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The fog at 7 a.m. is rich and dense, and it beads like sweat on your upper lip. The gray light could be from a streetlamp or the lightening sky. Or even from the full moon, obscured by fog, that is hanging above the murky trees. Sean O'Grady, wearing a green sweat suit, starts his run through Oklahoma City's Will Rogers Park. With him is his brother-in-law Monte Masters, a 23-year-old heavyweight who is the opponent Joe Frazier has selected for his comeback fight. O'Grady is training for an Oct. 31 fight with Andrew Ganigan, who's replacing Howard Davis, the injured 1976 Olympic champion. O'Grady and Masters take quick, small steps. A lap through the park is 1.3 miles, and by the third lap the rising sun has become mired in the fog with the trees, moon and streetlamps. Only the runners seem to be moving. They slice through the fog, side by side, jostling each other like colts. Masters cuts a corner and sprints ahead.
"Cheaters never win and winners never cheat," O'Grady yells after him as he races to pull even. They are fit and the running is effortless. The company is good. There is privacy in the fog, and they like it.
A month earlier, in September, O'Grady had been on top of the world. He was then the WBA lightweight champion, and had a 74-2 record and an astounding 64 knockouts. He was the Cosmopolitan Bachelor of the Month for September; in the accompanying article, he said he'd like to meet a shy, conservative girl who relaly needs me. "Bashful bunnies" wrote to this "peachy pugilist" by the boxful. O'Grady received something like 10,000 letters, many of which contained photos that were anything but shy and conservative. Further, the 22-year-old O'Grady was a budding TV color man. He had done a series of fights for ESPN, and seven bouts for CBS in the past four months. O'Grady is polite, nice-looking and articulate and, on Good Morning America, host David Hartman made quite a bit of O'Grady's dream of becoming a brain surgeon. (The press constantly refers to O'Grady as an "honor student enrolled in premed at Oklahoma State University," although he hasn't attended college since 1979 and will be only a sophomore if he returns.) O'Grady has also been the subject of two songs and a biography humbly entitled Sean O'Grady, Living Legend, by a certain Champ Thomas. More on him in a moment. The final testament to O'Grady's burgeoning fame came when his logo—a battle tank made from the words Green Machine—was made into a limited edition belt buckle on which was embossed SEAN O'GRADY, WORLD CHAMPION. It sold in Oklahoma City for $19.95. Yep, things were looking rosy for O'Grady.
Until Sept. 12, when the WBA stripped him—or, more accurately, a New Jersey judge, Stanley S. Brotman, ordered the WBA to strip him—of his championship. The reason: O'Grady hadn't defended against the No. 1 contender, Claude Noel, by that date.
O'Grady's troubles with the WBA began last April, when Hilmer Kenty was the WBA lightweight champion and O'Grady had signed to fight him. Noel sued Kenty, the WBA and promoter Bob Arum, claiming that Noel, not O'Grady, was the No. 1 contender and therefore should get the title shot. Brotman ruled that the winner of the O'Grady-Kenty fight would have to defend against Noel in 90 days. When O'Grady upset Kenty, he had to fight Noel. That was fine with the O'Grady camp—O'Grady is managed by his mother, Jeanie, and trained by his father, Pat—but the judge also stipulated that Arum's Top Rank, Inc., would promote the O'Grady-Noel fight. Pat O'Grady, who exercises absolute rule over his son's life, didn't like that idea. He has another son, Michael Gass—Sean's half brother—who had just taken over the family promotional business, Starmaker, Inc., and naturally Pat wanted Starmaker to promote the bout. When Arum and Gass failed to come to terms, Pat O'Grady said there would be no fight. Sean was then stripped of the title he had worked seven years to win, had never defended and had held for all of five months.
"Sean may have been the victim," says one observer who knows father and son, "but his father was the victimizer. The ironic thing is that the feeling in the boxing world is that Sean would have beaten Noel, no problem."
That, says Pat O'Grady, wasn't the point. He says that Arum had promised to split the promotion with Starmaker and then went back on his word. Arum denies this. Pat sticks to his principles: "We turned down $250,000 to sign with Top Rank. I told them where they could shove their money. That's called guts. To buck the system takes guts. I fought in World War II and was wounded twice for the right to be free."
Pat O'Grady mentions his war record a lot. He was a Marine, enlisting with the help of a forged birth certificate when he was 15. He fought on Okinawa and Guadalcanal. Perhaps his anger comes from that experience. Or perhaps his gallstones, which have been bothering him of late. But there's a lot of anger inside him. He has been called many things over the years. Curmudgeon is as good a description as any.
When Dean Bailey, a writer for The Daily Oklahoman, referred to O'Grady as a curmudgeon a while back, he got a phone call from the O'Gradys' lawyer. "He told me I could call Pat anything I wanted, as long as Pat knew what it meant," says Bailey. "He'd had to look up 'curmudgeon.' " You could also call Pat a good, old-fashioned Oklahoma redneck. "I'm not afraid of anybody down at the gym," he says. "I've got two friends, Smith and Wesson, that can handle them all, and I'll pull the trigger on any of them."
Clearly, diplomacy isn't Pat's long suit. So the first thing he did when the WBA stripped Sean of his title was to form his own organization, the World Athletic Association. President? J.C. Thomas—a/k/a Champ—a boxing referee who doubled as Sean's biographer. Chairman of the Executive Committee? Michael Gass. Credentials Chairman? Pat O'Grady. The WAA says it now has members in 26 states and six countries, all of whom are either active boxing promoters or managers. But it has yet to be taken very seriously, and the Nevada boxing commission has refused to recognize it. "It's another phony organization, just like the WBA or WBC," says one boxing expert. "The question is, do you go with an established phony organization, or an unestablished phony one?"