Although he continues to box under the nom de guerre ‘Ireland’s John Duddy,’ Irish Ropes matchmaker Jim Borzell sees signs that the undefeated middleweight from Derry is fast becoming “a multi-ethnic phenomenon.”

“From his earliest fights there’s always be a strong Irish contingent, and you’d see them dancing in the aisles, doing the wave, singing and chanting their football slogans,” noted Borzell. “Then as he kept winning I’d notice a few black guys joining in, then some Hispanics, and New Yorkers from other backgrounds.”

“It’s been a fantastic response,” said Duddy 15-0 with 13 knockouts, who will headline Irish Ropes’ March 16 promotion at the Madison Square Garden Theatre against North Dakotan Shelby Pudwill. “Since my first fight here two years ago the Irish reaction has been great. I think that when they see one of their own trying to get ahead in life they come out in numbers to support us.”

When the St. Patricks card was originally envisioned back in November, the word was that Duddy would be facing Mexican veteran Juan Ramon (Yory Boy) Campas. The promoters appear to have lowered their sights a bit in opting for Pudwill, but any disappointment didn’t translate into lost ticket revenues. The suspicion is that Duddy could have sold out the 5,038-seat Theatre fighting almost anyone. “I think all boxing fans tend to like an action style,” said the headliner. “But you’re going to see more to John Duddy than just a fighting slugger. I think I’ve showed that improvement over my last few fights.”

A professional since the age of 19, Pudwill is 21-2-1, but has never before fought east of the Mississippi, and Duddy will be just the fifth opponent with a winning record the North Dakotan has faced.

Five of Pudwill’s victims were winless when he met them, and three of those never won a fight against anybody, before or since.

Among these luminaries were the wonderfully-named Delbert Chasinghawk (0-4) and Brandon Busse (0-2), who Shelby outpointed two years ago in a Minnesota 4-rounder otherwise noteworthy for the identity of the referee – Don Elbaum.

The overall record of his 24 foes at the time he fought them was 139-224-17, and even that is somewhat misleading, since over one-third of the aggregate victories of his opposition were owned by one man – Craig Houk, who was 55-26 when Puddy stopped him back in 1996.

For obvious reasons, there isn’t much of a videotape library of Pudwill’s previous fights available for Duddy to study, but, said the Irishman, “I’ll see enough of him Thursday night.

“I think I might have seen his brother (Tocker Pudwill) when he fought (Joe) Calzaghe,” added Duddy.

You know: If you’ve seen one Pudwill, you’ve seen them all.

Duddy recalled having fought at the Garden ten months ago, when he outpointed Patrick Thompson on the undercard of Miguel Cotto’s TKO win over Mohamed Abdullaev. The card was designed to coincide with New York’s Puerto Rican Day parade. It was one of just two Duddy fights to have gone the distance.

“There were a lot of Irish there that night as well, and I was thinking ‘I’m finally here, in Madison Square Garden,’” remembered Duddy. “Little did I realize that less than a year later I’d actually be back there headlining a show. Even though it’s not in the big arena, it’s as good as in my book.”

The March 16 Duddy-and-Puddy show was originally entitled – and had been already been billed for almost two months as – the “Shamrock Express,” but a couple of weeks ago Irish Ropes announced that it was changing the name of its St. Patrick’s Day card to the somewhat less imaginative “Irish Express,” ostensibly out of respect to the late New Jersey super-middleweight Chris Reid, who died in 2001.

Thousands of posters and flyers suddenly became collector’s items.

We supposed that the switch came in response to some external pressure, and, as it turned out, we supposed right.

Chris Reid’s family – specifically, his sister Maureen, a New Jersey attorney who practices in Manhattan – had objected, claiming that by calling the card ‘The Shamrock Express’ the promoters were attempting to “profit off the name” of the deceased boxer.

This struck us as somewhat oversensitive, and more than slightly absurd. Were they suggesting that his surviving supporters might be led to believe Chris Reid himself was going to appear at the Madison Square Garden Theatre Thursday night? (Come to think of it, some of them might.)

It was, if you ask us, all pretty silly. It wasn’t as if Chris Reid ever actually owned the moniker, anyway. In fact, Shea Neary, the then-undefeated British junior welterweight knocked out by Micky Ward in their 2000 London fight, boxed under the name Shamrock Express throughout his career without threat of litigation from Ms. Reid.

The world, in fact, seems to be literally teeming with Shamrock Expresses.

There’s a thoroughbred racehorse in Australia called Shamrock Express, and the horse shares the name with an Irish pub in Chicago, with a type of sport fishing boat, and with a delivery service in Des Moines. The high-speed train which whisked Irish soccer fans around Japan during the 2002 World Cup was called the Shamrock Express. There’s also a Shamrock Express bus line which carries passengers between Denver’s International Airport and Cheyenne, Wyoming. There’s even a fuzzy little stuffed children’s toy train called the Shamrock Express.

Since nobody made any of them change their names, we couldn’t help but wonder why Irish Ropes knuckled under in this instance. Turns out they didn’t. The Garden did.

The McLoughlin Brothers were inclined not to budge, but in the face of Attorney Reid’s threats, MSG officials caved in. Hence the name change, although no one appears to have been dispatched to confiscate all those ‘Shamrock Express’ posters that were still hanging in Irish saloons from the Bronx to Staten Island this week.

Thursday’s card represents Irish Ropes’ promotional debut, and the Theatre was sold out a week ahead of time. Boxing fans who weren’t able to secure tickets will get their chance to watch the show a night later, when it will air on the MSG network, with Sean O’Grady performing blow-by-blow duty and the aforementioned Micky Ward serving as the color analyst.

It marks the first time since Kevin Kelley-Adolfo Castillo in 1993 that MSG has produced its own in-house telecast.

Duddy’s fight against Pudwill, incidentally, will be a ‘title’ bout of sorts, in that the vacant Continental Americas Middleweight Championship will be up for grabs. Duddy seems properly amused, and readily concedes that as a boy back in Ireland he didn’t spend much time dreaming about becoming an intergalactic champion. Asked if he could name the last previous holder of the coveted title he finds himself fighting for, he couldn’t – and neither could anyone else in the room.

“Who cares?” asked Duddy, sensibly. “The title means nothing, only the man who wins it.”

The Irish Ropes people plan to keep Duddy busy, with a ‘breather’ fight in April (though it’s hard to imagine an opponent who could be more of a breather than Shelby Pudwill), followed by a June bout against more substantial opposition. The latter will probably take place on the June 10 Cotto-Paulie Malignaggi card in the MSG main arena, but there is also the possibility that Duddy could wind up fighting for the first time as a pro back in Ireland that month.

“I think I’m more famous there now that I’m living out of Ireland than I was when I was there,” said Duddy, a former All-Ireland amateur champion. “It’s like everything else: The world seems to revolve around New York City – and people here have taken to me kindly. As the pieces to the puzzle have been put together, the picture’s getting bigger and a lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon.”

Duddy was the most prominent of four undefeated boxers who will perform on the MSG card trotted out by Irish Ropes for a lunchtime tête-à-tête with the press at Jack Dempsey’s midtown saloon a week in advance of the festivities.

Duddy’s stablemate and frequent sparring partner, light middleweight James Moore, will also be in action Thursday night. Moore, described by Eddie McLoughlin as “one of the most decorated boxers ever to come out of Ireland,” is 3-0 as a pro and will be facing 9-2-2 Georgian Jose Felix.

Moore, who was briefly sidelined by a rib injury incurred during a sparring session with Duddy, said last week that he’d been preparing for his March fight since the first of the year.

“I’ve been sweating buckets,” said Moore, who seems to be enjoying his time away from the spotlight and doesn’t begrudge Duddy the limelight in the least.

As he pointed out at the New York press conference, for the last few years of Moore’s amateur career he was the captain of the Irish national team and in that role was expected to be a spokesman. He seems more comfortable in the background, (“it’s been like a weight off my shoulders”), but Borzell cautioned that the next few months are likely to see Moore considerably more active than Duddy.

Unbeaten Maureen Shea, who less than a year ago was fighting in the women’s Golden Gloves finals in the Garden, will be back again as a pro on the March 16 card. Shea, undefeated at 4-0.

“My father is Irish and my mother is Mexican,” said Shea, who lives in the Bronx. People hear about my background and say, ‘Well, you can either drink us under the table or you can fight. I choose the fighting.”

The fourth participant on hand at Jack Dempsey’s last week was Boston-based James Clancy, the onetime all-Ireland heavyweight champion from Ennis in County Clare, who as an amateur defeated, among others, Kevin McBride.

Clancy, 6-0 as a pro, will be opposed by Mitchell Rose, who enjoyed his six minutes of fame eleven years ago when he stopped Eric (Butterbean) Esch on the undercard of Oscar De La Hoya-Jesse James Leija in the Garden’s main arena. Rose was 26 years old and 1-7-1 when he became the first man ever to beat Butterbean, a miscalculation that almost cost then-Top Rank matchmaker Ron Katz his job.

Borzell probably doesn’t have to worry about his. Now 37, Rose is 2-9-2, and a decade of inactivity may be the least of his worries: On that night back in 1995 Mitch might have been better than Butterbean. Now he’s just bigger than Butterbean.

Although he wasn’t present at last week’s lunchtime gathering, Matthew Macklin, the Birmingham-based middleweight who claims the Irish 160-pound title, will also box on the card. A possible future Duddy foe, Macklin (16-1) will fight Don Turner-trained Georgian Chris Troupe (10-4) in the 10-round co-feature.

“It’s going to be a great night,” promised Duddy. “I think it’s going to be a time when we’re finally going to be taken serious.”

(To see the video of the John Duddy press conference)