Derry boxer John Duddy (25-0, 17 KOs) will make his ring return against Matt Vanda (39-8, 22 KOs) at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, February 21 on the undercard of the Miguel Cotto/Michael Jennings fight for the vacant WBO welterweight title. Two days short of one year since he saw his million dollar-plus payday against Kelly Pavlik vanish after cuts sustained in an unconvincing win against Walid Smichet at the same venue, Duddy will attempt to exorcise the ghost of that night in what will also be the first bout of his post-Irish Ropes career. On Friday January 16, Irish Ropes, who promoted Duddy until he hired a lawyer in November to end the relationship, withdrew its opposition to Duddy fighting, contingent on a percentage of profits from future bouts being put in escrow until Duddy's court action against Irish Ropes, Eddie McLoughlin and Tony McLoughlin for monetary damages is decided. The new Duddy team is comprised of legal representative Gary Friedman and advisor Craig Hamilton, and they expect their new associate to have a stern test on February 21. "He (Vanda) is a tough guy, a guy who is going to demand a lot of John. He is a difficult guy to stop, so you are going to be going rounds with him. He will provide John with the challenge he needs right now," Hamilton told the Irish Voice Monday. "I expect John to give a good showing. John has been out of the ring since last June, so he needs to get his legs under him. I think Matt Vanda provides exactly the challenge John needs at this point." The heavily tattooed Vanda, 30, was meant to fight Duddy on the St. Patrick's Day show in 2007, but a loss to Anthony Bonsante in January of that year saw the latter win a payday against the Irishman on the festive card. Vanda was also slated to fight Duddy last February 23 in his bout before the world title fight against Pavlik, but it ended up being Smichet who got that fight and caused the lesions that kept Duddy out of the ring for four months. Vanda has lost four of his last six to decent fighters (two UD losses to Julio Cesar Chavez Junior, a loss to Sebastien Demers and a loss to Andy Kolle) and has come up a little short against the big name fighters on his resume. The biggest scalp on Vanda's ledger is a June 2005 win against Yory Boy Campas. "This will be a 160 pound fight, give or take a pound, and it is a 10 round fight," said Hamilton of the match. But where does Duddy's future lie, middleweight or light-middleweight? "Right now we are taking it one fight at a time . . . What we do in his next fight will be determined by how John does in the fight, how he looks in the fight, how comfortable Pat (Burns) is with him, but we are still talking about fighting at either weight." When asked his opinion on Duddy's frame of mind now that a date has been set for his return for boxing, Hamilton said, "I can't speak for John, but from talking to him the word ecstatic would be an understatement. I think he is extremely happy that he is going to be back in the ring, and he is happy with the show he is going to fight on. He is happy with how things are moving, and we are happy for him." Hamilton also said that Duddy returned to the U.S. last Thursday in good physical condition and had known about this assignment for a while. The Derry native is already in Miami working with trainer Pat Burns, but will return to New York for a press conference in the city next Tuesday to publicize the fight. Hamilton is also happy that Duddy is working with promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank for this fight, as he feels Duddy is good ticket seller who is a strong personality in the Irish community in New York, while Arum is an innovative promoter who also knows how to sell tickets (the Cotto fight is also on a promotion that will see the Kelly Pavlik/Marco Antonio Rubio middleweight title fight in Youngstown, Ohio beamed into MSG via satellite). In action on the same undercard in the biggest fight of her career thus far is Maureen Shea (13-0), who will fight for the WBA super featherweight title. Shea, ranked number one by the WBA, has not had an opponent confirmed for the fight, but is looking forward to this huge opportunity. "I am blessed to announce to my fans that I will be fighting for my first world title at Madison Square Garden on a Top Rank Promotions card, under such a great fighter as Miguel Cotto who has been an inspiration to me," said Shea of the challenge that lies ahead. In other news, featherweight Patrick Hyland (15-0) will fight this Friday at the City West Hotel in Dublin against a yet to be named opponent. Also in action on Friday night is Irish American Danny O'Connor (2-0) who will fight debutant Greg Jimenez in Montreal. The 23-year-old welterweight from Framingham, Massachusetts has had a solid start to his pro career and will hope to make it a hat trick of wins at the Bell Center. There could be some big news coming out of Dublin at a Brian Peters press conference on Thursday, January 29 "regarding a massive event for Irish boxing" scheduled for March 21 at the new O2 Arena in Dublin. The promotion is entitled "The Time Has Come ... The World Awaits," and it is likely that the conference will announce a world title fight for Bernard Dunne. Finally, in amateur news, a U.S. national team will visit Ireland to take on the Irish team at the end of February/start of March over a two-leg competition. They will first meet at the National Stadium on February 27 and then again on March 1 in Athy, Co. Kildare. The team to represent Ireland will be announced after the conclusion of the 2009 Elite Senior Championships on February 20.

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