News February 2013

McGirt “I should have walked away from boxing before Whitaker rematch”


Livefight exclusive: Buddy McGirt talks career as world-renowned fighter and trainer

By Michael J Jones

Accomplished fighter; Buddy McGirt

I recently was lucky to catch former two-time world champion and highly respected trainer James “Buddy” McGirt for a quick chat. Speaking early one morning while busy preparing for another business trip, McGirt spoke about his own boxing career as well as his years as a celebrated coach.

As a fighter at 140 and 147lbs, Buddy was a formidable boxer-puncher who only lost to legendary pair Meldrick Taylor and Pernell Whitaker while in his prime. The former IBF junior-welterweight and WBC welterweight champion was a solid and skilful champion at his best beating the likes of Frankie Warren, Howard Davis Jr and Simon Brown while going 73-6-1 (48) overall.

After a niggling shoulder injury hampered the latter stages of the Brentwood fighter’s career he made the switch to coaching. Famously, McGirt trained Arturo Gatti to box not brawl for the latter part of his career and Antonio Tarver to knock-out the unbeatable Roy Jones Jr; two momentous achievements at the time.

Still as sought-after as ever and working with fighters such as Matthew Macklin and Antonio Tarver, the busy 49-year-old had this to tell Livefight-

LF) So I hear as a boy they told you that you were too small to box is that right?

BM) Yeah that’s true but I sure proved them wrong.

LF) Do you remember your amateur record?

BM) Yes it was 54-9.

LF) You turned pro in March 82’ and had nearly 40 contests before you even fought for a world title, was that your intention to have a slow apprenticeship?

BM) No it wasn’t at all it was just the way my career turned out. I never intended to wait that long.

LF) Your first loss was to Texan prospect Frankie Warren, a fight you avenged in a rematch for the vacant IBF belt. What can you tell me about those two fights?

BM) The first fight was close but I knew I’d lost but we had a rematch for the title. In the rematch I knew I had to box him more and maintain a steady pace. In the first fight I let him dictate the pace but in the second fight I would turn it up whenever he did which made the difference.

Note: Buddy was far ahead on the scorecards when securing a last-round stoppage.

LF) In your first defence you knocked out Howard Davis Jr in a single round. You were the first man to stop the former Olympic champion; did that shock you in that fight?

BM) I did think I would stop him but not that early. I’d sparred him as a kid when I was like 17-years-old and I knew he was damaged goods and a little faded. That’s why I jumped on him early.

LF) You lost your title to Meldrick Taylor who stopped you in the last round. Was he just too quick that night?

Two-weight world champion Buddy

BM) No that was down to bad management. They said if we fought him we’d get the (Julio Cesar) Chavez fight. That was a million dollar fight so one we didn’t want to pass up but I should never have gone through with that fight (with Taylor). I got an ear infection and went to the doctors the day of the fight. The doctor said "take this medication" and I’ll be fine for the fight. I took his advice but was in no condition to fight that night, my equilibrium was off and every punch hurt.

LF) You moved up to 140lbs and put together some great wins over the likes of; Tony Baltazar, Gary Jacobs and Rafael Williams to set up another title shot against long-time WBC welterweight champion Simon Brown. You surprised a lot of people that night with a clear decision win. Was that one of your best victories?

BM) Yeah that was one of the best. I knew it was do-or-die and if I didn’t win that fight I’d have to go and get a job!

LF) You beat some good contenders in defence of your crown but ran into a prime Pernell Whitaker. He won a close decision; did you think you had done enough to retain?

BM) I just knew everything was against me for that fight with Whitaker. I actually heard on the morning of the fight that Whitaker had already signed to fight Chavez. That I thought was extremely funny and set off alarm bells. I knew I was up against it but I just thought go out and fight hard and do my best but they gave it to him. I thought I had done enough to retain though.

Note: Whitaker fought Chavez in his next fight six months later.

LF) I believe around this time you were also suffering from an agonising shoulder injury?

BM) I was my own worst enemy; how many champions these days fight none-title fights between defences? I was always in the gym and wanting to fight. I remember defending in Italy (versus Patricio Oliva) and two months later fighting a none-title fight. It took a toll on me.

LF) How bad was the injury and when exactly did it occur?

BM) I first injured my shoulder in my fight with Genaro Leon (in January 93’ two months before the first Whitaker fight). I’ll tell you a true story. They told me my career was over with that particular injury and that gave me a point to prove. Before my rematch with Pernell I fought Pat Coleman (winning a close split decision) and in that fight I told myself I didn’t want to fight no more. I had gained a moral victory by proving the doctors wrong and I should have just walked away then.

LF) You did continue your career though and had your last fight four years later against Darren Maciunski in Biloxi?

BM) Yeah I carried on but I knew I had to quit after that (Maciunski) fight. He used to be my sparring partner so I knew when he beat me I was done. I also had a thyroid problem before that fight that’s why I was so light (Buddy made the welterweight limit for the first time in years).

LF) Was it always in your mind to become a trainer once your boxing career had finished?

BM) Yes ever since I first walked into a boxing gym on January 17th 1976 (Buddy’s 12th birthday) I knew. It was a big transition but an easy one to make.

LF) You’ve worked with several big name fighters like Tyson, Gatti, Tarver etc. Who was the most fun to train?

McGirt with Matthew Macklin

BM) All of the guys I’ve trained have been fun to work with I can’t pick just one. I get to know all of my fighters and spend a lot of time with them in camp, they all have their different attitudes and ways and I’ve liked working with all of them. We like to have a laugh but also to get the job done.

LF) Your son James McGirt Jr was doing well as a super-middleweight but hasn’t fought for over a year is he intending to continue his career soon?

BM) Yes he’s just going through some personal stuff right now. He wanted to fight but he’s in the middle of a divorce and I said his head won’t be right and come back after that’s done so he can focus again. You have to get your mind mentally right to be able to be at your best for boxing.

LF) You’ve just started working with South African contender Isaac Chilemba who fights Tony Bellew in Liverpool on March 30th, how’s that going?

BM) It’s going good Isaac is very fast, has good reflexes and listens well to instruction. I’ve not studied Bellew yet I’ll probably start in a week.

LF) Thank you Buddy.

BM) Ok any time.

Many thanks to Chico Sherwood for arranging the interview.

A prime McGirt in action vs Davis Jr-

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