Blood and guts of the fight game

Boxing promoter Eddie McLoughlin has had many tough battles in his time but now he believes he has found a world-beater in Derry’s John Duddy, writes John Reynolds. Published in 14 October, 2007.

John Duddy's winning team  Eddie McLoughlin and John Duddy

“It’s the easiest business in the world in which to become a millionaire – as long as you’re starting out as multimillionaire. You have to love the sport and love being around it to be a success.”

Eddie McLoughlin, founder of Irish Ropes Promotions is on the phone from “the Irish Riviera,” in the Queens district of New York, talking me through the ducking and weaving he’s had to do to make a few bucks as a boxing promoter.

He’s got a future world champion on his hands in Derry-born John Duddy – the reigning WBC Continental Americas middleweight champion – who will fight Uruguayan Noe Tulio Gonzalez Alcoba at the National Stadium on October 20.

Alcoba recently went 12 rounds with titleholder, German boxer Felix Sturn, but Duddy should have luck on his side; he beat Alessio Furlan in his Irish debut earlier this year.

McLoughlin inherited his father’s love of boxing but he’s had to go his own metaphorical 12 rounds to get to where he is today. A lifelong fan of the sport, he spent years hanging around boxing clubs “holding the spit bucket or the golden gloves,” before forming the Irish Ropes of New York Boxing Club in 1998.

Irish Ropes Promotions was later founded in 2005 with the help of publicist Bob Trieger and PR executive Maureen Shea, who is also an undefeated world-ranked professional boxer.

“I’ve probably invested over $1m in time and money in Duddy at this stage. But in this business the public will dictate how much money you’ll make. You’re always one punch away from losing everything: it’s like a big poker game. At the top, 5 per cent of boxers earn 95 per cent of the money in this business,” he adds.

Nonetheless, he’s adamant that Duddy has what it takes. “He’s only three or four fights away from becoming world champion and after that he can write his own cheques. He could be looking at earning $10m to $15m per fight.”

Previous fights broadcast in the US were kind of a loss leader. “Some of his fights in Madison Square Gardens were a means of promoting Duddy and raising his profile.”

If he hits the big time, the spoils of each fight will be shared out fairly, with Duddy receiving the lion’s share. His opponent will pay a fee to challenge him for the title, of which “Duddy gets half, we get 35 per cent and the rest goes to pay other costs.”

His investment is safe for five defences of the title, after which Duddy is free to sign up with another promoter if he wishes. Flamboyant American promoter, Don King and Britain’s Frank Warren will be keeping an eye on the Irishman’s success, as will the less well known Bob Arum and Lou Dibella.

Many readers will have heard of the former two, but probably won’t recognise the latter names. McLoughlin doesn’t take this as a sign that the sport needs a stronger PR effort to reach new fans and holding on to existing ones. “I think the sport is very strong right now and I think it’s very popular in Ireland thanks to promoters like Brian Peters,” he says.

Peters promoted Michael Carruth, Wayne McCullough and Steve Collins throughout the 1990s, while Bernard Dunne, who is on his books, has made the headlines and won titles in recent years.

However, the Irish Ropes founder didn’t last too many rounds during his first experience of running his own business, and he looks back on it as a tough learning curve. “Being a layman and a businessman are as different as night and day,” he points out.

After three and a half years’ working as a mechanic for a British Leyland cars and Massey Ferguson tractor dealership in Mullingar, McLoughlin lost a leg in an accident which put him out of action for 18 months. He spent several more years working as a mechanic in London until 1979, before returning to Rochfortbridge in Westmeath and starting his own repair business.

Although he ploughed in some of his accident compensation payout, the venture wasn’t a success, but he stuck at it for over two years. “I always knew my calling would be something to do with sport,” he says.

An early insight into amateur boxing came when his good friend, Sergeant Tom Ward, formed a boxing club called the Brosna Boxing Club in Rochfortbridge, which is still going to this day.

He went to all the big fights and hung around the amateur circuit and a club called Gleesons in New York, where he spent five more years working as a car mechanic, before leaving for Australia in 1986.

“There wasn’t as much going on in the boxing world there, and it wasn’t a great place to work as an auto mechanic either. But the bars were recruitment agencies for builders, so I took a job in construction after meeting another Westmeath man, Noel Reilly,” he says.

Another foray into business and a Morrison visa beckoned McLoughlin back to New York in 1991. He set up a car repair business in the gas station where he had began working a decade ago, before laying the foundations for Irish Ropes at Gleesons boxing club in 1994.

“Irish Ropes was not only a catchy name, but I had also noticed that anyone who wasn’t a big fan of boxing or who was neutral when watching a fight would tend to support the Irish guy if there was one fighting,” he says.

McLoughlin discovered Duddy in 1994 when he was over in Dublin for a final with boxer Aloysius Kennedy. “My father was with me that night as well, and he said to me: ‘even though he’s lost tonight, he’s got a lot of potential,’ so both of us – father and son – recognised that we were looking at a future champion.”

Gleesons became an unofficial construction recruitment agency over the several more years he spent working on building sites around New York. “If I saw a boxer with potential, I’d give him a job on the buildings. By 1998 we were at a fight every weekend. We had Kennedy, who is still on the circuit here in the US, and two Spanish guys. I was also going over to Ireland a lot to tournaments being run by my friend Tom Ward.”

Duddy moved to the US in 2003 and proved to be as enthusiastic working on New York building sites as he was to get on the professional boxing circuit.

“Watching him work reaffirmed my faith in his potential. Some days it seemed he did the same work as five or six men. Although it took seven months to get him a working visa, I feel that we’re now on the cusp of the world championship.

“But let nobody kid you that a boxer can get to this level on his own. Believe me it doesn’t happen. Boxers do what is effectively an apprenticeship for three or four years. It takes an astronomical amount of time, and every boxer, including Duddy, needs someone behind them,” he adds.




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