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Buddy McGirt reflects on Brentwood as he heads into Boxing Hall of Fame

Brentwood's Buddy McGirt and Staten Island's Teddy Atlas talk about being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. (Credit: Newsday / Mario Gonzalez, Robert Cassidy)

CANASTOTA, N.Y. — When Buddy McGirt thinks back on his career, his mind races past the familiar boxing destinations — Madison Square Garden, Convention Hall in Atlantic City or The Mirage in Las Vegas. Instead, his mind goes back to where it all began — Brentwood.

He thinks of the Brentwood Recreation Center where he began boxing at the age of 12. He thinks of the older kids on the street corner who told him to stay out of trouble and in the gym. He thinks of the Brentwood Library, where he’d check out every boxing book on the shelves. And he thinks back to those same kids who later took the train into the Garden to watch him fight.

“It all started for me in Brentwood,” said McGirt, 55. “Everyone there was so important to me and stayed with me my whole career.”

On Sunday, McGirt will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in upstate Canastota. Joining McGirt in the class of 2019 are former welterweight champions Donald Curry and Tony DeMarco, former junior middleweight champion Julian Jackson and Staten Island trainer and ESPN broadcaster Teddy Atlas.

“This is a dream come true,” said McGirt. “I can’t believe the day is finally here. I am speechless right now. This is something words can’t explain.”

In 1988, McGirt became Long Island’s first boxing world champion when he stopped Frankie Warren in the 12th round to win the IBF super lightweight title in Corpus Christi. Three years later he became a two-division champion when he captured the WBC welterweight title over heavily favored champion Simon Brown in Las Vegas.

McGirt fought most of his professional career under the Madison Square Garden promotional banner. Atlas was in and around the gyms of New York during the prime of McGirt’s career.

“The first thing I have to say about Buddy is classy kid, I can’t start a conversation about Buddy without saying that,” Atlas said. “At the beginning, nobody was sure he was going to wind up becoming what he became. Except for him. Simon Brown was thought to be one of the top two or three fighters, pound-for-pound and Buddy did a complete job on him. I am glad he got this recognition because I thought Buddy was under appreciated. And he’s not any more.”

While McGirt’s career-defining win came against Brown, he beat numerous contenders and champions, including Howard Davis Jr., Saoul Mamby, Genaro Leon, Joe Manley and Patrizio Oliva.

The dominant win over Brown put McGirt onto the sport’s biggest stage and set up a 1993 showdown with unbeaten Olympic champion Pernell Whitaker. Although McGirt lost his WBC title, the fight is one of Buddy’s best performances. Fighting with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, McGirt lost by scores of 117-111, 115-113 and 115-114. Few at the time had held Whitaker to such close scorecards. 

“Buddy McGirt is a great fighter, a great champion,” said Ed Brophy, the Executive Director of the hall of fame. “But he’s one of those boxing personalities who could have been elected as a trainer too. He’s well respected around the world in every facet of boxing.”

McGirt retired in 1997 with a 73-6-1 record and 48 knockouts. He turned to working with young fighters and would train world champions Byron Mitchell, Vernon Forrest, Antonio Tarver and Arturo Gatti. He currently trains Sergey Kovalev.

“I am thrilled that my great trainer Buddy McGirt has gotten into the Hall of Fame,” said Tarver, who is on hand for the ceremony. “We both made each other better. He trusted the fighter. And I trusted him. Out of anybody, he was the best trainer in between rounds when you needed him the most. That one minute rest when you needed to regroup. When you needed someone to see the opening that maybe you didn’t see, Buddy was the best at that.”

When he was still active as a fighter, McGirt said he often spoke with legendary trainers — Eddie Futch, George Benton, Ray Arcel — and asked questions about techniques and strategies. He also consulted Al Certo, who trained and managed McGirt for his entire pro career.

‘What I learned most about that one minute between rounds is that you have to make that one minute feel like an hour,” McGirt said. “You have to be calm. The fighter gets all his energy from you. If you panic, the fighter will feel panic. That’s where you build that bond.”

Although McGirt moved to Vero Beach, Florida after his career, he says his thoughts this weekend are never far from Brentwood and those kids on the street corner.

“I wanted to be part of that crowd,” McGirt said. “But of all the kids on that corner, I’d be the only kid they’d make leave. They must of saw something in me. Half of them are gone now, they’ve died. I can’t thank them enough. My Brentwood fans, they showed me so much support.” 

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