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Monday, August 7, 2023

Tribute to Buddy McGirt: Hall of Famer Fought Mamby and Jacobs

Buddy McGirt is not only one of the best trainers in boxing, but he was one of the best boxers of his era. The Hall of Famer was a two-division world champion whose career lasted from 1982-1997. During his illustrious career, McGirt fought two memorable bouts against Jewish opponents, both at the Felt Forum. On September 25, 1986, he took on former world champion Saoul Mamby, and on August 27, 1989, he faced Commonwealth champion Gary Jacobs, the WBC's number one contender.

McGirt had just suffered his first loss as a pro in July of '86 to Frankie Warren before facing Mamby two months later. The future chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, Randy Gordon, a dear friend of McGirt's, called Buddy on the phone. McGirt recalled the conversation years later in an interview with Tris Dixon. McGirt remembered, "He said, 'Buddy, why would you take a fight like this?' I said, 'Randy, I'm going to beat him.'"

McGirt later told Ryan Songalia of The Ring, “I said to myself, 'I’m 22 years old, if I lose to a 39-year-old, I’m in the wrong business.'" But Buddy would come to see the Mamby fight as a turning point in his career.

He explained to Dixon, "The fight with him made me a better fighter. I think I needed something like that. To fight someone that would've only given me two or three rounds, I don't think it would've benefitted me in the long run."

In an interview with Anson Wainwright for a series in The Ring called "Best I Faced," McGirt named Mamby as his smartest opponent. "He was very tricky," McGirt remembered. "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 my young ass down."

Buddy also respected Mamby's jab, "When Mamby 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."

To Songalia he declared, "The win over Saoul Mamby turned me around as a fighter. Made me a totally different fighter, made me a better fighter."

McGirt won the ten-rounder by unanimous decision. A year and a half later, he captured his first world title, the IBF junior welterweight belt, by avenging his loss to Warren.
Buddy McGirt vs. Saoul Mamby

By the time Buddy McGirt faced Scotland's Gary Jacobs, he had lost the title to Meldrick Taylor a year earlier and had moved up a weight class to the 147-pound division. Jacobs held the Commonwealth and WBC International welterweight titles and was in line for a world title shot against Mark Breland.

Initially, Jacobs had been scheduled to face journeyman Tyrone Moore in a showcase bout. McGirt was scheduled to fight on September 14 against Gene Hatcher. But when lightweight champion Edwin Rosario hurt his hand training for a defense against Lupe Suarez, a new main event was needed for the August 27, 1989 card at the Felt Forum. Jacobs and McGirt each took the fight on one week's notice.

"It's good for me because I'm getting national exposure on American television," said the 23 year old Jacobs (25-1) at the time. "Buddy McGirt is a big name, but I don't know anything about him." Jacobs's manager Mike Barrett had picked McGirt as the opponent.

In an interview with Tris Dixon, McGirt (43-2-1) remembered, "I just went to training camp that Saturday and my manager called me Saturday night. I came from the movies, and he goes, 'Hey, they got a break in the card next week.' I said, 'Ok, what's up?' He goes, 'There's a kid named Gary Jacobs. I says, 'Yeah, I read about him in the paper today.' The New York Post had just did a story on him that day."

McGirt continued, "I said, 'What about him?' He says, 'Well, they're looking for somebody to fight him.' I says, 'Alright. I tell you what you do, make the contract at 148 and I'll see you in the gym tomorrow.'"

He concluded by telling his trainer Al Certo, "We will spar every day until Friday, and I'll be ready for him next week."

McGirt was asked the next day about getting ready for Jacobs's southpaw style on such short notice. "I'm a fighter," he answered. "I can adjust to anything."

By the day of the fight, Jacobs had learned more about his opponent. "McGirt's a world-class fighter," he said.  "Fighting him will give me more exposure. The fact that it's on national TV is a plus. I have been waiting for a world title fight, and a win over McGirt will help me achieve my goal a lot earlier."

A reporter reminded Gary that no one had fought and won more at the Felt Forum than Buddy McGirt. "His record at the Felt Forum will not be a disadvantage for me," Jacobs retorted. "I'm always fighting away from home. Many of my bouts have been in England. The British and Europeans know who Gary Jacobs is. Now the Americans will find out."
Gary Jacobs vs. Buddy McGirt

McGirt, who held a two-pound weight advantage, won a unanimous decision after bloodying Jacobs's nose in the fourth round.  "I think I'm best at 147," McGirt said per Wallace Matthews's reporting. "You can't look good against everybody you fight. If I fought at 140 today, I would have been a loser."

"I tried my best, but Buddy McGirt was just quicker off the mark today," said Jacobs, according to reporting by Bernard Fernandez. "I have no qualms about losing. I didn't disgrace myself."

Matthews reported Jacobs saying, "I have no qualms about taking the fight. I didn't disgrace myself. I consider myself a world-class fighter, and these are the fighters you have to fight. He was just a wee bit quicker than me."

"Buddy made the fight a little tougher than it should have been," McGirt's trainer Al Certo told Matthews. "When he boxed on the outside, he was all right, but when he stayed in close, he let Jacobs into the fight. That's where Jacobs is strong."

McGirt took the eighth round off. "I had to take a little breather," he said. "This guy was very rough and awkward."

"After the eighth round, I told Buddy to box on the outside," Certo said to Fernandez. ''When he stood in close, Jacobs made a fight of it. I said, 'Buddy, you're stronger on the outside, so just stay there.'"

According to Arlene Shulman, McGirt said of Jacobs, "He was moving his head a lot. He was very awkward."  McGirt explained, "Jacobs is a tough kid. I'm not surprised that he stayed on his feet. He was awkward, but considering I took the fight on such short notice, I did all right.''

"I tip my hat to Gary Jacobs," Certo added. "I understand he was in line for a shot at Breland, but he risked his rating to take a fight with the toughest welterweight in the division."

The trainer continued, "Our goal is a title fight. Buddy helped himself with this win. We're ready.''

"Mike Barrett could have picked anybody, but he picked Buddy McGirt," Jacobs lamented a couple of years later. "He was a brave manager, but I was glad to take it."

Jacobs declared, "The McGirt decision was little more than a minor setback on the road to my ultimate aim - the world title. I'll go back to New York for a rematch, which I'll win, and within two years the crown will be mine. I'm not scared of any of the three champions - Mark Breland (WBA), Marlon Starling (WBC) or Simon Brown (IBF)."

There would be no rematch. And McGirt got the first crack at a welterweight title. On November 29, 1991, McGirt lifted the IBF title from Simon Brown. He held it for a year and a half when Pernell Whitaker took the title in a close fight.

Jacobs could've had an easier path to a world title, but he refused to challenge for the WBO's version of the championship. At the time, the WBO was an upstart organization, not yet seen as a major sanctioning body. So Jacobs won the British and European welterweight titles on his way to challenging Whitaker for the crown in 1995. Jacobs gave a better-than-expected showing against the pound-for-pound king, but came up short in his lone world title bid.

Both Mamby and Jacobs made quite an impression on two-division world champion, Hall of Famer Buddy McGirt.

"Arena" Newsday. Aug. 22, 1989.
Ben-Tal, Danny. "The Goldsmith from Glasgow Rekinkles Forgotten memories." Jerusalem Post. Sep. 20, 1989.
Dixon, Tris. "#24 Buddy McGirt." Boxing Life Stories podcast. Feb. 24, 2021.
Fernandez, Bernard. "McGirt Provides Felt Forum with Perfect Send-Off." Philadelphia Daily News. Aug. 28, 1989.
Matthews, Wallace. "McGirt Wins After `Breather' Easily beats Jacobs after sluggish showing in 8th round." Newsday. Aug, 28, 1989.
"McGirt wins decision over Jacobs in substitute bout." Houston Chronicle. Aug. 28, 1989.
Shulman, Arlene. "McGrirt Outpoints Jacobs as Forum Shuts for Two Years." New York Times. Aug. 28, 1989.
Songalia, Ryan. "The Biddy McGirt Chronicles." The Ring.
The Associated Press. Scot Welcomes Chance at McGirt." Newsday. Aug. 27, 1989.
Wainwright, Anson. "Best I Faced: Buddy McGirt" The Ring.

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