Duddy fights for family pride

Kevin Iole

You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI

It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to climb between the ropes, step into a boxing ring and prepare to fight another man.

But it's nothing compared to the courage it takes to march in a civil rights protest knowing that armed militia are there to prevent it.

Jackie Duddy was 17 and made such a march for what he believed was right on a sunny Sunday winter afternoon in 1972. It wound up costing him his life, as the unarmed boy was shot by British soldiers in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, as he was running away.

Earlier this month, the British government concluded a 12-year investigation into the massacre and determined that the murders of the 14 unarmed civilians on what became known as "Bloody Sunday" were unjustified and that the protesters posed no threat to the soldiers.

Nearly 40 years later, middleweight boxer John Duddy, named after the uncle he never knew, will step into the ring in the most important match of his career on Saturday at The Alamodome in San Antonio, against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., on Latin Fury 15, a Top Rank pay-per-view card.

His focus is on Chavez, because a victory will make him the mandatory challenger for the World Boxing Council middleweight title, held by Sergio Martinez.

It will be hard, though, to keep thoughts of his family out of his mind. The Bloody Sunday massacre was rarely discussed in the Duddy household, because of the pain it caused that time could not rinse away.

Top Rank will honor Jackie Duddy – his full name was John Francis Duddy, the same as his nephew – by tolling a 10-count on the bell prior to the Chavez-Duddy match. The boxer was born in 1979, more than seven years after his uncle's death, and he never knew much about him.

But John Duddy became a boxer because of his Uncle Jackie, who himself was an amateur fighter.

"My father [Mickey] was only 12 at the time and it really affected him a great deal," John Duddy said. "He always talked about how he followed my uncle into the gym. My father became a boxer because of my uncle and I think that's a large reason why I am where I am today. The inspiration to go to the gym and become a boxer myself was in large part because of my uncle."

Duddy has become a world-class boxer, though he's still got much to prove in the ring. He's 29-1 with 18 knockouts, but hasn't developed into the star that many thought he would become.

His record is littered with second-rate opponents and includes few recognizable names. Promoter Bob Arum concedes that Duddy still has much to prove, as does Chavez. The significance of the fight, though, is that each man will have to step up with a title shot potentially hanging in the balance.

Duddy has won three in a row since a loss to the undistinguished Billy Lyell on April 24, 2009, and believes he's hitting his peak.

Chavez has hired trainer Freddie Roach and is finally, Arum said, making the necessary commitment.

"Duddy is a very good fighter, not a great fighter," Arum said. "He's a good fighter, but he can get better. And Julio is a talented kid, too, but let's be honest: He's underperformed. He's been lazy in training and so forth. He's hasn't made the commitment in the past that is necessary. His upside is tremendous. It was just his conditioning, his inability to use a jab when he should use the jab and that he was not a well-trained fighter, that got in the way. Nobody, at least nobody with Top Rank, ever doubted his talent."

Duddy fully understands the significance of a win, not only to his boxing career but also for his family. A win on the night that his late uncle is remembered won't erase the pain of Jackie's loss, but it will be a salve on the wound.

"I know a lot of my family will be tuning in and it's going to be important to them," Duddy said. "I have a job to do, but this will mean a lot to them."