2006-06-16 / Sports

Duddy,Cotto Too Powerful In MSG Victories

By Everett Fell

John Duddy (left) connects to the head of Freddy Cuevas at Madison Square Garden. Photo By Rich BogartBorriello Photography. John Duddy (left) connects to the head of Freddy Cuevas at Madison Square Garden. Photo By Rich BogartBorriello Photography. On a night with Puerto Rican flags blanketing the stands of Madison Square Garden in honor of a home-grown champion and on the eve of the nation's annual Manhattan parade, a Celtic fighter stepped into the ring with the crowd's intensity at its crescendo.

Irish John Duddy's status as a boxer cannot compare to that of WBO Welterweight Champion, Miguel Cotto's, but Saturday night, the Queens resident upstaged the headliner in terms of popularity.

Duddy, who holds the WBC Continental Americas Middleweight title, walked to the ring to battle his opponent, Freddy Cuevas, with an Irish flag draped over his shoulders and a large contingent of followers waving them in the stands.

Duddy's strong fan base carried over to the Puerto Rican fans who rooted for Duddy and mixed in chants of "Ole, Ole, Ole!..," sentiments usually reserved for soccer matches. Duddy, 26, fighting in green gloves and glittered trunks, enforced his will early with strong jabs as Cuevas appeared dazed on various instances. However, he did not appear to capitalize on his barrages with a knock-out punch.

"I wanted to show I have some hand speed," Duddy, who won his title with a first-round TKO on March 16, the day before St. Patrick's Day at the Theatre behind the Garden.

"This guy's been kicking me around in the gym," Duddy said in referring to trainer Harry Keitt's decision to rely heavily on his jab for this fight.

Duddy kept Cuevas in the center of the ring where he unleashed his jab on a consistent basis, leading to a TKO following the seventh round. Duddy (17-0, 15 KOs) said he was satisfied with the result and appeared unfazed after the bout despite withstanding a handful of flush shots in the later rounds.

The win might not elevate his position dramatically but the overwhelming fan support provides reason for local promoters to add Duddy to future championship cards.

"It's fantastic," Duddy said, "for a kid who came here two years ago I can call this my home."

Duddy's bout served as a stepping stone for his career with no apparent ill-will toward Cuevas, however, the main event came wrapped in animosity and resentment.

The champion Cotto called the contender, Brooklyn's Pauli Malignaggi, a ball-room fighter in the pre-fight press conference, four days before the event. Malignaggi defended himself as a credible fighter but could not abstain of choosing disparaging words toward Cotto, saying he was counting down the seconds until he could get his hands on him.

Words turned into actions quick, unfortunately, an unintentional headbutt led to a gash over Malignaggi's left eye in the first round. Cotto then dropped Malignaggi with a left hook in the second round. Malignaggi made the count but he might have been better off, at least physically, if he stayed down. Cotto wielded his will with punishing blows to Malignaggi's face while displaying patience and craft on defense.

Malignaggi entered the fight with a 21-0 record based primarily on speed as he has only five knock-out victories, yet he chose to stand straight with Cotto who won 22 of his previous 26 fights with knockouts.

Cotto continues to solidify his name as one of the premier younger boxers, but he might be forced to move up to 147-lbs. from 140-lbs. because of trouble making weight. Cotto, 25, breezed through the middle rounds without showing any wear while Malignaggi's face swelled behind a streak of blood. The end of the eighth round appeared the end the fight but the fight doctor gave Malignaggi, 25, the go-ahead to continue.

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