John Duddy, the popular New York-based middleweight from Ireland who was the personification of a boxing blood-and-guts warrior, abruptly announced his retirement on Tuesday.
What makes the move so surprising is that Duddy had recently returned to training after agreeing to face Andy Lee on March 12 on an HBO undercard at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Uncasville, Conn., in an all-Irish fight on St. Patrick's Day weekend.
Duddy, 31, who had not yet signed a contract for the fight, would have earned a $100,000 purse plus a percentage of tickets he sold.
"After a great deal of soul-searching, I have decided to retire from boxing," Duddy said in a statement. "In many ways, continuing to fight would be the easy course of action. I have been offered the opportunity to fight Andy Lee on HBO for a purse in excess of $100,000. A win would put me in position to fight for a world championship. This is not an opportunity that I cast aside lightly.
"I started watching my father train in the gym when I was five years old. I began fighting competitively at age 10. For more than 20 years, I loved being a boxer. I still feel that it's an enormous honor to be a boxer. But I don't love it anymore. I no longer have the enthusiasm and willingness to make the sacrifices that are necessary to honor the craft of prizefighting. I used to love going to the gym. Now it's a chore. I wish I still had the hunger, but I don't. The fire has burned out. And I know myself well enough to know that it won't return."
Duddy (29-2, 18 KOs) became an enormously popular fighter in New York, where he drew thousands of fans, especially Irish fans, to his fights at Madison Square Garden because of his all-action style. He was the kind of fighter who would take three punches to land one. He engaged in several slugfests and bled on a regular basis.
The biggest fight of Duddy's career came in his final bout last June, when he lost a 12-round decision to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in a hard-hitting pay-per-view headliner in San Antonio.
Duddy's unanimous decision win against former junior middleweight titlist Yory Boy Campas in September 2006 was one of the most brutal and action-packed fights in recent years.
In 2008, Duddy was a leading candidate to land a shot at then-middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, but he was badly cut in a tune-up fight against Walid Smichet at Madison Square Garden. Even though Duddy won the fight on a majority decision, he did not perform well and suffered cuts severe enough to keep him out of action for several months, and he lost out on the title opportunity.
Not long after that Duddy had a falling out with Irish Ropes promoter Eddie McLoughlin and his manager, Tony McLoughlin, Eddie's brother. Duddy sued, claiming that Tony McLoughlin had breached his fiduciary duty to him and that Eddie McLoughlin had cheated him out of money due to him on several bouts.
Duddy turned to veteran manager Craig Hamilton to help him sort things out and they eventually settled with the McLoughlins.
Hamilton said Duddy first broached the idea of retirement to him a couple of months ago.
"We had talked about this at the end of last year," Hamilton said. "We had a conversation about this and I said, 'Look, if you want to retire be aware that if you do it, you will be leaving some good fights and money on the table and I don't want you to do it and then say, 'I made a mistake.' I said that to him again [Tuesday]. I said, 'Before you do anything, I just want you to be certain in your heart and head. Andy Lee is a winnable fight and a victory over Andy Lee would lead you into a title shot and you'd get paid a lot of money.' I didn't want him to come back three years down the road and say, 'what if?' He made his decision.
"I would hope he never comes back because to leave with opportunities in front of you, they won't be there when you come back."
The fight with Lee (24-1, 18 KOs), a 2004 Irish Olympian, was a chance to get back on the winning track, and might have propelled the winner into a possible title shot against champion Sergio Martinez, the 2010 fighter of the year who is slated to headline the card against junior middleweight titlist Sergei Dzinziruk, although the deal is not done yet. But Duddy decided to leave that opportunity behind.
"It would be unfair to my fans, my trainer and manager, and everyone else involved in the promotion of my fights for me to continue boxing when I know that my heart isn't in it," Duddy said. "I've always given 100 percent in the gym and in my fights. I have too much respect for boxing and the people around me to continue fighting when I know that I can't do that anymore.
"I haven't accomplished everything that I wanted to achieve in boxing. But I've had a rewarding career. I've enjoyed the satisfaction of winning 29 professional fights and learned lessons from my two losses. I've experienced the thrill of fighting in Madison Square Garden, Cowboys Stadium, and, also, my beloved Ireland with crowds cheering for me. I look forward to finding future challenges that bring as much passion and joy into my life as boxing has over the past 20 years."
Lou DiBella, Martinez's promoter who is putting on the March 12 card, has known Duddy for years. Initially, he was upset with the out-of-nowhere news of Duddy's retirement, especially after such a tough negotiation with HBO to get the network to agree to buy Lee-Duddy.
However, DiBella said he soon realized Duddy had done the right thing.
"As someone who has been Duddy's friend for a long time I respect his decision," DiBella said. "A lot of lesser men would have perpetrated a fraud on HBO and the public by showing up without any passion or fire, taking the paycheck and then quitting. I think on one hand it's upsetting that it went down this way, but on the other hand, I believe him that he's genuinely retired and there's a great honesty in what he did that I can't criticize. If the fighter knows he doesn't have it, he has to get out of the business. He has my best wishes and my respect."
DiBella said he was speaking to HBO about a replacement opponent for Lee. He said he would like for it to be Peter Manfredo Jr. of Providence, R.I., whom DiBella promotes. Manfredo (37-6, 20 KOs), best known for his stint on the first season of "The Contender" reality series and a 2007 knockout loss to Joe Calzaghe in a super middleweight title bout, fought last week. He scored a unanimous decision win against Daniel Edouard in an action-packed "Friday Night Fights" main event on ESPN2.
Another possibility is Craig McEwan (19-0, 10 KOs), a native of Scotland living in Los Angeles. DiBella said he contacted Golden Boy, McEwan's promoter, about the fight and there was interest. DiBella said he still had to talk to HBO about it.
Duddy grew up idolizing former featherweight champion and Hall of Famer Barry McGuigan and said he thought about a quote from him when he made his decision to retire.
"His photograph was one of the first things that visitors saw when entering our home in Derry," Duddy said. "He had [a] great influence on me when I was a boy. Barry McGuigan once said, 'Fighters are the first people to know when they should retire and the last to admit it.' I know that it's time for me to retire from boxing, and I'm admitting it.
"I'm fortunate to have had the support of many good people throughout my career. To my fans, to the people in the boxing business who have been part of my team over the years, and most of all, to my wife Grainne and the rest of my family, thank you for your love and support. I give you my word -- I will not come back."
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.