By Thomas Hauser
A fighter sacrifices. He tortures his body; he hardens his mind. And all the while, he’s surrounded by people, some of whom give him their heart and soul while others view him as prey. Depending on those associations, the business of boxing can be profitable for a fighter or worse than any physical beating that he suffers.John Duddy
is learning that hard lesson now.
Duddy is the most prominent Irish boxer in the world today. He’s articulate, handsome, charismatic, and 25-and-0 with 17 knockouts. The WBC lists him as the No.3 ranked junior-middleweight in the world. The WBO and IBF place him second and sixth respectively at 160 pounds.
Most of Duddy’s fights have been in New York. He has been the headline attraction at Madison Square Garden three times and in the featured undercard bout in the big arena on two occasions. “That means a great deal to me,” he says. “There are a lot of fighters out there who are as good as me, but no one has better fans. For a guy from Derry to headline at Madison Square Garden is something special. New York has been very good to me. It’s my home for boxing. But at the end of the day, Ireland will always be my home.”
Throughout his professional career, Duddy has been guided by two brothers; Eddie and Tony McLoughlin. They used ten different promoters for his first fifteen fights. On the night before St. Patrick’s Day 2006, John knocked out Shelby Pudwill in the first round at Madison Square Garden. “Duddy-mania” was in full bloom, and “Clan Duddy” was thought of as one of boxing’s “feel good” stories.
Then a bad seed was planted. On April 24, 2006, John signed an exclusive promotional contract with Irish Ropes (a company founded and controlled by Eddie McLoughlin). One day later, he entered into a three-year managerial contract with Tony McLoughlin pursuant to which Tony was to receive twenty percent of John’s purses off the top.
It was not in John’s best interests to sign those contracts. At that point in his career, many promoters would have given him a substantial signing bonus (which Irish Ropes didn’t). Moreover, on many of Duddy’s future fights, Irish Ropes wouldn’t even perform the nuts-and-bolts promotional work. Rather, they provided John’s services to another promoter and took a share of what would otherwise have been a larger purse for John.
And most significantly, Eddie and Tony McLoughlin are brothers with a close personal relationship.
Promoters and managers are in an adversarial position when it comes to negotiating a fighter’s purse. The manager’s job is to get as much money as he can for his fighter. The promoter tries to give the fighter as little money as possible because, that way, he keeps more for himself.
Dan Birmingham (who knows quite a bit about the business of boxing) has observed, “You have to keep promoters on the end of your jab and watch them on everything.”
Tony McLoughlin was less likely to scrutinize, threaten, cajole, and battle with his brother on John’s behalf than a fully independent manager would have been.
After the promotional and managerial contracts were signed, Duddy continued his winning ways and his “star power” kept growing. The one concern his team had (and it was a big one) was that he wasn’t improving as a fighter as much as they would have liked.
Thus, in June 2007, Harry Keitt (who’d trained John from his fourth through his twentieth pro fights) was replaced by Don Turner. Four fights after that, Turner was replaced by Pat Burns.
On June 28, 2008 fighting under Burns’s tutelage for the first time, Duddy won all ten rounds on all three judges’ scorecards, against Charles Howe. Afterward, Burns declared, “I put a lot more emphasis on the jab because, the last few fights I saw on tape, John was brawling. He threw a hell of a lot more jabs in this fight than I’ve ever seen before. I also talked to John about not listening to the crowd. You can’t allow the crowd to fight for you. John did a lot of growing-up tonight. He’s got a long way to go, but I’m happy with his performance.”
Then Burns made a suggestion that opened a whole new range of possibilities. Duddy had fought as a middleweight for most of his pro career. But very little “drying out” had been necessary to make weight, and the top middleweights are naturally bigger than John. Why not go down to 154 pounds? That way, Duddy would be facing lighter punchers and his own blows would have greater effect.
John concurred. Soon after, opportunity knocked.
On March 27, 2008, Verno Phillips had beaten the odds and won a split-decision over Cory Spinks to capture the IBF 154-pound crown. That left Artie Pelullo (Phillips’s promoter) with a champion and a problem. The problem was that Verno, despite his belt, wasn’t marketable. And most of the opponents who could sell tickets would be overwhelmingly favored to beat him.
As far as Pelullo was concerned, Duddy was the perfect opponent for his fighter. Phillips-Duddy was a fight for good money that Verno could win.
From John’s point of view, the match-up was just as good. Verno was a legitimate world champion who’d won his title honestly in the ring, not by alphabet-soup fiat. But he was a vulnerable champion approaching his thirty-ninth birthday, who’d been beaten on ten occasions and scored only one knockout in the preceding four years. The icing on the cake was that Phillips was willing to defend his title against Duddy in Ireland.
“It’s hard to put into words how badly I wanted that fight,” John recalls. “I told Eddie, ‘Whatever it takes, make the deal.’ Eddie said to me, ‘Well, it’s not enough money and Pelullo wants options.’ I said, ‘I don’t care; make the deal.’”
The deal never got done. Eddie McLoughlin and Irish Ropes matchmaker Jim Borzell say that’s because Pelullo refused to give them a dollar number and wanted options on John’s future fights. Pelullo says that he offered Irish Ropes a guarantee of US$150,000 against fifty percent of the net receipts to make Phillips-Duddy and asked for nothing more than a shared option with Irish Ropes on John’s next two fights should Duddy beat Phillips.
Whatever the reason, Eddie McLoughlin didn’t seem anxious to make Phillips-Duddy. Pelullo offered to come to New York on two hours notice, anytime day or night, to close the deal. McLoughlin declined to have that meeting. Then Borzell started making calls to members of the media, putting a damper on the notion that the fight might happen.
Phillips-Duddy died. Thereafter, the McLoughlins told John that they’d arranged for him to fight Sam Hill at Roseland Ballroom on November 21st for a purse of $20,000 and Ronald Hearns at Madison Square Garden on January 17, 2009, for a purse of $75,000.
“That made no sense to me,” John remembers. “I was getting less for both of those fights together than I would have gotten for Phillips. Also, I later learned that, when Eddie and Tony made the Hearns fight, they’d agreed to everything that they said was wrong with the Phillips fight, including options. And neither fight was for a world title. It showed me how little control I had over my own destiny with Eddie and Tony, and I began to question other things.”
In October 2008, Duddy telephoned Craig Hamilton and asked for advice. Hamilton had carved out a reputation in boxing circles as a key player in guiding Michael Grant to a US$3,500,000 payday against Lennox Lewis and seven-figure purses for fights against Lou Savarese and Andrew Golota.
On November 5th, Duddy met with Hamilton and Gary Friedman (who John retained as his attorney). Thereafter, Hamilton and Friedman made some inquiries into the finances surrounding Duddy’s fights. Some of the numbers they found were troubling.
Duddy’s contract with Irish Ropes specified certain minimum purses that John was to receive during the term of the contract (a $20,000 minimum for fights in the first year; $50,000 for fights in the second year; and $75,000 for fights in the third). Those contractual requirements had sometimes been ignored. For example, for the Charles Howe fight in year three of the contract, Duddy should have received at least $75,000 but was paid only $20,000.
Details regarding Duddy’s three fights in Ireland (against Alessio Furlan, Prince Arron, and Howard Eastman) in 2007 were sketchy. John told Hamilton that he’d been paid $60,000 (less Tony McLoughlin’s twenty-percent managerial fee and certain training expenses) for the Eastman fight. That struck Craig as lower than it should have been, given the risks that Eastman posed and the revenue that Duddy had generated in the past against lesser opponents.
Further with regard to the Eastman fight, New York promoter Bob Duffy (who’d worked with the McLoughlins before) recounted, “Brian Peters promoted John’s first two fights in Ireland with Irish Ropes looking on. Then Irish Ropes got licensed to promote over there, and I put together a business plan that showed they could make a $250,000 to $300,000 profit if they promoted Duddy-Eastman themselves in Belfast. I asked Eddie for $12,000 to help run the show. Then Eddie told me that he didn’t need me and sold promotional rights for the fight to Brian Peters. I have no idea what Irish Ropes got for providing John’s services. But if you think you can make $250,000 to $300,000 for promoting a fight, you’ll sell those services for a lot more than $60,000.”
Hamilton and Friedman also looked at the finances surrounding Duddy’s three most recent fights at Madison Square Garden.
On September 29, 2006, John fought Yory Boy Campas in The Theatre at The Garden. New York State Athletic Commission records show a total attendance of 3,352. Irish Ropes reported that only 2,593 of that was “paid,” which means that there were 759 comps. The number of comps seems high. The “gross receipts of ticket sales” reported by Irish Ropes was $264,800. In addition, it reported $25,000 from the sale of television rights. Duddy’s purse was $20,000.
Six months later, on St. Patrick’s Day Eve 2007, John fought at The Theatre again; this time against Anthony Bonsante. NYSAC records show a total attendance of 4,955. Irish Ropes reported that 4,471 of that was “paid.” The “gross receipts of ticket sales” reported by Irish Ropes to the commission was $558,505. In other words, the gross receipts from the sale of tickets for Duddy-Bonsante exceeded the total for Duddy-Campas by $293,705. Yet Duddy received only $20,000 more (a $40,000 purse from which training expenses and Tony McLoughlin’s twenty percent managerial fee were deducted). Hamilton calculated that, most likely, Irish Ropes turned a profit of at least $200,000 on Duddy-Bonsante.
Then, on February 23, 2008, John fought Walid Smichet on the undercard of Wladimir Klitschko vs. Sultan Ibragimov in the main arena at Madison Square Garden. Leon Margules of Warriors Boxing (who contracted with Irish Ropes for Duddy’s services) says that Irish Ropes received $60,000 plus $200,000 worth of tickets that were reported to the New York State Athletic Commission as having been sold for $190,000 (the other $10,000 in tickets was returned to the promotion). In addition, Irish Ropes was given ten $60 comp tickets and seventy-five $100 comp tickets. Irish Ropes paid $20,000 for Smichet’s services out its revenue stream.
Under Duddy’s promotional contract with Irish Ropes, if a fight went to purse bid, John was to receive eighty percent of the purse with Irish Ropes getting the other twenty percent. That would have been a fair guideline for the division of revenue from Duddy-Smichet (where K2 Promotions and Warriors Boxing did most of the promotional work). An 80-20 split would have given Duddy approximately $200,000. Instead, he was paid $60,000 minus the usual deductions.
Duddy told Hamilton and Friedman that he’d never been shown a record of the income received by Irish Ropes with regard to any of the cards that he’d fought on. Apparently, other information had also been withheld from him. Promoter Lou DiBella told Hamilton that, before Jermain Taylor fought Kelly Pavlik, DiBella Entertainment had offered Irish Ropes US$1,700,000 to provide Duddy’s services for a fight against Taylor. That offer, according to DiBella, was turned down. Duddy said that neither Eddie or Tony McLoughlin had mentioned it to him.
“I guess if you’re selling $190,000 worth of tickets on the side,” Hamilton observed, “you might not be anxious for your fighter to fight for a world championship under circumstances where the fighter knows how much money is on the table and insists on getting more than you want to give him. So instead, you make deals like the Smichet fight, where John trains, John fights, John gets his eyelids ripped open, Irish Ropes takes in $250,000, and John gets $60,000; but of course, John has to pay $12,000 of that $60,000 to Tony.”
The thing that put matters in perspective best for Hamilton was something that Duddy said as they were going over the numbers together. “If I’d gotten my fair share of that money,” John noted, “Grainne [his fiancée] and I would be married now.”
On November 6th, at Gary Friedman’s request, Hamilton and Friedman met with Eddie and Tony McLoughlin and Jim Borzell at the offices of Irish Ropes. The McLoughlins said that, far from exploiting John, they had both incurred losses as a consequence of various extras that they’d given him during the course of their association. Friedman responded that he considered the promotional and managerial contracts void because of various breaches but that, as part of a settlement, John would reimburse the McLoughlins out of future purses for any out-of-pocket losses that they’d suffered. Eddie and Tony said that they’d think about the situation and get back to Friedman with a number.
Two matters (the Sam Hill and Ronald Hearns fights) required immediate attention.
As previously noted, the McLoughlins had arranged for Duddy to fight Sam Hill at Roseland Ballroom on November 21st for a purse of $20,000. The promoter of that fight was Cedric Kushner’s Gotham Boxing. It was a small-money bout that made little sense, given the fact that a loss (or even a cut) could jeopardize much bigger pay-days in the near future.
With Eddie McLoughlin’s permission, Hamilton spoke with Kushner on November 9th and learned that Gotham Boxing had agreed to give Irish Ropes $35,000 worth of tickets for Duddy-Hill plus a twenty percent commission on all ticket sales over $50,000. Kushner offered to modify the deal so that Duddy would receive $30,000 plus $25,000 in tickets. The promoter would also pay airfare, hotel, and a per diem food allowance for John and Pat Burns.
Duddy wanted to go through with the fight. “I’ve always lived up to my contracts,” he said. “And I need the goal of having a fight in front of me. Right now, I’m in limbo. I don’t know if I’m coming or going. The only thing that keeps me straight is that I know I have a fight.”
Hamilton advised Kushner accordingly.
The second fight on the table was the proposed January 17th match-up against Ronald Hearns in The Theatre at Madison Square Garden. That fight was to be promoted by Lou DiBella and televised by HBO on Boxing After Dark
The McLoughlins had told Duddy that he’d be paid $75,000 for the Hearns fight. Hamilton learned that Irish Ropes had a deal with DiBella that would give them one hundred percent of the Irish television money plus a percentage of all other fight revenue after the deduction of expenses. DiBella estimated that Irish Ropes would receive $300,000 for delivering John’s services.
Duddy had never signed a contract for the Hearns fight. Hamilton felt that the McLoughlins had undervalued their fighter in negotiations with DiBella. He also thought that, using Lou’s numbers, $75,000 was an absurdly low purse.
“If Irish Ropes takes in $300,000,” Hamilton asked rhetorically, “why does John get $75,000 minus Tony McLoughlin’s twenty percent? And I see that, if Ronald Hearns beats Duddy, Irish Ropes gets a piece of Hearns. I understand why that might be in Eddie McLoughlin’s interest, but how is that in John’s interest?”