The truth, of course, is that McGuigan is what the gray and battered city of Belfast had longed for, for close to 20 years. You can dismiss as gimmickry his insistence on "neutral" colors—no Republican green or Protestant orange—for his trunks and the blue "flag of peace" he carries into the ring, with its vaguely U.N. design, incorporating a dove. But what can't be ignored is that McGuigan is one of the very few men for whom the red carpet would be rolled out as readily in Belfast's Protestant Shankhill as it would in that city's Catholic Falls Road section.
True, to get across the center of Belfast to the little gym that Eastwood has built for McGuigan on Castle Street, you'll have to pass through two police and two army checkpoints. But once inside, you'll find nobody who cares about your politics or religion—and that's very rare in Belfast these days.
Meantime, McGuigan's boxing development has proceeded apace. Once prone to throw low punches, he has changed his style. In January 1984, against Charm Chiteule of Zambia, he was warned frequently about throwing low blows, and he suffered an injury to his right eye. "As an amateur," McGuigan says, "I was strictly right hand and jab. I never had a hook and never threw combinations. Then, when I went pro and I was developing this left hook of mine, I tied the right hand to my side. In a fight, I tried to go left, left, left. As some of my opponents got tired, sweaty and slippy, my punches would glance off and land on the top edge of the cup. The referees would warn me a lot, but I've changed my delivery now."
Indeed, it was only three months after that labored win over Chiteule that McGuigan demonstrated to the world that he could handle the class of his division. He scored a seventh-round TKO over Jose Caba of the Dominican Republic, who six months earlier had gone the distance against Pedroza. "You're the real world champ," Caba told McGuigan later.
While taking a break from training not long ago, McGuigan visited his parents, Kate and Patrick, and grandfather, also Patrick, back at the old place in Clones. It's a granite block house connected with the grocery the family runs. It was in the store that young Barry started putting on some heft, lifting 50-pound sacks of potatoes with either hand.
In the whitewashed kitchen, where a panful of sausages sizzled on the stove, Barry's father played a videotape of the Caba fight, in which a left hook to the body was his son's bread and butter. Barry carefully explained the mechanics of the punch: "It has to be swept up in a half hook, half uppercut, and it has to land in the upper abdomen—that's an area of the body that can't be built up with muscle to a great extent. It also has to be thrown with one single motion, with the front knee bending and the whole weight of the body swung forward."
As a bombardment of those hooks to the body brings the Caba bout to an end, Barry's grandfather says, "That's how he does them all. In the body."
When Barry's father, absurdly young-looking at 48, isn't dispensing spuds and sprouts, he travels as lead singer with a pop group called the Big Four. You could have caught the combo last year in New York City, at the Cork Cabaret Lounge in Queens, or at the Fireside in the Bronx, or at The Real McCoy or Tom O'Reilly's in Manhattan. He dismisses his music lightly. "Middle-of-the-road Irish-American stuff," he says.
Which may not be a bad description of how American TV currently views Barry. "Boom Boom with a brogue!" said Tim Ryan of CBS on June 30, 1984, when McGuigan stopped Paul DeVorce of New York in the fifth round on U.S. network TV. It's plain that McGuigan is tailor-made for an Irish-American TV audience, just as Mancini is for Italian-American viewers.
"Barry's like a classic horse," Eastwood says. "Seven furlongs he went well, a mile he went well. But he's not been over the mile and a half yet. That's when you'll see the real feller. Nobody's seen the best of him yet, because he's never been off the bit."