Not so long ago, a fight between Irish stars John Duddy and Andy Lee seemed like an eventual blockbuster money event. Both had the heavy following both among the Irish and Irish-American audiences, both made for good fights, and they even had great differences that made them good in-ring rivals: Duddy, a bloody warrior, and Lee, a superior technical fighter with a big upside but some vulnerability.
Over the last year and a half, things have changed.
The first dent came when Lee lost his perfect record in March 2008 via stoppage against Texas club brawler Brian Vera, a shocking upset that turned Lee's career upside down. He went from exceptionally fast-rising prospect to semi-exposed fighter with chinks in the armor.
Then Duddy lost this summer, which many saw coming. He'd been given controversial decision wins in the past (namely Walid Smichet), but a February 2009 domination of fellow tough guy Matt Vanda seemed to indicate that Duddy was improving and getting less risky under the watchful eye of new trainer Pat Burns. His next outing was just two months later, a split decision loss to Billy Lyell, an unheralded Ohio journeyman.
The fight has lost some luster. And Irish promoter Brian Peters and television network RTE are trying to strike before the iron goes ice cold.
Irish boxing promoter Brian Peters has put the offer on the table for Andy Lee and John Duddy to face-off in a prestigious boxing event at the University of Limerick Sports Arena on November 28 to be aired on RTE.
Peters has promoted both middleweight Irish boxers in the past. The promoter said: "I see the deal for this fight as a 50/50 one because to me the status of both men is on a par - but to make it that bit more attractive to them I'm prepared to offer a €35,000 bonus to the winner.
"Dangling the carrot of a bonus of this nature should certainly make the fight more interesting to both parties. Although there is a lot of serious talking still to be done."
Lee says he's definitely up for the bout:
"I'm up for the fight with John Duddy, this is a fight the public have been speculating about for some considerable time and I believe it will be a memorable occasion with plenty of edge and drama," he said.
Forget about the records, or the lack of glossiness that this fight could have had in a perfect world. Forget, even, that the fight will never be the money-grubbing bonanza in Ireland or New York City that it could have been. Just focus on what would likely come of it: A war.
Duddy and Lee would be fighting not just to get their names back out there with a notable win, but for pride and bragging rights, and you can never underestimate the value of pride and bragging rights to fighters who have been built largely on ethnic marketing. Boxing is a unique sport in this way; a fighter's heritage means a lot, and it means a lot directly.
These are fighters that would lay everything on the line. Duddy has always done it, and it's easy to forget sometimes that Lee just lost a firefight with Vera, who we've learned over time is tougher than leather. Take Vera's wicked beating at the hands of James Kirkland, where he refused to give up despite eating a mouthful of heavy leather repeatedly.
Duddy-Lee could be a fantastic fight, and at the end of the day, what's really more important? Was the world of boxing hinging on the outcome of the first fight between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, or even their next two? No. But what fights do we remember the most: Your Gatti-Ward epics, or something like Oscar de la Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr.? No offense to Oscar or Floyd, or all the money they've drawn, but if you answered their fight there, you haven't seen Gatti-Ward.
I'm not saying Duddy-Lee would be that sort of legendary fight. But it has all the potential in the world to be a memorable, violent encounter between two guys that cannot afford the loss right now. It's also the best money either will find, most likely, so it even makes business sense.
It's better now than never for these two to get in the ring and tear into one another. Waiting any longer might just take all the juice out of a fight that a whole lot of folks would still like to see.