Buddy McGirt: ‘It looked like someone had put a hand grenade in my shoulder and it had exploded’

Before he became one of the best trainers in the world, Buddy McGirt was one of the best fighters in the world

“My real name is James Walter McGirt. Instead of ‘Friends’, my son called me JW and my brother called me JW. My mother, though, started it. They picked it up from her. When I was a kid and she said ‘JW’ that meant I was about to get fired. my ass.

The first pro fight, in 1982, ended in a draw. I was still in high school and went to school that day. My boss picked me up and took me to the show. When I got into the ring the referee touched me to see if I was wearing a cup but all I had was a little jockstrap. He said, “Those are the pluses. You can’t wear that.”

I had to go in the back and grab a glass from someone. Then I came back to the ring and I looked across the ring and when this guy took off his robe I was like, ‘Damn! It was huge. This is not the guy you saw in Libra yesterday. I said to myself, “My friend, you have to break.” And that’s what I did. There was no boxing. Don’t spot and move. We went to war for four rounds and I was happy with the checkout and the two hundred bucks I got for it.

My first pro loss and first big lesson came four years later against Frankie Warren. The loss helped me become a better fighter. I would kick everyone out, play them all over, and then, when I met him, it just didn’t happen.

When I burned him in July 1986 I walked from the place to my hotel. It was like walking a mile. not far away. But I wanted to walk it. I told my family and everyone else, “No, I want to walk alone.”

I walked from the place to the hotel and when I got to the hotel I told my manager, “Hey, when we get home, I’m going to need you to fight me.” He said: What are you talking about? I said, “I have to erase this loss. I have to come back with a win.” He called me crazy but I told him I wanted to fight. I said, “I can’t walk around knowing I lost my last fight.” So, two months later, she fought against Sol Mambi, the former world champion.

That Warren fight made me a much better fighter. I was feeling pretty good about my career and that stopped in the first round of fighting Warren when he fell on my ass. I was totally disoriented?” It took me four or five rounds to figure it out. I was like, “What the hell is going on here, man?” This guy was hitting me on my knees and everywhere else. By the time I started figuring it out, he was It’s too late.

But listen, I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I guess if I had fired him, I would have never known I had so many tweaks to make in my style. I thought I could fire everyone.

Regarding the Frankie Warren rematch, which took place in 1988, I will present it to you as follows: After the third round I don’t remember anything. I mentally went to an area that took me about a day to get out of. The ring felt like I was in a phone booth. It made her feel that way. But at the end of the first round, I know I hurt him with his right hand. I made contact with my right hand and his knee was almost touching the cloth. I said to myself, “We’ve got it, but it’s not going to be easy.” I was shooting all cylinders that day and I had to be. It was not an easy battle. It has become tougher and stricter. I knew I had to go into a certain area mentally to get past it.

I put myself in that state of mind. Even before the fight, I was like, “My friend, we need to get into that area. Don’t watch the ring card girls to see what’s round.” It was scheduled for 15 rounds, so I said, “We just have to go out and put it to the test.”

I was in a high mental state after that win but didn’t really get the chance to enjoy being world champion the first time around. I guess I’ve been in that area for a while and the truth didn’t materialize until I lost the title. Then the reality shocked me.

When I was at boot camp, I said, “These guys are going to respect me now because I’m a champion.” But they were kicking my ass. I was like, “Come on, my friend, that’s not in the script.”

In my first title defense, I fought Howard Davis, may God save him, and stopped him in the first round. I thought I couldn’t stop. Then I got my ass hit by Mildrick Taylor and the reality hit me. He was very talented and very fast.

When I got my second world title, I really appreciated it. I didn’t take it for granted the second time around. I just knew in my heart that night that Simon Brown wouldn’t beat me. I would fight and beat anyone that night. I say it because my mother gave me a look before the fight and I will never forget her. After that look, I turned and looked at Simon Brown and said, “I’m going to kick your ass.”

Nobody stopped me that night. That night I put it all together. It’s crazy, of all the fights I’ve ever had, there have only been two murders in which I have heard my mother’s voice. That was in a title fight with Frankie Warren and a title fight with Simon Brown. It’s the only times I’ve heard her voice when I’m fighting. I never heard her voice again. When I heard her say “Come on, JW!” I turned to her and winked to let her know I was okay. In Simon Brown’s fight, I had my back to her and she said, “Throw a mix to tell me you’re okay,” and I threw a quick mix and didn’t hear her anymore. This is something I will never forget.

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She was proud of me and I think this was my most satisfying moment, watching her enjoy my success. People will ask me if I’m happy being the world champion and I’ll say, “Yeah, I’m happy, but I’m much happier about the fact that my mother is happy.” When I became a heroine, people always stopped at home and she was always entertaining people. I used to look at the expression on her face when she was doing this and that was where I felt good.

For a Pernell Whitaker fight, in 1993, I was in a situation where Madison Square Garden, who was my promoter, watched all of their top fighters lose and I was coming back from an arm injury. If I lost, they would have stopped boxing in Madison Square Garden and the people in the boxing department would have lost their jobs. My fight was the day after Thanksgiving and one person called me on Thanksgiving to say, “My friend, I love my family, you have to win this fight tomorrow night.” I said, “Don’t worry about it. We got it.”

But ten days before the fight I got sick and had to stay in bed for three days. Everyone was in a panic but I told them not to worry. When that week began, I told them, “I get it.” When I saw my mother next, that was the key.

My first arm injury happened in 1990 and they told me I would never fight again. But I came back six months later and ended up hitting Simon Brown. Then I had my injury in December of ’92 and my boss took me to a doctor who said, after several checks, it was just tendinitis.

For the past 10 days when I’ve been training to fight Gennaro Leon, all I’ve done is shadowbox. I couldn’t hit the bag or do anything else. The doctor was giving me ultrasounds and all that, which I came to find out later was all bulls**t. I fought Leon and immediately I must fight Burnell. They took me to another doctor and he said it was just a tendinitis and they made me do rehab. But I was like, “That’s not right here.”

But I was in a crunch so I said, “Come on, my friend, we have to deal with tendinitis.”

Then the doctor took me to this room, pulled out an MRI scan, and the doctor pointed at all this white stuff and said it was tendinitis. I didn’t know what I was looking at. On the day of the Whitaker fight, the doctor called me and asked me to come to the hospital. Then he took me to the dressing room where the doctors change and gave me a bullet in the arm. He said, “This will help your tendinitis.” I said, “Okay, no problem.” Then I fight, and the next day Ross Greenberg, who was on HBO, called me and said he had a doctor in New York who wanted me to go see him. When I went to see him, I took my old MRIs and he looked at them and told me I needed surgery. He told me my rotator cuff was torn. He gave a press conference after the surgery, the doctor, and said that when he opened up to me, it looked like someone had put a grenade in my shoulder and it exploded. He said to me, “That’s it, James, your career is over.”

Now I’m starting to put two and two together. These people thought my career was over, so they were saying, “Get on payday.” But I had other plans. I was like, “F**k this, I’m going back to prove everyone wrong.” So, I busted my ass. This was in March. They said if I would fight again it would be in a year or I wouldn’t fight again. I fought in November. Within that year, Nick Roper, James Hughes and Livingston Bramble battled Kevin Pompey, Pat Coleman and Pernell Whitaker for the second time.

After hitting Pat Coleman, they told me, “You’ve got a rematch with Burnell,” and I sat in the locker room and started crying. My wife said to me, “What the hell are you crying?” I told her, “I did what they said I couldn’t do. I don’t want to fight anymore.” She said, “What?” I said, “I’m done. I did everything against odds. I proved everyone wrong.” She said, “Okay. Announce your retirement in that case.” I said, “Okay,” but instead I went home and soon after that I said, “I have to fight this fight again.” She said, “Why did the heart change?” I said, “It’s because a certain guy is sending me messages.” This guy was called Uncle Sam and he was saying to me, “You better fight this fight, man, because we need to talk about this money you owe.” Meanwhile, she filed a lawsuit against the doctors. That’s why I filed a statement and my dispatch was so good that the lawyers for the doctors I was suing said that if I wanted a job, I should call them. My attorney said to me, “My friend, if your manager comes and tells us the truth tomorrow, we’ll sue him for about $30 or $40 million. You’ll be a rich man. I said, ‘Wonderful.’ He’d go in there and tell the truth. But the guy didn’t, of course. He got in there and went against me. He went against me completely. That’s all they needed to hear. He said, “I told Buddy before the fight not to fight.” You know what he said to me, though? I’ll never forget her We were in the limo heading to the weigh-in before the fight and it was 10 at night in Manhattan. We were going through the Lincoln Tunnel and he said, “If you want to pull out now you can.” So I said, “Let me ask you something, champ. Why didn’t you say that to me two weeks ago? Why are you telling me now on the way to Libra? You know I can’t quit now. You do it on your conscience. You know my arm is obsessed. But that’s good.”

This was basically for me. After I fought Pat Coleman, the urge to fight left me. I just went through the motions after that.

It was rough for a few years. Uncle Sam will not rest. He won’t take his foot off my neck. He was putting a lot of heat on his brother. Thank God I met an accountant who was able to help me. But for years Uncle Sam wouldn’t let me breathe. At that time in my life everyone disappeared.

Retirement was the hardest thing I had to deal with in my life. At the time everything was going on around me – including that guy, my penman, who sent me those messages – and it was hard, trying to make this adjustment from fighter to trainer. When you walk into the gym, you’re not the “champion” anymore. You are only a “companion”. This is how they treat you. I was like: Wow. The crazy part is you look at some of these people and think, You’ve fed the families of these moms for years. I put food on their table. Now they look at me like the guy who showed up to clean the gym windows.

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