Buddy McGirt: Looking Back
Quiet would be the wrong word to describe Buddy McGirt; he remains reserved while discussing his successes and is perfectly straight-talking when discussing the intricacies of the sport. Ahead of his induction to the International Boxing Hall of Fame this weekend, he spoke with perfect consideration as he rolled back the years and went back to where it all began - not to the level of a Chris Eubank, but instead you are left with the feeling that he just doesn’t waste a word; perhaps something that’s been developed during his time as a trainer, or instead it could just be the mark of a man that is happy enough, and has become used to standing in the background, while the fighters that he develops are allowed to take the plaudits for months of work in the gym.
After 80 Professional fights and over 40 years in boxing, McGirt will reclaim a place in the limelight this weekend, even if only for one night. The first ever World Champion to hail from Long Island and a two-time/two-weight World Champion before he hung up the gloves, McGirt enters the class of 2019 alongside Donald Curry and Julian Jackson. Ahead of his induction, Buddy took some time to speak with SpitballingPod about both his time as a fighter (which earned him his place in the Hall of Fame) and his training career which followed.
Getting into boxing at the age of 12, McGirt recalls ‘I fell in love with it from day one’. Now 22 years after his final fight in 1997, he receives the props that he’s long been waiting for. ‘Being inducted into the Hall of Fame? You can’t get no higher than that’ he exclaimed.
If the call up to the HOF has done one thing, it’s given Buddy a reason to look back across his career – the ups and downs, the tough fights, the treachery and more. ‘When I’m by myself sometimes I really do sit down and think, and as the date gets closer to entering the Hall of Fame, the more I think about the struggles in the beginning, everything I went through, all the people I met, just everything’ he said.
When asked to pick out a particular career highlight, he struggled, but did point towards dealing with his first loss against Frankie Warren (who will be mentioned again later) and coming back to defeat Saoul Mamby as a moment that really kickstarted his career and made him a better fighter.
McGirt’s toughest night came against the aforementioned Frankie Warren as they went to war for the Vacant IBF Light Welterweight title. Buddy emerged victorious, but in his own words ‘I still have nightmares about that guy, man. I can’t even explain how it was. I won the fight yes, but man it was tough. He was on me like a wet suit’.
It was the rematch with Pernell Whittaker that sparked the end of McGirt’s journey as a fighter and robbed him of the grit and tenacity that had helped to elevate him to the level he was at. ‘I’m gonna say this – first fight, he won but it was close. They gave it to him but it was more of a chess match. Second fight he won hands down, I’ll give him that, but I will say mentally I was not there. To be honest with you, I didn’t even want to be there’ he explained.
Buddy provides a glimpse into the darker side of boxing, and the side that many of us have heard about, but largely like to hope is a work of fiction rather than reality. ‘After the first fight (with Whittaker) I had surgery, but before I had surgery I found out that I was injured all along and the doctors had told my manager to tell me I only had tendonitis, that I should take the fight and get the money as it was gonna end my career. So when I found that out it really pissed me off, because I’ve been dealing with these people for so many years and all of a sudden now you do this to me?’ he continued. ‘So, they said to me you may not be able to fight again. I said ok, but in my mind I was like ‘I’ve gotta show these motherfuckers that I can do this’.
No longer physically injured, but instead mentally wounded from the betrayal of his team – Buddy set out to prove a point. ‘I came back, I fought 6 months later and I fought April, June, August, and October’. What should have felt like a shot at redemption, instead put things into perspective for the Long Island native – ‘After the fight in August, they told me I had the Pernell Whittaker rematch in the dressing room, I started crying and my wife asked what was wrong. I said ‘I’m done. I don’t wanna fight anymore’, she asked what I meant, I said ‘I got to where they said I couldn’t go, there’s nothing left to prove. I’ve done it’. Mentally I was drained to be honest with you, because it was tough coming back already and then knowing that the people you trusted shitted on you. So she said ‘ok, don’t fight’, I told her ‘we need the money’, so she just told me ‘do what’s right’. So I went into training camp but it just wasn’t the same anymore, I went out there to get him out early, I don’t wanna take anything away from him, that didn’t happen and he beat the shit out of me after that but it is what it is’.
In his mind, the end had already come; ‘The love for fighting was gone. I just went through the motions after that’ he explained. He continued, ‘I stopped going to training camps, I was staying home, I just didn’t have that fire anymore. I did just enough to win, at the end of the day I knew I was short changing myself, you can see at the end of the road that there wasn’t shit there but you stay doing it anyway. Eventually I said the game was over and became a trainer’.
You’d assume that entry to the Hall of Fame this weekend won’t erase the bad memories that soured the ending of his career, but it should at least help to soothe them. Sometimes all it takes is a pat on the back to soften the blow and this is certainly one of the biggest pats on the back that you could hope for. Having been through the war with Warren, the betrayal of his team and the other bumps of his career, it would be easy for McGirt to look back and say what he’d change, but he insists he wouldn’t, even if given the chance. ‘I could say yeah, but I won’t. All those experiences helped make me who I am today and helped me understand the game how I do today. There were times I’d sit back and say ‘this shit was tough man’ but now I’m able to tell guys, don’t take this turn, don’t do this etc, it’s not gonna be pretty, but I had to be the guy to take that turn and do that so I could turn to them and say ‘This shit is no joke’.