For years, little Buddy McGirt sat in a tailor's shop in New Jersey and studied at the feet of boxing's greats. Last Friday night McGirt stood up in a ring in the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas and joined their ranks. Then, after a nearly flawless 12-round performance in which he wrested the WBC welterweight championship from a badly dehydrated Simon Brown, McGirt returned to his room at the Mirage and celebrated by taking a hot bath.
There was no music, no tinkle of ice against glass, only the soft voice of Gina Mendez, McGirt's girlfriend and the mother of his youngest daughter. "The days of victory parties are behind me," said the 27-year-old McGirt through the steam rising from the tub. "Now I'm just a little tired. I put my whole life on the line tonight. All the hard work, all the pain and frustrations, they were all there, and I made Brown pay for them. I loved it."
How Brown paid. Employing an ever-changing swirl of baffling head and body feints, McGirt dazzled Brown early, sliced open his right eyelid in the fourth round and dropped him with a classic straight right-left hook combination in the 10th. "I didn't even know I had been hit until I found myself on the floor," Brown told his trainer, Emile Griffith, at the end of the round. "What did he hit me with?"
"Everything," said Griffith.
For the 5'7" McGirt, the key tactic was constant movement, to make Brown reach with his vicious punches. But there was a psychological key too. "I've got to command his respect," said McGirt the night before the bout.
McGirt knew he had done that after the first six minutes of fighting. When the two men answered the opening bell, Brown refused to touch gloves with McGirt. However, when Brown came out for the third round, he extended his right hand. Ignoring the proffered glove, McGirt laughed and said, "Later, Bub."
"I knew I had his respect then," said McGirt afterward. He had gotten it by setting an exhausting pace, first moving in tight circles and then ducking in behind his leading left shoulder to get close, where he fired two- and three-punch combinations before spinning out of danger. "When I got inside, I just watched his arms," said McGirt. By doing that, he knew when Brown was going to unload a right uppercut or a hook.
Once inside, McGirt could push his supposedly stronger opponent just hard enough to keep him back on his heels. Willie Pep stuff. Only once, in the ninth round, did Brown catch McGirt with a hook before McGirt could get away. When the punch crashed against McGirt's head, the 5'9" champion paused, looking for his smaller rival to fall. The punch only made McGirt grimace in anger at himself for having made a mistake. Brown's look of anticipation switched to one of surprise.
McGirt's only other moment of apparent danger came in Round 8, when, with a minute to go, he spit out his mouthpiece. Exhausted fighters do that, hoping that without a mouthpiece they will be able to suck in more air. McGirt wasn't tired; rather, he had neglected to sip water during the rest period, and his mouth was cotton dry. With no mouthpiece, he was able to produce saliva.
Just before the bell ending the round, referee Mills Lane, acting in accordance with WBC rules, stopped the bout long enough to have McGirt replace the mouthpiece. "I don't believe this——," said promoter Don King, who had paid McGirt $700,000 to fight Brown. McGirt's take was that large because King also obtained options on McGirt's next four bouts. He will copromote them with Madison Square Garden, McGirt's promoter. Brown, who already had promotional ties with King, made $500,000.