"I've been waiting for that bright sunshine to show up and shine in my backdoor someday." --Luther Allison
Buddy McGirt has certainly enjoyed his share of sunny days, far more than most who toil in boxing's meat grinder. Even so, for more than two decades he yearned to bask in the light that turns heroes into legends.
He'd been marooned in a "Waiting for Godot" scenario, but unlike for the two main characters in Samuel Beckett's play, the moment McGirt had been waiting for finally arrived.
He'd just walked in his front door when the telephone rang. It was International Boxing Hall of Fame executive director Edward Brophy, calling to inform McGirt that he had been elected to the 2019 class of inductees.
"I started crying like a baby," McGirt said. "I'd given up hope. People would tell me my name was on the ballot, but I didn't want to think about it anymore."
It has been 22 years since the former two-division world titleholder had his final fight, in January 1997. Since then, McGirt has become one of boxing most successful trainers, with a lengthy list of titleholders and world-class boxers to his credit. He has earned more money as a trainer than as a boxer, but that didn't take away the sting from being overlooked for accomplishments inside the ring.
A fighter is always a fighter. The pride McGirt feels for bringing out the best in boxers he's trained is not the same as the pride he feels about his own fighting career. That's closer to the bone.
McGirt grew up in Brentwood, New York, a hardscrabble town on Long Island, 40 miles east of Manhattan. After a relatively brief amateur career, he turned pro on March 2, 1982. The decision was more a matter of necessity than choice.
"My father had just passed away, my girlfriend was pregnant and her father had kicked her out of the house," McGirt said. "What else could I do? I thought I was going to get rich."
There was no Olympic gold medal or media hype to boost McGirt's debut. It was as blue-collar as it gets. He was paid $200 for fighting a four-round draw with Lamont Haithcoach. The bout took place in North Bergen, New Jersey, at Embassy Hall, an old movie theater that hosted bingo every week and boxing once a month.
His journey from that inauspicious start to the International Boxing Hall of Fame is a typical boxing story, a life of high highs and low lows, good breaks and bad. McGirt, however, is one of boxing's rare happy endings. At age 55, he's been training fighters for more years than he fought. He's still in boxing's spotlight, just not center stage, off to one side a bit.
During his 15 years in the ring, McGirt accumulated an admirable record of 73-6-1 with 48 KOs. But numbers seldom tell the whole story. The truth is found in the person behind the numbers.
Even when he was a preliminary fighter, McGirt stood out among the throng of similar aspirants, and it wasn't just for his boxing ability. He always wore short blue trunks, trimmed in white, and white knee-high sweat socks. That style probably won't be coming back anytime soon, but Buddy stuck with it throughout his career. You could pick him out from the back of the arena.
McGirt was a well-schooled technician, a thinking counterpuncher with a fast left hook. Although footwork was integral to his style, he wasn't a runner, and when the time was ripe, power punches flashed with accuracy. He was crafty, difficult to hit and had a good chin, the sort of boxer built to last.
Even so, the human body can take only so much, and after more than 60 pro bouts, the relentless grind caught up with him. McGirt was still on the ascent when he suffered a shoulder injury, which to a large extent defined his career from that point on.
By then McGirt had already won and lost the IBF junior welterweight title, moved up to welterweight and captured the WBC belt with a one-sided, 12-round decision over dangerous Simon Brown on Nov. 29, 1991. It was arguably the best performance of McGirt's career.
"I was on a mission," McGirt said. "I did a lot of talking to [trainer] Eddie Futch. He used to sit and watch me every day and whisper little things in my ear. I always respected the older guys like Eddie and [former boxer and trainer] Georgie Benton, and I picked their brains every time I could. Benton told me that if he had trained me, I would have been undefeated."
Maybe things would have been different if Benton had worked with him in an official capacity. But when McGirt hurt his shoulder, it was a training accident, the bane of athletes of all kinds and usually nobody's fault. It comes with the territory.
The timing couldn't have been worse. He had a date with former four-division world titleholder Pernell Whitaker at Madison Square Garden, his best payday to date and an opportunity to become one of boxing's biggest stars. But fighting Whitaker with a bum shoulder was like a soldier going into battle with a rifle prone to misfire. McGirt's body had betrayed him at the worst possible time.
"I was sparring and felt something snap in my left shoulder," McGirt said. "My manager, Al Certo, took me to a couple of doctors, who said it was tendinitis. But I'd had tendinitis before, and this wasn't no damned tendinitis."
According to McGirt, Certo knew it wasn't tendinitis but didn't say anything. The doctor allegedly told Certo it was a career-ending injury and that Buddy should get the money while he could, because he wouldn't be able to fight anymore.
"We were entering the Lincoln Tunnel on our way to the weigh-in, and Al said, 'If you want to pull out of the fight, you can.' But the purse was a million dollars, so I went through with it."
Although he was virtually a one-armed fighter when he fought Whitaker on March 6, 1993, McGirt did surprisingly well. Not well enough to win, but well enough to make you wonder how a two-armed McGirt would have fared. Nonetheless, the bottom line was that Whitaker won a unanimous decision and walked away with Buddy's belt.
An MRI revealed a torn rotator cuff, and McGirt underwent surgery to repair it shortly after the Whitaker fight. Unfortunately for McGirt, like a baseball pitcher who has the same operation and loses a few mph off his fastball, he was never quite the same again.
"The doctor said my shoulder looked like I had taken a 20-foot fall and landed on it," McGirt told the dailypress.com.
"I didn't even know if I could box again."
But box again he did.
Back when he was a kid and people told the 5-foot-6 McGirt he was too small to be a boxer, he worked even harder to prove them wrong. It's a common trait among successful people. They refuse to give up. Less than eight months after the Whitaker fight, McGirt was back in the ring.
He was still a world-class fighter but not quite what he had been, and he would never reach those heights again. That he did as well as he did, for as long as he did, was a tribute to his tenacity and professionalism.
McGirt fought until January 1997, making decent money and losing another decision to Whitaker along the way. It eventually became a case of diminishing returns, and by the time Andrew Council stopped him in September 1995, Buddy was finished as a world-class boxer. His final bout was a unanimous-decision loss to former sparring partner Darren Maciunski.
All those hours of listening to the wisdom of Futch, Benton and other wise old heads helped McGirt segue smoothly into his new role as trainer. He was a natural, a student of the game from the start, just as interested in figuring out the best way to get the job done as doing it.
His first break was a last-minute assignment, a mission impossible that smelled of desperation. McGirt had five days to get Byron Mitchell ready for a super middleweight title fight against Manny Siaca at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on March 3, 2001.
When Mitchell failed to throw punches, McGirt threatened to go back to the dressing room if the fighter didn't let his hands go.
"I was getting up to walk to the dressing room, and he looked at me," McGirt said. "With just a few seconds left in the fight, he threw a double left hook and knocked Siaca cold.
"Don King called me a resurrector."
It was, of course, his role as Arturo Gatti's trainer during the unforgettable trilogy with Micky Ward that firmly established McGirt as one of boxing's finest coaches. The Boxing Writers Association of America and The Ring magazine awarded him trainer-of-the-year honors in 2002.
The counterweight to the joy of 2002 came seven years later. The good times never last in boxing. It's one of the few things you can count on.
July 2009 was a gut-wrenching time. Death stalked boxing, its scythe cutting down a trio of the best in less than a month. First, three-division world titlist Alexis Arguello took his own life, or so the Nicaraguan government claimed. Next, Gatti was either murdered or killed himself while on vacation with his wife, Amanda Rodrigues, in her native Brazil. Two weeks later, former two-division world champion Vernon Forrest was shot and killed during an attempted robbery at a gas station in Atlanta. The deaths of Gatti and Forrest were particularly heartbreaking for McGirt, who had trained them both.
"Gatti was a character. We had a lot of fun in the gym. He loved playing jokes on people," McGirt said. "You've heard of blood and guts. Arturo was blood and nuts. He put his nuts on the line every time. As far as his death is concerned, all I can say is that only three people know what happened that night: Arturo, his wife and God."
McGirt, who trained Forrest for the final four fights of his career, was stunned when the former welterweight world titleholder and junior middleweight titlist was murdered.
"I never thought Vernon would die like that," McGirt said. "He wasn't a street type of guy. That's what hurts so much."
McGirt's laid-back personality defies his no-nonsense attitude as a trainer. He seems to have the knack of being both one of the guys and an authority figure, more like a big brother than a drill sergeant. He believes in enhancing what a boxer can do rather then changing him.
"A lot of fighters, when they become trainers, expect the fighter to fight like them," McGirt said. "But you have to see what you're working with, what he can do and what he can't do. Not everybody can do everything. You've got to get the best out of him. It's not easy."
McGirt's reputation as a resurrector continues. He took over training Sergey Kovalev after Eleider Alvarez knocked out the former light heavyweight titleholder in August 2018. Instead of swinging for a knockout in the February rematch, the "Krusher" boxed his way to a unanimous 12-round decision victory, using skills he always had but had abandoned in search of knockouts.
In a surprising turn of events, McGirt's son, Buddy Jr., is scheduled to box David Papot at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York, on Friday, as part of Induction Weekend festivities. Buddy Jr., who turned pro in January 2004, has fought only sporadically in recent years.
"I found out about it a week ago," McGirt said in late May. "At this point, I feel my son should not be fighting. I believe that the certain fire you need to be a fighter isn't there anymore. He's a family man now.
"I wish him well. He's my son, and I love him. I'm not going to be in the corner, but I'm going to be there, and if things don't look right, I'll be up on the ring apron."
Even if it rains in Canastota on Induction Weekend, as it has been known to do, Buddy McGirt's "someday" will have come. When he slips the Hall of Fame ring on his finger at Sunday's induction ceremony, the wait will have been worth it. The little kid from Brentwood who was supposed to be too small to box will step into that singular spotlight that has eluded him for so long.