March 2008 – by Cormac Campbell
Oh dear. World middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik had done his bit, but as with countless other contenders in the past, John Duddy came a cropper at the last hurdle, scuppering a June 7 megafight. The Derryman didn’t lose to the unheralded Walid Smichet, but what transpired on the undercard of Wlad Klitschko’s WBO/IBF heavyweight title victory over Sultan Ibragimov at Madison Square Garden wasn’t far off. Throughout 10 ferocious rounds Duddy absorbed enough swinging right hands to tear the skin above and below his left eye to the extent that a lengthy lay-off now appears likely.
A split decision victory extended the 28-year-old’s unbeaten record to 24-0 (17KO) but given the level of exposure afforded to the bout, some level of damage was undoubtedly inflicted to the fan favourite’s reputation. Duddy himself shifted over $250,000 worth of tickets for the contest and despite the cult status he enjoys among New York’s Irish population, many of those in attendance will undoubtedly have been left questioning the quality of their hero’s boxing ability. Moreover, with the contest going out live on HBO and Sky Sports, the money men will be left questioning whether Duddy v Pavlik will make for a good investment or merely a mismatch.
Kelly Pavlik, who a week earlier had defeated Jermain Taylor for a second time, must have felt like a winning lottery ticket was being slowly torn in front of his eyes. But owing to Duddy’s poor display and the severity of his injuries, the duo may have to wait a little longer to cash in on what will most likely be smaller winnings than originally expected.
In fact, it has been alleged that there had been some difference of opinion as to what size of wedge the Derryman should receive even before Saturday’s contest with Bob Arum offering around $800,000 but the Duddy camp holding out for a cool million. With an exciting come forward style Duddy remains among the most exciting prospects in world boxing, but recent performances would place his ability alongside the likes of Mickey Ward rather than Ricky Hatton.
To be fair, all that is really missing is a tight defence. Duddy throws a delightful variety of well schooled jabs, hooks and body shots. Also his one-two is thrown like a piston with speed and power. At times his head movement can also be impressive, but all too often he appears to simply forget to defend himself. Fortunately his chin appears to be made from something close to granite.
In the opening third of his fight with Smichet he took countless haymakers only to throw straight back. Moreover, it would be fair to say that this was something of an off-night. Duddy is better than what he showed on February 23. And as Sports Psychologist John Kremer emphasises elsewhere in this edition of irish-boxing.com, a boxer is as good as his best performance and not his last performance.
Many have argued that Duddy needs another year to improve before a fight with Pavlik but one can’t help but feel that by doing so he would be risking a loss to an opponent of lesser ability. There is no doubt that Duddy would raise his game for a contest with a higher calibre of combatant, but given his apparent tendency to fight to the level of his opponent one would hope he gets his shot while the proverbial iron is still hot. Timing is everything and one would hope that Duddy now hasn’t missed the boat. HBO will want Pavlik to fight on June 7, whether the Irishman is in the opposite corner or not. After that the prospect of mandatory defences will rear their ugly heads and Duddy could find himself on the outside.
Bob Arum has gone on record saying that he still wants the fight to happen this year – but wanting it to happen and making it happen are two separate things. Many have said that Duddy wouldn’t stand a chance, but Pavlik isn’t the complete package just yet either. He can be backed up, he can be hit and he can be hurt. If Duddy can tighten up his defence a little he can drag Pavlik into the trenches and given the conditioning displayed in the Smichet fight, he won’t go down easily. Although Duddy’s marketability has been damaged a little, let’s not be too melodramatic. It is still difficult to think of any contest at Middleweight that Pavlik will receive the same level of exposure and reward for. A bout with Joe Calzaghe has been spoken of, but one would imagine that the thought of dropping back to super-middleweight could dissuade the Welshman.
Pavlik v Duddy remains a huge event and if injuries, schedules and unbeaten records allow, it is one I would imagine all concerned would still like to organise sooner rather than later.