Best I Faced: Buddy McGirt
James “Buddy” McGirt was a two-weight world champion in the late 1980s and early ’90s. He fought some of the best fighters of his generation in his 80 pro bouts before becoming a world-class trainer.
McGirt was born and raised in Brentwood, New York; he was one of six children, his parents were separated. His elder brother kept him away from the vices of the streets – in particular, the notorious La Placita shopping center.
“Everyone hung out there – the pimps, drug dealers. If I was hanging out there my brother would tell me, ‘You’ve got exactly two minutes to get off the block.’ I’d get on my bike and leave,” McGirt told RingTV.com.
He never strayed and continued his progression in school as well as in amateur boxing. He graduated from Brentwood high school and looked set to go to college to study business.
However, he received some life-changing news that curtailed those plans.
“My girlfriend got pregnant,” he said. “So I figured if I turn pro, I’ll get rich overnight … That was lie.” (Laughs)
He exited the amateur game with a modest 54-9 ledger, turning pro in March 1982. After drawing in his pro debut, he won his next 28 bouts to set up his most significant challenge to date when he met fellow unbeaten Frankie Warren.
Warren outpointed McGirt over 10 rounds. Undeterred, McGirt continued to hone his skills over the next 18 months, staying active before facing Warren in a rematch, this time for the vacant IBF junior welterweight title. McGirt was ahead on the cards but closed the show midway through the 12th round.
He met two Olympic gold medalists with contrasting results. McGirt stopped Howard Davis Jr. in a single round in his maiden defense before losing to Meldrick Taylor, getting stopped himself in the 12th frame.
The crafty boxer-puncher pieced his career back together over the next three years, winning all 16 fights to set up a meeting with WBC and lineal welterweight champion Simon Brown.
McGirt produced a virtuoso performance to stun the defending champion, winning a wide unanimous decision.
“I was in such a zone for that fight I couldn’t tell you if he was strong or he could punch. Nothing mattered that night,” he said, before reflecting. “Everyone says my best performance was against Simon Brown but I believe my best win was against Frankie Warren.”
He made three successful defenses, including one on the road in Italy against the underrated Patrizio Oliva. Unfortunately for McGirt, his career intersected with one of the all-time greats, Pernell Whitaker. To make matters worse, he tore his left shoulder a few months prior to their fight, which he lost by unanimous decision.
McGirt got a few wins and called out Whitaker, who again bested him on points.
The gutsy New Yorker stuck around for a few more years but never again dined at the top table of world boxing. Days after his 33rd birthday McGirt retired from boxing after dropping a unanimous decision to Darren Maciunski. He walked away with a very respectable record of 73-6-1 (48 knockouts).
He says the biggest disappointment in his career was “when I had to retire.”
Unlike many boxers, McGirt knew where his future lay. It was something he’d long prepared for.
“I started boxing Jan. 17, 1976; I started on my 12th birthday. The very next day I wanted to be a trainer instead of a fighter,” he said, recollecting his earliest boxing memory. “The mid-part of my career, after a fight I would go home and train amateur boxing in my spare time.”
In the 20 years since retiring, he estimates he has worked with 10 world champions, including Antonio Tarver, Vernon Forrest, Paulie Malignaggi and Arturo Gatti.
McGirt worked the corner of Tarver’s incredible KO over Roy Jones Jr. and all three of Gatti’s bouts with Micky Ward.
He knew he was involved in something special: “Being a part of it (Gatti-Ward trilogy) … the crowd is going crazy for both guys and you get chills. You’re like, ‘Holy sh_t.”‘
McGirt had been due to be in Isaac Chilemba’s corner for his fight with Sergey Kovalev but was unable to travel due to visa issues. He has remained in the U.S., where he’ll be with exciting up-and-coming junior welterweight Sergey Lipinits, who faces Walter Castillo in the main event of a “Premier Boxing Champions” show on Friday.
McGirt, 52, has been married for 27 years and has eight children. He currently lives in Vero Beach, Florida, where he works with several fledgling fighters, including his son James McGirt Jr.
He graciously agreed to speak to RingTV.com about the best he faced in 10 key categories.
Pat Coleman: It’s a pick between two guys: Saoul Mamby and Pat Coleman. Saoul Mamby, when he jabbed he had a sort of half open glove. It was just annoying, he could hit you from different angles because he had so much experience. Pat Coleman had that stinging jab; it was a jab you had to think about. You couldn’t just walk through it. I’m going to go with Pat Coleman.
Pernell Whitaker: Pernell had a natural ability and his natural ability, along with Georgie Benton’s teachings, just made him better and harder for everybody else to hit him. It’s very deceiving because he’d be right there one minute, and when you punched he didn’t go anywhere, he stays there. He just had this natural instinct of going with the punches and catching them.
Frankie Warren: When we fought the second time, I hit him with shots that would have knocked anybody else out. Some of the shots I hit him with I put my ass into. (Laughs) He wouldn’t go anywhere. Even though I knocked him down he was just in my ass constantly. I had nightmares about him for about two months after the fight!
Meldrick Taylor: He didn’t have the best defense but his hand speed was so fast that you thought you were surrounded! (Laughs)
Whitaker: That’s an interesting question. Even though Frankie Warren was a pressure fighter his foot movement was really good, especially on the inside. He would get inside and give me different angles. He’d be right in your face, quick. His balance was perfect. Pernell didn’t move much, he’d stand in front of you and turn you around. From that southpaw stance he was phenomenal – he could turn you and slip, he could get under the shots and still be in the same place. His balance was great. He had it down to a tee.
Saoul Mamby: He was very tricky. I hit him with a shot, a good right, I saw his legs buckle and I’m going in for the kill. I thought I’d be the first one to stop him. When I threw a right hand he slipped and hit me with a left hook to the liver. I’ve never in my life been hit like that to the liver. When we got into a clinch he told me “to slow (your) young ass down.” (Laughs)
Warren: That’ll be tough. Frankie Warren and Vincent Releford. If I had to pick I’d go with Frankie Warren; he was short, he’s an ex-football player and was on me so much you felt you were fighting two people.
Vincent Releford: He could just punch. He could punch with both hands. He hit me with a bodyshot and I felt it in my nasal passage. He could punch. I didn’t go down. I went down against Tony Baltazar. For seven rounds I didn’t know where I was or who I was fighting. When I looked up it was Round 9 and I said to my manager, “How did we get to Round 9?” and he said, “Keep doing what you‘re doing.” And I said, “What’s that?” He said, “Keep boxing.” I won every round after I got knocked down but I don’t remember anything from the fight to this day.
Whitaker: I’ve got to say Pernell. Meldrick could box but he was easy to hit. Pernell could box but he was hard to hit.
Whitaker: Pernell, believe it or not, he was a helluva bodypuncher. I give credit where credit is due and he was the best.
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