Fighting Irishmen John Duddy and James Moore Duke It Out in NYC on September 29th

John Duddy will soon be covered in green if he can continue his march through the middleweight division by defeating Luis Ramos Yory Boy Campas. The green he’ll be wearing won’t just be the Irish green shirts, neckties, shorts and shamrocks which are often seen at his fights. Green is also the color of money, and the American boxing scene is the place to make it, considering the size of the Irish population in American cities like New York and Boston. Roughly thirty-four million Americans reported Irish ancestry in the 2000 census. Suffice it to say that John Duddy (17-0) and fistic colleague, James Moore (8-0) have their followers.

In front of the money is Luis ‘Yory Boy’ Campas, with a record of 87 fights and only 8 losses. In Campos record of victories are 71 knockouts and a reputation for upsets. Campos is perhaps the greatest challenge the young middleweight John Duddy could face for the IBA world middleweight title. Four of Campos’eight career losses were tied to boxing luminaries like Felix Trinidad, Oscar de la Hoya, Fernando Vargas, and Daniel Santos. Campos is durable, to say the least. But will he have enough left at thirty-five years of age to derail the career of the 27 year old Northern Irelander from Derry? Will the Irishman’s dream turn into a nightmare when these two face off next Friday (09/29/06) at Madison Square Garden?

Duddy has looked impressive at times in his seventeen professional victories but there’s something about television that mutes the blows. So I couldn’t overlook the opportunity to see Duddy and undercard light-middleweight James Moore in person when they scheduled an appearance at the Jesse Harris boxing gym in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania for an afternoon of sparring. I dodged my day job and hurried to the gym. Duddy looked more powerful than I’d given him credit for when I saw him on tv. He fired straight punches with the steady calm of a contract killer. Duddy was elusive, and relentless, showing lots of upper body movement. Close up at ringside, there’s little doubt as to when the punches miss and when they land. Avoiding Duddy’s power shots seemed like trying to walk between raindrops without getting wet.

Another sparring Irish fighter was James Moore, a boxer who’d attracted my attention when he beat American Jose Felix in March of this year. Looking at the two of them before that fight, and thinking about Felix’ seventeen fight record against just five professional fights for Moore, I was certain the outcome would favor the better-muscled and more experienced Felix. Moore looked like the freckle-faced Irish boy who went to Catholic school with you. He appeared to be the sort of kid your parents thought wouldn’t get you into trouble and so didn’t mind if you hung out with him. That illusion ended in the third round of the Felix fight with a furious barrage of punches and Felix helpless against the ropes.

At the Jesse Harris boxing gym, Moore’s work wasn’t ‘pretty’ but I began to understand how he’d got from Arklow, Wicklow County, Ireland to New York’s Gleason’s gym and to a second visit at Madison Square Garden. He’d done it by punching his way through the jungle of more than three hundred amateur fights and through the encouragement of his good friend, John Duddy. The two were teammates at the UK national championships and have been close friends ever since. Duddy’s success in the far more active boxing environment of the United States was a key factor in Moore’s decision to follow his friend to New York.

“John kept asking me, who don’t I come to New York,” says Moore.

For professional boxing, there’s no livelier place, Moore says. Though amateur boxing flourishes in Ireland, there’s no publicity for a sport that lives in the shadow of the the national mania, championship soccer. If Moore’s fight Sept 29 goes the limit, that’ll be only the second time of nine outings. Everyone else got knocked out by the steady, soft-speaking Irelander.

“I’ll admit that my boxing is not the prettiest boxing but I’ve always got the job done so far,” Moore says with a smile.
The understatement is typical Moore. In this sparring session at the Jesse Harris Gym, Moore seemed cooly analytic before stepping on the gas in the later rounds. Moore pressed forward with punches , pressing sparring partner, R.J. Sockwell, to fight in the corners.

Outside the ring an hour later, the Boy Next Door was back with a grin on his face. Tapping a steady rhythm on the speed bag and talking to me at the same time, Moore had the easy manner of a boulevardier.

“One of the best things about boxing in the U.S. is that there are great trainers like Harry Keitt. Gleason’s gym is great but it’s not the gym that tells you how to improve, it’s the trainer,”Moore says, nodding toward the legendary Keitt.

Harry Keitt, one of Muhammad Ali’s former sparring partners and a major character in the documentary film ‘On The Ropes’, was across the gym readying another fighter for sparring. Keitt altered the straight-up European amateur styles of both Duddy and Moore and added in the big punch ingredient which puts American fight fans into the seats.

Moore suddenly caught the eye of his stern trainer and politely excused himself, heading toward one of the heavy bags for more work. I passed a glance at Duddy, nonplussed and relaxed as Keitt smeared the sharp corners of his face with vaseline. Perhaps fight fans liked a paradox, I reckoned. Perhaps there was something mysteriously appealing in the notion of these two quiet, even-tempered Irish boys looking for a fight.

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