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For the moment, Belfast forgot that it is a grim crone of a city where wary British soldiers with automatic rifles patrol gray streets, and where a terrorist's bomb or bullet might be only a breath away. The city sags heavily under sectarian siege, but in featherweight contender Barry McGuigan it has a hero both in Catholic Falls Road and Protestant Shankhill. It seems fitting that it takes a fighting man to make ancient foes lift a mutual pint of ale.
McGuigan put this strange truce to the test again last Saturday night in quaint King's Hall, and it survived, just as the little Irishman from Clones, County Monaghan, survived the snapping fists of Brooklyn belter Juan LaPorte, a recent WBC world featherweight champion.
"I had always wondered, if a world-class fighter hit me hard, could I cope?" McGuigan said.
As he spoke, the 24-year-old fighter, wrapped in a dull-red robe, was resting in his dressing room. A large plastic shoe bag filled with ice cubes was on his head, another lay on his chest and his face showed the wear of 10 rugged rounds of boxing. Losers are supposed to look like this, but McGuigan was no loser.
"I found out what you're supposed to do when they hit you," he said. He paused, as though about to reveal a secret. Then he smiled and continued. "You're supposed to hit them back. The way to do it is to come right back and hit hard."
McGuigan put that concept to sound use in the fifth round, and again in the ninth. In both rounds he caught right-hand rockets, and both times as LaPorte, 25, pressed his attack, McGuigan unsettled him with a digging hook to the ribs.
And both times, in the $11 seats in the balcony, the Odd Alliance of Protestants and Catholics began to chant, "Here we go. Here we go."
This was McGuigan's first venture into the crucible of top-class combat. His record was 24-1 (the defeat came in his third professional fight), with only three bouts going the distance. But his victims included such nonentities as Vernon Penprase, Felipe Orozco and Clyde Ruan, so there was some doubt as to McGuigan's talent.
One skeptic was Howie Albert, LaPorte's manager. "My only worry," he said, "is that they steal it from us. If this wasn't being shown on CBS, I wouldn't be in Belfast. If they steal it, the whole world is going to see it."
LaPorte laughed at that. "The only way they can steal it is if they run out and pick him up every time I knock him down."