Saturday, March 17, 2007


Congratulations to John Duddy on a well fought victory.

Thank you for showing your support of the Irish undocumented again by wearing your Legalize the Irish shirt in the ring.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations to John Duddy.
He is a great representative of the Irish in America.
It was great to see so many people at the fight, including John, wear the 'legalizetheirish' t-shirt.
What an ambassador he is.
Whenever he fights we will be there cheering him on.
He richly deserved the award he received at the ILIR dinner dance a few weeks ago.


Anonymous said...

On Friday night, as the Wolfe Tones play, he'll carry the tricolor Irish flag into the ring of the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Thousands of Irish New Yorkers, most from area code 718, will stand and cheer on the day before St. Patrick's Day in a fight card dubbed Erin Go Brawl .

His name is John Duddy, he's 27, and he slugged his way out of the rugged streets of Derry, Northern Ireland, to become a serious middleweight contender for the title.

These days, he trains in Gleason's Gym in downtown Brooklyn, and this movie-star handsome "black" Irishman with a chin like the Blarney Stone can punch with both hands.

On Friday night, he fights Anthony (The Bullet) Bonsante, 29-8-2.

I became a Duddy fan by rooting for one of his opponents. A few years back, some boxing friends touted a new phenom named Leonard Pierre, trained by Kevin Rooney. A bunch of us crowded around a TV in Bay Ridge, expecting a Pierre rout.

But here came this unknown Irish kid who looks like one of the cast of "The Black Donnellys," stalking across the ring with wicked intentions, pure guts, and honed skills. He starched Pierre inside two minutes.

"This guy is gonna fight for the title," I said. And soon he will, in the most exciting division in boxing today.

Forget the heavyweight division. You'll see better fights between the Democratic presidential contenders.

But today's middleweight boxing division has an all-star lineup - Jermaine Taylor, Winky

Wright, Oscar de la Hoya, Shane Mosley, Floyd Mayweather, Kelly Pavlik, Bernard Hopkins.

Last year, in a grueling 12-round slugfest against a seasoned pug named Ramon (Yuri Boy) Campas, Duddy suffered 24 stitches, endured some of the toughest rounds of his career, and still punched out a unanimous decision.

"People asked me what I learned in the Campas fight," Duddy says. "I learned I wanted to be a fighter. Because if I didn't, there were a million good reasons that night to say this game's not for me."

With a pro record of 18-0 with 15 KOs - nine in the first round - Duddy has become a sensation amongst the Irish boxing fans in New York. Since turning pro in 2003, this is the fourth time Duddy's fought in the Theater of the Garden and the fourth time he's sold out the place. Friday's card is also available on pay-per-view.

"New Yorkers think of Madison Square Garden and they think of the Knicks, Rangers and great concerts," says Duddy. "I love all that, too. But, see, back home in Ireland, and the rest of the world, you mention Madison Square Garden and people immediately think about the boxing mecca of the world. So for me to fight there, to sell out the Theater, to hear the roar of the crowd, is an unbelievable honor."

Managed by Eddie McLoughlin, Duddy is now ranked fifth by the World Boxing Organization and ninth by the World Boxing Association. Serious boxing fans know that there is only one middleweight champion, and that's Jermaine Taylor. His belt is Duddy's goal.

"I love New York," Duddy told me last week from his training camp in Vero Beach, Fla. "I only come down here to train to get away from all the distractions. But I'm a New Yorker now. I love the theater, museums, restaurants, the boxing people. I love Gleason's Gym."

A former lifeguard and postal worker in Derry, Duddy says boxing is his full-time job now. He lives in Queens, where he runs in a public park in the morning but then heads straight to Brooklyn to what he calls the best boxing gym in the world. "By noon, I'm in Gleason's, working with my trainer Harry Keitt, skipping rope, hitting the bags, sparring," Duddy says. "At night, me and [girlfriend] Grainne might have a meal, or go to a Mets game."

Duddy's father was a boxer who sparred with Barry McGuigan. "I first got interested in boxing at 5 when I went with me Da to the gym," says Duddy. "I loved it. But he wouldn't let me go back until I was 10. I loved all sports - soccer, basketball, swimming. But there's something special about boxing. It's just you and the other guy. It's a sport with no excuses, where you can't blame a teammate. It teaches you who you are and what you're made of."

Duddy had an Uncle John (Jackie) Duddy, who at 17 was the youngest and first of the 13 unarmed victims shot dead by British soldiers on Jan. 30, 1972, the dark day in Irish history called Bloody Sunday that kicked off the Troubles that lasted a quarter-century.

"I grew up at the tail end of the Troubles," says Duddy. "So they never affected me. But thank God it seems to have stopped because I'm a New Yorker now, chasing the American Dream, and I don't fight for anybody but myself."

Anonymous said...

John and Grainne: A Love Story

By Thomas Hauser: Fans watch fighters in the ring and see the blows. That’s very different from getting hit. And while fans often identify with fighters, they rarely consider what watching a fight is like for someone who has close personal ties to one of the combatants and loves him.

Grainne Coll loves John Duddy, the Irish middleweight with piercing blue eyes who is unbeaten in 19 fights and is causing a sensation in America. Like Duddy, she’s a native of County Derry, Ireland. Her mother works at The Harbour Museum. Her father is a retired bus driver. Grainne is 26 years old; pretty with long brown hair and partial to casual clothes. “But I wear dresses when necessary,” she says.

John and Grainne met seven years ago. The first time they saw each other was at a credit union in Derry. Grainne was working as a sales assistant at Marks & Spencer and went there to deposit her pay. John had a job as a lifeguard at a swimming pool around the corner.

“I was walking out of the credit union just as John was coming in,” Grainne remembers. “He was wearing a lifeguard uniform, and I thought he was gorgeous. We stopped, looked at each other, and said hello. And that was it. He was coming; I was going; so I went back to Marks & Spencer.”

Grainne couldn’t have known it at the time. But after John put his pay in the credit union, he went back to the swimming pool and told one of the other lifeguards, “Something strange just happened. I saw this girl. We stopped and said hello. All we said was ‘hello’, and it was a crazy feeling.”

“A month or two later,” Grainne recounts, continuing the story, “I went to a bar called The River Inn with my friend Kristy. We walked in and, right away, I saw John sitting at the bar with some friends. He was wearing a blue shirt and his arms were folded. I told Kristy, ‘I don’t care what it takes, I’m going to get him.’ So I walked over and sort of shoved against him, which got his attention, and said, ‘Hello; how are you?’”

“I’m good. How are you?” Duddy answered.

But still, there was no exchange of names or telephone numbers.

“After that,” Grainne continues, “we passed each other one more time on the street. It was driving me mad. Then, finally, finally, John came around Marks & Spencer with a friend. He’d found out where I worked and he asked me if I wanted to go to a barbeque with him. My face turned bright red and I said, ‘Yes, of course.’”

"She had a nice face and a nice smile,” Duddy reminisces. “I said to myself, ’I’d like to get to know this person.’"

At the time, Duddy was boxing as an amateur. “I thought he was just a lifeguard,” Grainne recalls. “He didn’t tell me for a couple of weeks that he was a boxer. And when he did, I thought, ‘He must not be very good because I’ve never heard of him.’ We were football in our house. I’d never been to a fight in my life.”

John and Grainne grew close to one another. They were a good fit. But in the ring, Duddy was struggling. He was suffering from burnout and the feeling that he was going nowhere, that he had learned all he was going to learn. “He was thinking seriously about giving up boxing,” Grainne remembers. “Then, one night, he said to me, ‘I think I should go to America. That’s the only way I can learn my trade. Do you want to come with me?’”

“No problem,” she answered.

In 2003, John and Grainne relocated in New York. They’re now engaged and live together in Queens (one of the city’s five boroughs).

“It takes a lot of dedication to be a fighter,” Grainne says. “You can have all the talent in the world, but you have to want it and work really hard for it. I’ve never met a man who wants something so bad as John wants to succeed in boxing.”

“In the days before a fight,” Grainne continues, “John gets really quiet. He stays in the house and doesn’t go out or talk to people much. I understand it. He’s focussing on what he has to do. The night before a fight, I pretty much leave him alone. We don’t talk much. John reads or watches a film and goes to bed early. The day of a fight, I get up, get my breakfast, give John a kiss, and leave the house. I don’t see him again until he’s walking to the ring that night.”

As for the rest of their time together, Grainne says, “John is genuine, down-to-earth, loyal, thoughtful, considerate, and good fun. There’s nothing phony about him. What you see is what you get. It’s half-and-half with the housework. He does the laundry and some of the cooking. He loves reading and watching old black-and-white movies. John wants to be a poet. John wants to be a writer. He has a way with words; he could do those things. He just has to believe in himself.”

“Grainne knows the best and worst of me,” Duddy notes in response. “She sees me when I come home from a bad day at the gym. As much as she’d like to think that I’m thinking of her twenty-four-seven, she knows that, coming up to a fight, my mind is somewhere else. It’s frustrating for her when I go into my shell, but she understands what I’m going through. And I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for Grainne. She saw me through when I was down as an amateur and not feeling very good about myself. People ask me sometimes whether I’m married or single. I just tell them I’m in love with Grainne.”

When will they get married?

“Maybe next year,” Duddy answers. “We’re in no rush. We’re as good as married now.”

But Grainne isn’t the only one with affection for John. There are times when it seems as though all of Ireland in America is in love with Duddy.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about “Duddy-mania” is that Team Duddy is building a star without broadcast television, HBO, Showtime, or a big-name promoter. A lot of savvy marketing has gone into the process. Eddie McLoughlin is John’s promoter. Anthony McLoughlin (Eddie’s brother) is the manager of record. They began by building alliances in the local Irish-American community and selling tickets in bars; the way ring heroes were developed in the 1930s and 1940s when boxing mattered.

The coming out party for Team Duddy occurred on March 16, 2006 (the night before St. Patrick’s Day), when Duddy scored a first-round knockout over Shelby Pudwill. The fight took place at The Theater (a 4,955-seat venue adjacent to the main arena in Madison Square Garden). It was only the second time in history that The Theater sold out for a fight.

“A lot of people came from Ireland,” Duddy remembers. “There were people who came from Scotland that I didn’t even know. I thought I was prepared for it. But after the fight, it was a tidal wave of people going crazy, screaming my name and jumping for joy. It wasn’t a dream come true because I never dreamed such a thing. It was more than I could ever dream of. It was a very special moment for me.”

Two months later, Duddy flew to Las Vegas to attend the annual Boxing Writers Association of America awards dinner. "I can’t believe it," he said during the cocktail hour. "Wayne McCullough [a silver medalist for Ireland at the 1992 Olympics and later the World Boxing Council bantamweight champion] came over and said hello to me. I remember watching him on television when I was a boy."

"I’ve heard a lot about John and wanted to meet him," McCullough said afterward. "He’s a nice fellow."

The next day, they were text-messaging back and forth.

“I think we’re doing a pretty good job on the promotional end,” says Eddie McLoughlin. “But the reason for the success we’re having is John. He’s the whole package, in and out of the ring. He has this charisma about him.”

Well and good. But once the bell rings, charm and charisma don’t matter. The key to it all is that Duddy is an exciting fighter who has survived every ring challenge to date. His sternest test came last September when he triumphed over veteran Yori Boy Campas in a scintillating brutal twelve-round slugfest. John suffered deep gashes above each eye; the first time he’d been cut since being hit by an elbow while sparring as an amateur. He was also wobbled by Campas’s punches and, at one point, appeared on the verge of being knocked out.

“I’d never been in a position like that before,” Duddy acknowledges, “where my back was against the wall and I was fighting an opponent who took everything I threw at him and hit just as hard as I did. That’s the first time I was ever really asked in the ring, ‘Do you want to be a professional fighter?’ And the answer was ‘yes, I do’.”

Duddy walked through the fire against Campas and emerged with a unanimous-decision triumph. “Now the snowball is getting bigger,” he says. “Things are catching on. I won’t use the word ‘star’ but I know that, as of late, I’ve become an attraction.”

The cuts that Duddy suffered against Campas kept him out of action for five-and-a-half months. The obvious coordinates for his return to the ring were the night before St. Patrick’s Day 2007 and Madison Square Garden. Equally obvious (but unanswered) were the questions, “What had John learned from the Campas fight?” and “Could he correct that flaws that allowed Campas to hit him so hard and so often?”

“The Campas fight showed me that I have to fight with my brain, not just my heart, and make defense more of a priority,” Duddy acknowledged. “Yory taught me with his fists, ‘Look, kid; you can’t fight like that or you’re going to lose.’ I’m trying to break some of my bad habits. Hopefully, in my next fight, I’ll show a bit more experience and maturity. I have a good boxing brain, but I don’t always use it as well as I should. The smart thing would be to use my boxing skills a bit more so, I guess, this time we’ll see how smart I am. I know Harry [trainer Harry Keitt] can teach me. The question is, ‘Can I learn?’ I’ve got to fight smart. That’s what makes champions.”

The opponent chosen for Duddy’s 2007 St. Patrick’s Eve test was Anthony Bonsante; a tough gritty club fighter with 29 victories to his credit. Two years ago, Bonsante achieved a measure of fame as one of the boxers on the TV reality show The Contender. The highlights of his career were a win over Matt Vanda and a draw against Prince Badi Ajamu. But he came up short against Kingsley Ikeke and Allan Green, lost four times to Contender opposition, and (more troubling) was defeated by Danny Thomas and Tocker Pudwill.

Duddy arrived at his dressing room for the Bonsante fight at 8:00 PM. “The weather is terrible,” he said. “Sleet, snow, rain, everything.” Wearing black sweatpants and a long-sleeved gray shirt, he did several minutes of stretching exercises; then took off the gray shirt and put on a white T-shirt with large green letters that read, “Legalize the” Beneath that, in smaller type, the message continued, “Irish Lobby For Immigration Reform.”

Duddy likes a quiet dressing room where he can sit alone with his thoughts. His team leaves him alone in the hours before a fight. But the higher a fighter climbs, the more intrusions there are.

At 8:10, referee Steve Smoger entered the dressing room to give Duddy his pre-fight instructions. Smoger was followed by representatives of the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Association, both of which had belts on the line. Then an MSG Network camera crew taped an interview that would air during the telecast.

At 9:00 o’clock, the interruptions ended and Duddy was alone. The solitude of his dressing room contrasted markedly with the scene below.

Duddy-Bonsante had become more than a fight. It was a celebration. Once again, The Theater was sold out. Joe Frazier and Jake LaMotta were at ringside. So was novelist Tom Wolfe. Irish dancers performed in the ring between bouts accompanied by Irish musicians who stood on a stage behind the press section.

Two months earlier, Duddy had noted, “I have people calling to complain to me that they can’t get tickets for the fight. That’s because tickets aren’t on sale yet.” Now John said simply, “Seeing all the excitement on a night like tonight, knowing that I’m responsible for a large part of it; that’s a good feeling.”

The crowd had become a character in the drama.

At 9:30, Grainne entered the arena, wearing a black skirt, a red-and-black silk blouse, and high-heeled red shoes. Her parents, who had come from Ireland for the fight, were with her. Making her way past well-wishers, she settled in a third-row ringside seat beside her father.

The arena was jammed; every seat taken. The undercard fights had been what are known in the trade as “cowboys and Indians.” In each bout, there had been a clear favorite who the promoter expected would win. Six of the bouts featured an Irishman against a lesser foe. Now, to the consternation of many in The Theater, one of the “Indians” triumphed. Five-time Irish National Amateur Champion James Clancy (9-0 as a pro) was knocked woozy by Rodney Ray of Brooklyn at 1:20 of the second round.

It was a reality check for the crowd and for Grainne. This was boxing. Anything can happen. The fights aren’t scripted, and the brutality is real.

Normally, Grainne laughs a lot. Now there was nervous chatter. “I’m completely nervous; I can’t concentrate,” she told her father.

At 10:20, the singing of the Irish and American national anthems began.

At 10:32, almost unnoticed, Anthony Bonsante walked to the ring.

“When I’m watching John fight,” Grainne had said earlier, “there’s every type of emotion. As soon as I hear the bagpipes, I get nervous and have butterflies in my stomach. Then the fight starts and I’m scared; I think of the worst that might happen. But it’s exciting to see your man up there doing what he loves to do and hear the crowd shouting his name.”

At 10:34, Duddy began his walk to the ring. Bagpipes sounded and, as John, came into view, the crowd exploded.

A rhythmic chant of “Duddy! Duddy!” filled the air.

The fighters were introduced. There were boos for Bonsante and a thunderous roar for John.

Grainne clasped her hands and rubbed her palms together nervously.

No matter how stable an environment a fighter tries to create, he is forced by his trade to live life on the edge. One moment of violence can change everything.

As for the fight; Bonsante threw only a handful of punches in the early going, opting for a defensive strategy that allowed Duddy to move forward with abandon. Anthony is a survivor but he lacks power. John is relentless against opponents of that caliber and was the aggressor from the opening bell.

Grainne leaned forward in her chair during the fight, fidgeting with her fingers and watching intently. She was largely silent but joined in when the crowd chanted, “Duddy! Duddy!” An occasional “Ohhh” escaped her lips when either fighter landed solidly. “I think I’m sweating more than John,” she said at one point. Then she cupped her hands on either side of her mouth and shouted, “C’mon, John.”

Duddy showed the same defensive flaws he’s shown in the past. He didn’t move his head enough or bend at the knees. There wasn’t much need to retreat; but when he did, he often moved straight back while standing straight up.

In round four, there was an accidental clash of heads and Bonsante emerged with an ugly gash high on his forehead. The cut bled for the rest of the fight, dripping into his eyes and onto his gloves whenever he tried to clear his vision.

“He kept wiping the blood away with his gloves,” Duddy said afterward. “Every time he hit me, I got splattered with his blood.”

In the middle rounds, Bonsante landed some good shots (better than John should have allowed), but they didn’t have much effect. Meanwhile, Anthony’s blood was streaming down his face. It stained both fighters’ trunks, their socks, even the undersoles of their shoes as they moved around the blood-splattered ring canvas. After round nine, the cut had worsened to the point where Bonsante was no longer able to continue. Because it had been caused by an accidental head-butt, the winner was determined by the judges’ scorecards. This observer gave every round to Duddy. The judges favored him by a 90-81, 89-82, and 88-83 margin.

When the decision was announced, a happy smile crossed Grainne’s face. Then she put two fingers between her teeth and let out an ear-splitting whistle.

But there was an unanswered question: “What had Duddy learned from fighting Yori Boy Campas?” Bonsante didn’t truly test him. Eddie McLoughlin says that he wants John fighting in the main arena at Madison Square Garden for the middleweight championship of the world on St. Patrick’s Day weekend 2008. But despite the hype, Duddy isn’t a legitimate title contender yet.

“We’re not jumping over mountains here,” trainer Harry Keitt said in the dressing room after the fight. “We take things one fight at a time. A win is a win. John did what he had to do tonight.”

Meanwhile, Grainne was on her way a nearby bar to have a beer with her father. “John has to change clothes and talk to the writers and television people,” she said. “If I’m there, I’d just be in the way. A beer with my da will calm me down.” She fingered her cell phone. “I’ll wait for the call; John saying, ‘It’s over. Meet me out back; we’re going home.’”

* * *

Anonymous said...


Cool Coyle’s dream debut
3/21/2007 - 9:52:12 AM

James Laffey was at ringside in Madison Square Garden on Friday night to see Mayo’s Henry Coyle make his professional boxing debut.

IT’S lunchtime on a Thursday afternoon in New York City and Henry Coyle is slumped in a chair in the nether reaches of a gym off Lexington Avenue. Rivulets of sweat are coursing from his face onto the floor as he clambers to his feet to commence another gut-wrenching session on the punch-bag.

It’s less than two hours to the weigh-in before his first professional fight and Coyle has discovered - to his horror - that he is three pounds over the designated weight limit. He has to somehow find a way to shed the excess weight if he is to honour his commitment to meet American fighter, Jason Collazo, in Madison Square Garden on Friday night in a Light Middleweight bout. Hence the three layers of clothing and the sweatsuit. This is the pain that comes before the gain.

“I’ll never eat another digestive biscuit again,” he groans as he batters away at the punch-bag that has been conveniently positioned in the gym’s sauna. Standing in this steam room is enough to make a person break into a sweat and one can only imagine what Coyle is suffering in his multi-layered clothing. The price of a professional debut in Madison Square Garden is anything but cheap.

Yet Coyle is not complaining. He has been preparing for this day for his entire life. The salubrious gym off Lexington Avenue in New York could just as easily be the shed at the back of Coyle’s family home in Geesala. The Erris man has known for a long time the sacrifices that have to be made to get to the top in his chosen sport and he’s been willing to make them every time. Tomorrow night he is destined for the professional debut most fighters can only dream about at the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York City. And he is determined to be in the shape of his life for the occasion.

The news from the Geesala man’s camp is good. A sparring session earlier in the week yielded a razor-sharp display and there is a feeling that he won’t need to go the distance against his opponent. But first there’s the small matter of the weigh-in.

The gruelling session ends with ten minutes of skipping. Coyle is out on his feet by now but he continues regardless, urged on by his father and trainer, Gerry. His unique training regime has prompted the attention of some of the Americans in the gym who are curious to know what this Irish guy is trying to do to himself.

By now the normally personable Coyle is barely able to speak and it is left to his brother, Alan, who has travelled from Chicago for the fight, to do the explaining. There are lots of handshakes and high fives from the Americans who are delighted to learn that they have a professional boxer in their midst. “Go for it, man!” is the message of encouragement that rings in Coyle’s ears as he drags his weary body to the shower room where he will find out if the hellish exertions of the past hour have had the necessary effect. The layers of clothing are slowly peeled off and the fighter disappears into the shower rooms as a weighing scales is plugged into a nearby socket. The moment of truth has arrived.

There’s a deathly silence as Coyle emerges from the shower and clambers onto the scales. It would be catastrophic if his first professional bout was to come a cropper because of a weight irregularity. But Henry Coyle is too much of a professional to allow such a scenario to unfold. He explodes with delight as he glances at the reading on the scales. Not only has he met the required weight of 154Ibs but he has somehow managed to come in at 151Ibs, a loss of six pounds in just over an hour. Now he will be able to get some badly-needed water into his dehydrated body without worrying about slipping back over the weight limit.

The message from the Coyle camp is clear as they exit the gym and climb into a taxi for the short ride to Madison Square Garden for the weigh-in: we have a fight tomorrow night.

Fight night

Madison Square Garden is located on Eighth Avenue in the heart of New York City, a short walk from the New Yorker hotel and Pennsylvania train station. It’s the most famous venue in boxing history and tonight - Friday, March 16, 2007 - ‘The Garden’ has been transformed into a sea of green and gold. The 5,600 seats in the famous arena have been sold out weeks ago and the feature fight - Derry native, John Duddy, against Anthony Bonsante - is to be featured on pay-per-view television in the United States.

The evening of Irish boxing is the brainchild of Mayo native, Eddie McLoughlin, who has been promoting the sport in New York for most of his life. Eddie, who was born in Knockmore in North Mayo, emigrated to America at eleven years of age and quickly became involved in the boxing scene in the city.

“My father was a great boxing enthusiast and I would have got my love of the sport from him. I had a club in the city at one stage and would have done a lot of work with kids. It’s a fantastic sport and I have got so much enjoyment from it over the years.”

These days Eddie is in the business of boxing promotion and he has one of the brightest Irish stars on his books in Derry-born John Duddy. The Ulster man is hotly tipped to get a crack at the Middleweight World Championship in the next eighteen months but his opponent on Friday night, Minnesota-born Anthony ‘The Bullet’ Bonsante, offered a very stern test.

While the Duddy fight was undoubtedly the main attraction, the presence of other Irish fighters like Henry Coyle and former Olympian, Andy Lee, gave the evening a truly unique aura. This was an Irish night to beat all Irish nights, and the thousands of boxing enthusiasts were joined by a plethora of celebrities who obviously believed that ‘Erin Go Brawl’ - as the event was humourosly billed - was the best show in town.

Former tennis legend, John McEnroe, was joined in the front row by the author of the Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe. From the world of Irish boxing came Barry McGuigan, Kevin McBride and Gerry Cooney. But the real treat for boxing fans was the presence of the legendary Jake La Motta - the subject of Martin Scorcese’s incomparable movie, Raging Bull - and ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier, who both received standing ovations on their arrival in the arena. As these boxing giants made their way to their seats the Wolfe Tones provided the background music and a group of Irish dancers performed reels and jigs in the ring.

Into this heady atmosphere walked a young man from the west of Ireland; a young man whose boxing career began in humble surroundings in the village of Geesala in Co Mayo fifteen years ago. Henry Coyle had experienced many highs and one or two lows on his long journey to Madison Square Garden but never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined a night like this - the crowd, the atmosphere and the venue.

The young man from Erris had arrived on boxing’s professional stage and he was determined to make his mark on his debut night. As a trumpeter heralded Coyle’s arrival into the arena the huge Mayo contingent that had travelled from all over the world for the special occasion rose to acclaim their fighter. Henry Coyle climbed through the ropes and into the ring. And then the bell sounded.

Seconds out, Round 1

Jason Collazo was never going to be a push-over. A native of Paterson in New Jersey he was a graduate of the prestigious American Golden Gloves. But he met a fighter on fire in Henry Coyle.

The bell was still echoing in the arena when Coyle had Collazo in trouble for the first time. His punches to the body were having the desired effect and Collazo was a man who looked decidedly uncomfortable before the first minute of the first round had even elapsed.

The Erris boxer never relented in his all-out fighting style. He harried Collazo at every opportunity, hunting him down and trapping him on the ropes before finally delivering the combination that saw Collazo collapse in a heap on the canvas.

The American managed to clamber to his knees but that was as far as he got on the road to saving the fight. He was counted out with the clock showing one minute and 34 seconds. As Coyle took a little bow in the centre of the ring the stadium erupted in enthusiastic applause.

The Erris man had arrived on the professional scene in some style. On a night when only one in six fights went the full distance, Coyle managed to end his bout earlier than any of the other victorious boxers. He was the only fighter to achieve a first-round knockout on Friday night.

Yet the Coyle camp was not getting too carried away in the aftermath of the hugely impressive victory. There was simply a quiet satisfaction at a job well done.

“We’ll enjoy the moment and the night,” said Gerry Coyle. “Henry has worked a long time to get his first professional bout and he deserves tonight. I don’t think anyone could have asked for a better way to begin a professional career and we will remember this night for the rest of our lives.”

It was a good night for most of the Irish fighters on the card. John Duddy held off a tough challenge from Anthony Bonsante to continue his assault on the Middleweight division. Duddy has a huge following amongst the Irish in America and the famous old arena was literally rocking when he touched gloves with Bonsante at around 11 p.m. The two men slugged it out for nine gruelling rounds before Bonsante was forced to retire with a badly cut forehead. Earlier in the evening Limerick man, Andy Lee, continued his impressive professional career with a third round knock-out against former WBA Light Middleweight Champion, Carl Daniels. There was mixed fortune for the other Irish boxers - Mark and James Clancy, from Clare. Mark won his bout against Andrew Hutchinson but James - who had been undefeated in nine professional fights - was felled by a mighty punch from Brooklyn boxer, Rodney Ray.

It was twelve midnight when the thousands of Irish boxing fans began to drift from The Garden onto the snow-covered Seventh Avenue. The heavy fall of snow meant that taxis were in scarce supply in the city. Among those waiting in line for a cab was Jake La Motta, standing patiently under the canopy of Madison Square Garden. It was a remarkable sight for anyone who has followed the sport of boxing and two resourceful Kerrymen were not going to let the moment pass without getting some sort of momento from the boxing legend. Borrowing a pen from this writer they approached La Motta and asked him to sign the only piece of paper in their possession - their passports! La Motta duly obliged and the Kerrymen went away with one hell of a story to relate to their friends when they return home - although it remains to be seen what the officers in US Immigration will make of a passport signed by Jake La Motta.

And, then, the quote of the evening. Another fight fan on seeing La Motta in the queue for a taxi was heard to remark to his friends: “Listen, lads, if Jake La Motta can’t get a taxi in New York there’s no hope for the rest of us! We might as well start walking.”

Henry Coyle, meanwhile, was walking on air. His evening ended in O’Farrell’s pub on Tenth Avenue where he was joined by family and friends for a deserved evening of relaxation. He might even have indulged in a few digestive biscuits!

But the break is unlikely to last too long. Coyle has now put himself in the shop window and other professional fights will surely follow in the months ahead. He has exploded onto the American boxing scene and is now perfectly poised for a serious assault on the world of professional boxing. We may not have to wait too long for another great night at Madison Square Garden.