Barry McGuigan remembers Eusebio Pedroza, the champion with whom he made history
If you saw the fight live you’ll never forget it.
On June 8, 1985, amid astonishing scenes, Ireland’s Barry McGuigan won the WBA featherweight championship from legendary Panamanian Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road soccer stadium in London. The 26,000 fans in attendance created a cauldron-like atmosphere, McGuigan’s father sang Danny Boy during pre-fight pageantry, there was an epic battle, a decisive knockdown and, ultimately, a changing of the guard.
When news broke yesterday that Pedroza had succumbed to cancer at the age of 62, that intense prizefight, which McGuigan won by 15-round unanimous decision, entered the mind almost instantly. Although the two Hall of Famers never became close, the customary respect that comes when two top professionals thrash it out over the championship distance remains unwavering to this day.
“I knew he was critically ill with cancer, but I’m really sad about it,” said McGuigan, who still sounded audibly upset over the phone having heard the news only hours earlier. “He was a hero in Panama and I hope he gets a hero’s send off because he deserves it.
“Pedroza was a great champion and a great fighter. Being in Panama, he couldn’t secure a big television deal; that just wasn’t possible for him in those days, so he became a globetrotter. He boxed in America, Italy, France, Japan, just everywhere, what an incredible fighter he was.
“He was also one of the longest reigning featherweight champions of all time with 19 defenses. In fact, the week of our fight Larry Holmes (then heavyweight champion) rang me up and said, excuse the language, ‘Don’t let him f__kin’ beat ya!’ Larry had 20 defenses (laughs).”
McGuigan was a superstar fighter during this period and the bout would generate record numbers.
“It was the first live broadcast on the BBC with 19 million people watching on television,” recalled the former champion “That’s the biggest audience to watch a fight (live in the U.K.) and you’ll never get a bigger one because there’s 500 channels now.
“But it was the whole occasion. Northern Ireland was in the middle of a real crisis; there was trouble and death everywhere, and I was trying to bring people together. There were members from both sides who didn’t think I was sincere, but now, almost 35 years later, I think even the hardest of those critics know that I really wanted to give everyone hope.”
And he did.
Pedroza, who was 29 years old at the time, had his best moments in the first half of the contest, but the challenger was constantly closing the gap and suffocating the veteran champion. Instinctively, “The Clones Cyclone” knew that when he did find the target he had to make it count.
“Pedroza was a better fighter technically, but I could punch harder and I had pace,” McGuigan recalled. “He could do all that lovely lateral movement, use his feet, and you couldn’t hit him, but previous opponents didn’t put it on him the way I could put it on him.
“Look, I was a maybe a bit lucky to fight Pedroza when I did, but the knockdown in Round 7 was crucial. I was closing in on him, he was clipping me with counters and everything else, but I nailed him in the seventh. That was a critical moment, then I had him out on his feet in the ninth and he was gone in the 13th. It’s just that his powers of recovery were absolutely remarkable.
“It was just such an honor to share the ring with him. God rest him.”
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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