to be seen whether Steward would favour such a course. These days in boxing avoidance is often seen as the better part of valour. There are so many governing bodies and so many titles available that camouflaging the true standing of a fighter is always a possibility. Duddy, after all, held an IBF world title which bore as much relation to a real global crown as Brian Cowen does to Seán Lemass.

I don't mean in any way to belittle Andy Lee. The achievement of being on the verge of world class in any sport requires such talent that it should never be sneezed at. But we are overly susceptible in this country to the kind of moonshine peddled by the likes of Emanuel Steward.

We fall for it because we love our boxing here. Yet when The Ring published its list of the top 100 fighters in the world recently there wasn't an Irish name to be seen. And the only Irish boxer the magazine, which may not be flawless but is a far sight more reliable than the world governing bodies with their not very subtly hidden agendas, has in the world top 10 at their weight is Paul McCloskey.

In fact, European champ McCloskey, listed at 10 in light-welterweight, may be that rarest of things, an under-rated Irish boxer. But he's unlikely to scale the heights achieved by Steve Collins while we may never again see the likes of Barry McGuigan, who was not just a world champion but one of the top fighters pound for pound on the planet.

There's no harm in dreaming. But let's not be fooled by people who draw the wrong conclusion from seeing the word 'Blarney' on a map of Ireland.

Sunday Indo Sport

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