|Stepping out of the grotty, forgotten tube station, as a weary ten-year-old, my eyes focused on the mass of green that stood in front of me. Everywhere I looked, I saw the Irish tricolor waving. Perhaps this is not unusual for Dublin or Boston on St Patrick’s Day, but this was not March 17, and|
I was not in the Emerald Isle or Beantown. The date was June 8 1985, and I had just stepped out of White City tube station, London! Gingerly, I walked amongst the masses; already my old man and his mates had perhaps had one or two too many pints of the “black stuff.” And this was only the second professional show I had ever been to. Previously, aged six, I witnessed the terrible scenes following Marvin Hagler’s decapitation of Alan Minter’s world middleweight title, when some idiotic “fans” of Minter rioted. But I could sense this was a very different atmosphere on the walk to Loftus Road. There was a real party atmosphere. You see, the Irish had come to see their very own “Clones Cyclone” Barry McGuigan attempt to go one better than the previous eighteen challengers (over the previous seven years) and wrest the WBA featherweight title away from the great Eusebio Pedroza.
For seven years, the Panamanian had gone to the four corners of the world to defend his title. Europe, Asia, South, Central and North America all figured on his globetrotting; indeed, he had even defended his title in Papua New Guinea! He was used to fighting in hostile conditions, so surely 24,000-plus screaming Irishman (and about half a dozen Englishman) were not going to faze him.
Pedroza began his career in his native Panama in late 1973. He got his first world title shot at bantamweight, blown away by the power-punching Mexican Alfonso Zamora, in April 1976. Moving up to featherweight, Pedroza, got another title shot in April 1978, winning the WBA crown from Cecilio Lastra in Panama City. So, Pedroza’s reign began; some quality names tried and failed against him: Rocky Lockridge (twice), Ruben Olivares, Juan Laporte, Bernard Taylor and Patrick Ford all came unstuck.
Pedroza was not the prettiest boxer, and would do pretty much anything he could to defend his title, in fact he is probably in the top-ten dirtiest fighters ever. This desperation to keep hold of his title was particularly obvious in the run to this date, as Pedroza was starting to show the wear and tear you would expect of a thirty-two-year-old, twelve-year veteran, who often struggled with the scales.
McGuigan’s journey to this point was not smooth either. He had dropped an eight round decision in his third bout to Peter Eubank (one of the fighting Eubank brothers, which includes Chris, who added the S to his surname). McGuigan blamed the defeat on the two-minute rounds he had to box, but he came back strong, beating future European champion Jean-Marc Renard in his next bout, as well as gaining revenge over Eubank (TKO8), two fights later.
But then, another twist occurred on June 14 1982. McGuigan won a Commonwealth eliminator, beating a fighter by the name of Young Ali by knockout in six rounds, Ali fell into a coma; McGuigan felt great guilt as Ali had a young family. Sadly, after a McGuigan win in November of 1982, Barry learned that Ali had died, on hearing the news McGuigan flirted with retirement. Eventually, after communicating with Young Ali’s widow, Barry chose to continue his career, donating a percentage of his purse to the Ali family. And in April 1983, he won the British featherweight title. In November of that year, he added the European crown to his resume.
Defending his European title twice in 1984, as well as the British crown, McGuigan took a final eliminator for Pedroza’s title against the teak-tough Juan Laporte. Barry had the fight of his life, and his greater energy earned him the referee’s decision after ten-pulsating rounds. McGuigan was now ready for the great Panamanian.
All I remember about the under-card was that there was another future Irish champion fighting, Dave “Boy” McAuley. My most vivid memory was the roar that went up as the theme to “Rocky” started, and the challenger began his walk to the ring, it seemed to take forever. I think they had to play the music again; McGuigan literally had to walk through the crowd! Then we had the obligatory singing of “Danny Boy,” which was done by McGuigan’s late father, this was the “National Anthem” in a McGuigan bout.
The bell went and the fight began, and although there was an electric atmosphere in the crowd, the fight started very slowly. McGuigan seemed under the spell of the great champion, he lacked the purpose shown in the Laporte fight. But at the same time, Pedroza was not doing much himself, the early rounds were very hard to score, maybe the champion had the edge, but it was very close.
Round seven began, and the fight exploded into life when McGuigan delivered a devastating right and follow up left, which detonated on the champion’s chin, causing Pedroza to crash to the canvas. Pedroza rose on very unsteady legs, and the Irishman went for the kill, but, showing all his experience, Pedroza rode out the attack and lasted the round. Pedroza now knew his title was in very great peril, so in round eight, he did what all great fighters seem to do when they are in grave trouble, he fought back! Going head to head and swapping punches evenly with McGuigan, it seemed that there was life left in the wily old fox.
Round nine continued at the same electric pace, until another crunching right by McGuigan caused the champion to stagger back. The fight was now in McGuigan’s pocket; Pedroza was now showing his age, and the only question was, could he make to the final bell? Round thirteen saw another devastating assault by McGuigan that Pedroza somehow got through, and when the bell went at the end of the fifteenth, a massive round of applause occurred. We all knew McGuigan had won, but the great Eusebio Pedroza had shown amazing will power and courage to go the full fifteen rounds.
After the fight, in a very emotional interview, McGuigan dedicated his victory to the late Young Ali. As you would expect, the Irish partied hard all night, this part of West London became a little part of Ireland that night as twenty odd thousand very happy Irishman emptied from the stadium.
I was only ten, but had enough Guinness that night to put me off it for life. I hope my mum does not read this as my dad would get lynched!