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Best I Faced: Sean O’Grady

Sean O'Grady during a sparring session in 1982. (Photo By John Sunderland/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Fighters Network
18
Apr

Popular fighter Sean O’Grady grew up in boxing and later went on to realize his dream by becoming the WBA lightweight titleholder in 1981.

O’Grady, who was the middle child of three, was born in Austin, Texas, on February 10, 1959. 

“My father was a veteran of World War II; he saw 44 months of combat,” O’Grady told The Ring. “He was in the first Marine division; he was in some of the fiercest battles of World War II. He was a hero to our country. When he returned from the war front, he went into the boxing business. 

“He had this dream of having good boxers, and he had to go where the boxing business took him. It just so happened it took him to Las Vegas, L.A., San Antonio, back to L.A., then to Corpus Christi, Houston, Beaumont, Dallas, and finally we settled in Oklahoma.”



The O’Grady family regularly put on boxing shows in Oklahoma, and Sean got to see the business up close.

“Our family would promote 26 shows a year in Oklahoma City,” he said. “We were not subsidized. My dad would go to the bank to get a loan to do a boxing match. We tried to build up local fighters. That’s all my parents did. I never knew my dad to have a job; his job was boxing.”

O’Grady was at the boxing gym from before he can remember and was destined to be involved.

“I had to be a boxer; this had to happen for me,” he proudly explained. “I was raised around all these boxers. I was going to the gym every night from the time I was 6, 7 years old.”

His parents would take him out of school at noon and drive to Los Angeles to watch the likes of Lupe Pintor, Ruben Olivares or one of the other notable Mexicans of the 1970s-early 80s fight.

Although O’Grady was around boxing, he didn’t have an amateur career to speak of. Amateur boxing wasn’t prevalent in Oklahoma at that time, and his father was involved in professional boxing and didn’t want to be known for amateur boxing. 

“The Bubblegum Kid” (or “Bubblegum Bomber”) turned professional as a junior featherweight at 15. He was extremely active, building a record of 26-0 in his first year as a pro, fighting almost exclusively in Oklahoma.

O’Grady and his father in the gym. (Photo By John Sunderland/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

His father, Sean O’Grady Sr., knew Sean needed to face stiffer opposition and decided to take the tough love approach, which meant facing the much more advanced Danny Lopez at the Forum in Inglewood, California in February 1976.

“When I fought ‘Little Red,’ I was really a boy fighting a man. I had just turned 17,” said O’Grady, whose father pulled him out of the fight at the end of the fourth round. “He ripped me to pieces. He just kept coming. ‘Little Red’ taught me a lesson that I carried through my career.”

O’Grady returned to the local circuit, where he remained very active racking up the wins. When he stepped up again, he beat former bantamweight titleholder Romeo Anaya (KO 3) in April 1978.

“[Danny Lopez] ripped me to pieces. He just kept coming. ‘Little Red’ taught me a lesson that I carried through my career.”

O’Grady grew into the lightweight division by the late 1970s and claimed the USBA title by beating former world title challenger Arturo Leon (UD 15). He edged past Gonzalo Montellano (SD 12) while he waited for his world title opportunity.

It came when he traveled to the U.K. to face WBC 135-pound titleholder Jim Watt in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 1980. 

“Jim Watt was kind of made for my style; he stayed right in front of me, my right hand connected easily with his chin, and I’m sure my chin connected easily with his left hand,” said O’Grady, who was stopped in the 12th round on cuts. 

via coachstrout’s classic fights on YouTube:

“He had an insatiable desire to win, even if it meant he had to eat every one of my jabs. Jim Watt had this incredible resilience. He wanted to win and he would stop at nothing to win, and he did. He was tough, he was gritty. He wasn’t the prettiest boxer I faced. 

“I felt like I had control of the fight with Jim Watt until he headbutted me. I lost control and couldn’t get it back. The commission took away my father’s cut medicine before the fight, so he had no coagulant to put on to the cut when I was bleeding profusely.”

“Jim Watt had this incredible resilience. He wanted to win and he would stop at nothing to win, and he did.”

Despite the heartbreaking defeat, O’Grady got back in the win column before meeting unbeaten WBA titlist Hilmer Kenty in Atlantic City in April 1981.

“I knocked him down in the second round with a perfect overhand right. I knew he’d get up from that, and he did,” said O’Grady, who won a hard-fought 15-round unanimous decision. “Then I knocked him down in the eighth round. Any time during this time, he could have said, ‘That’s it,’ but he fought like a champion. 

“Kenty threw up between the 10th and 11th round in his corner, but he still came out for more. He kept fighting back, he would never acquiesce on my aggression. I thought to myself many times during the fight, ‘What would Danny “Little Red” Lopez do?’ Had I fought Kenty without fighting Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez, I think Kenty would have walked all over me. In fact, Jim Watt gave me more confidence to beat Hilmer Kenty. I see so many things I took with me from the Jim Watt fight into the Kenty match. I was so much more mature, so much more controlled, so much more focused. 

via coachstrout’s classic fights on YouTube:

coachstrout’s YouTube page includes more of O’Grady’s fights.

“Hilmer was an outstanding amateur and fantastic pro. I’m like the biggest Hilmer Kenty fan ever. (laughs) I’m so thankful that Hilmer gave me an opportunity to fight for the championship. He fought gallantly; he tried to beat me. If you talk to Hilmer, will you tell him I’m sorry I hit him so much?”

Unfortunately, strained relations with his father led to O’Grady not facing his mandatory challenger, Claude Noel. He was stripped of his title in August 1981. 

Sean O’Grady (right) with author Lee Groves at the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s trilogy induction weekend in 2022.

O’Grady Sr. created the WAA organization and quickly sanctioned his son to fight Andy Ganigan for the newly formed title. An ill-conceived game plan let to O’Grady slugging with Ganigan and getting stopped in the second round.

O’Grady fought on and headlined Sylvester Stallone’s promotional debut up at welterweight, where he was edged by the rugged Pete Ranzany (SD 10). He fought for the last time when he was stopped by John Verderosa (TKO 4) in March 1983.

Although O’Grady was only 24, he never came back — not yet, anyway — and retired with a record of 81-5 (70 knockouts).

He later worked as a TV analyst for USA Tuesday Night Fights and dabbled in acting, appearing in the hit TV series Happy Days.

O’Grady, now 64, is married with one son and still lives in Oklahoma City, where he owns a real estate company.

He graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he fought in 10 key categories.

 

BEST JAB      

Hilmer Kenty: “I got hit with a lot of jabs. Hilmer Kenty was absolutely the best jabbing boxer I faced, and I knew it going into the fight. I knew I’d have to contend with that jab. He was tall and rangy, lanky, like Tommy Hearns. Our battle plan going into the fight was to eradicate the jab, which took about nine rounds to do that. He finally relented on the jab; it wasn’t as sharp and quick in the latter half of the bout as it was in the first few rounds. I was eating those lefts like it was dinner!”

 

BEST DEFENSE   

Kenty: “Kenty had a lot of lateral movement. He was the hardest to hit. Kenty was 5-foot-11. He fights tall, he stands up and throws that jab out and fights his match on the outside. He had an outstanding defense. If I fought Kenty on the outside, he’d have slaughtered me. He’d have beat me every second of every round. I had to get inside that reach. I wanted to put my head on his chest and bang away at that body and head.” 

 

BEST HANDSPEED         

Kenty: “Kenty was so quick, so fast. He threw these fast punches perfectly. Nobody does that by accident. You know how people do that? Emanuel Steward teaches you how to do that. You do it in training. You do it over and over and over; it’s muscle memory. Kenty had the fastest hands with the perfect delivery I faced.”

 

BEST FOOTWORK      

Kenty: “Hilmer didn’t waste a lot of energy; he slid on the ring. When you faced him, you’re eating that jab. After he jabs, he moved over to the side. So you have to not only contend with that left in your face, but you also have to contend with that footwork, and his footwork was spectacular. He never bounced around the ring like some boxers do, he slid everywhere. If you bounce, it makes you tired. He was always on balance; his feet are separated by the same distance throughout the fight, except when he’s throwing a punch, when he’s shifting his weight to put the power into the punch.”

 

SMARTEST      

Danny Lopez: “Danny was great in so many ways. Danny taught me a lot. When I fought other fighters and would compare the other fighters to my experience with Danny, it not only gave me confidence but it gave me trust in my own abilities. He was the smartest. He had different gears. Danny had like a radar focus on a fighter, and when he sees the fighter lose attention, Danny found that and exposed that.”

 

STRONGEST    

Jim Watt: “Watt was physically strong; you don’t absorb those punches I’m throwing being weak. Jim Watt didn’t even roll with the punches. He would let me hit him with two, three, four punches; my combinations were working beautifully. Arturo Leon might be a special mention. He was a brick. I hit him with everything I had. He was like a bull. Leon, in Spanish, the word means, ‘Lion.’ He was planted; he threw the punches. I was cut in the first and second round. I had to change my style, something I learned from my fight with Danny Lopez.”

           

BEST CHIN           

Pete Ranzany: “I threw a punch one time over the back of my head and he ran around and caught it. It was like he didn’t care; he wouldn’t even roll with the punch. Gonzalo Mantellano was tough — oh my gosh, he was tough. He just kept coming at me. Jim Watt had a good chin; I don’t know how he took the punches.”

         

BEST PUNCHER

Lopez: “Lopez was a big puncher. He smacked me and I did a little Irish jig. When you get hit, hurt and knocked out, sometimes you don’t go down because you’re in good shape. There’s no pain to getting hurt. When Danny hit me, it didn’t hurt; my legs left the ring. Jim had very good power in both hands. When you get knocked out, there’s no pain to it, you just go out. You wake up in the dressing room, or you wake up later in the fight. I’ve known fighters who got hit in the first round, got knocked out, continue to fight and get hit in the fifth round and come back to. I can tell you from experience, it hurts more to get hit in the body — physical pain to the body. It doesn’t hurt to get hit on the chin; you just go to sleep.”

 

BEST BOXING SKILLS      

Kenty: “Always on balance. He maneuvered around me. I had to force him back. I’d get him in a corner and he’d squeeze out. I had to cut off the ring. He was well-groomed. Hilmer was slick; he has a pretty style.”

 

BEST OVERALL  

Kenty: “There’s nobody else other than Hilmer. He’s the best fighter I faced. Kenty should have beat me; he was a better fighter. He was a great fighter. I had such will, such grit, such determination. Jim’s courage and heart is what amazed me the most. He wasn’t pretty, he wasn’t fancy, he’d just come in and slug with you. ‘Little Red’ was a lot like Jim.”

 

MORE ON RINGTV:

Best I Faced: Leonard Dorin

Best I Faced: Razor Ruddock

Best I Faced: Muhammad Ali (1975)

More “Best I Faced” articles…

 

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].

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