Derry middleweight John Duddy (25-0) will resume his boxing career this Saturday night against Matt Vanda (39-8) in the main arena at Madison Square Garden on the undercard of the Miguel Cotto/Michael Jennings fight for the vacant WBO welterweight title. In doing so, Duddy will hope to end a frustrating year.
Almost 12 months to the day since severe cuts sustained against Walid Smichet cost Duddy a million dollar-plus payday and a shot at Kelly Pavlik's middleweight world title, the 29-year-old will return to the same venue to fight the tough Minnesotan.
After that fight, Duddy went home to recover and during this time was assigned a new trainer, Pat Burns. After a good camp in Miami, Duddy put in a stellar shift in Boston when he defeated Charles Howe on June 28. Though Howe is no world-beater, it was Duddy's composure, better head movement and use of the jab against him that was most impressive. The whole performance was reminiscent of the fight against Freddy Cuevas at MSG in June 2006 when the Irishman's jab destroyed the veteran from Chicago.
There was talk of a move to light middleweight and a crack at Verno Phillips' IBF world title. However, that fight fell through, and subsequent matches against Sam Hill and Ronald Hearns evaporated in the well-publicized split between Duddy and his manager Tony McLoughlin and promoter Irish Ropes.
After some legal wrangling Duddy got the green light to fight, and this Saturday's assignment will represent the first fight for the unbeaten Irishman and his new team, advisor Craig Hamilton and lawyer Gary Friedman. Will it be the return of the brawler or the boxer, and how will Duddy channel 12 months of frustration in a positive way?
At the press conference two weeks ago, promoter Bob Arum floated the carrot of three possible fights should Duddy win - a shot at Pavlik, a fight versus Jesus Cesar Chavez Junior in Las Vegas or a New York Derby against Yuri Foreman. Vanda is a tough and capable fighter, but should Duddy employ the same type of game plan that he did versus Howe - by utilizing the jab to control the pace of the fight and not get involved in a war - then he should emerge victorious in his much-anticipated return.
Big fights loom if he does so, and Duddy knows better than anyone the consequences of a bad night in the ring during the month of February.
It is also a huge weekend for Maureen Shea (13-0) as she fights on the same undercard as Duddy for the vacant WBA super featherweight title against Kina Malpartida (8-3).
Tickets are available at the usual bars in Queens and at Jack Demseys in midtown Manhattan, or by calling Barney Moore at 917-559-8467, Greg McIntyre at 917-528-7397 and John Wynne at 917-593-4671.