Middleweight Shelby Pudwill, a native of Mandan, North Dakota, who now fights out of Las Vegas, is much too professional to believe that he had no chance of beating bomb-throwing New York favorite John Duddy on March 16.

Even though the odds were stacked against the 30-year-old, self-managed Pudwill, he had no hesitation about taking such a dangerous fight in his opponent’s adopted hometown.

Because he had a more than six weeks to train for the bout he fully expected to be the hardest of his career, Pudwill believed that there would actually be more pressure on Duddy than on himself.

Duddy, a native of Derry City, Ireland, who fights out of New York, was single-handedly responsible for selling out the 5,200 seat Madison Square Garden Theater on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day. If there were another 5,000 seats available, he would have sold them out too.

“I hear that he’s very aggressive and tries to take you out in the first couple of rounds,” Pudwill, who possesses a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Minot State University and is employed as a caseworker in a facility that places foster children, said at the weigh-in.

“I’ve prepared for whatever he does. I’ve fought in my hometown a lot, and that is pressure. All the pressure is on him, not me.”

Right up until the opening bell, Pudwill looked as calm as he did properly prepared. Duddy, who is tightly wound in the minutes before fights, did what he always does. Swarming Pudwill from the get-go, he quickly knocked him down three times.

At 1:31 of the first round, referee Wayne Kelly called a halt to the fight. Pudwill’s New York debut was a bust. Duddy improved his record to 16-0 (14 KOs), while Pudwill slipped top 21-3 (9 KOs).

“I honestly don’t understand what happened,” said the extremely articulate Pudwill as he munched on a chicken Caesar wrap and French fries at a Las Vegas coffee shop exactly one week after the bout.

“I was very confident going into the fight. I was not nervous and not intimidated. I’ve been around long enough to know that a guy with a 0-30 record can fight a guy who is 30-0 and knock him out.”

Pudwill had yet to see a tape of the fight, but believed that Duddy hit him on the temple with one of his vaunted left hooks.

“I got up but my legs were not cooperating,” said Pudwill. “I don’t think the second two knockdowns were from solid punches. I’m a solid fighter with a ton of heart, so the loss was difficult.”

Making the loss even more inexplicable is the fact that Pudwill comes from what is generally regarded as North Dakota’s first fighting family. His father, grandfather, and all of his uncles were boxers.

He and his older brother Tocker, who unsuccessfully challenged Sven Ottke and Joe Calzaghe for their super middleweight titles and also tangled with Vinny Paz, began boxing in their grandparents’ basement when they were barely out of diapers.

“I’ve only been stopped once as a pro,” said Pudwill, referring to a 2000 fourth round TKO loss to Carl Cockerham in North Dakota.

“I was ahead on the scorecards, but I couldn’t breathe after fracturing a rib. In that fight there was an explanation for why I lost. In this fight, I haven’t figured out how and why I lost yet. It was my time to shine, but nothing happened.”

Pudwill is much too emotionally stable to dwell on the loss for long. The day after the fight he and his brother toured New York. They visited Times Square where Shelby, who had been struggling to make weight for several weeks, bought a large bag of candy to munch on. During this interview, he savored the French fries he ordered in place of his usual salad.

They also viewed Ground Zero, went to the Statue of Liberty, and then took in a basketball game between the New York Knicks and the Detroit Pistons. A day and half after the fight, Pudwill returned to Las Vegas, which he has called home since January 2005.

What was most disappointing for him was the fact that he had moved to Sin City to renew his career, which was stagnating in North Dakota. While still at home, he barely missed being on the first season of “The Contender” television series, where it is hard to imagine he wouldn’t have emerged as a fan favorite.

He missed out on the second season when the producers opted to feature welterweights instead of middleweights.

Since the move he trains at Richard Steele’s Home Court Gym, but without a promoter or manager still finds it extremely difficult to get fights.

The only other fight he has had in that time span was a four-round decision victory over James Kitchen in Kinder, Louisiana, in May of last year. There have been many times where he and trainer Kenny Croon were at wit’s end.

“I have asked myself what I am doing in a sport that I am getting nothing out of,” admitted Pudwill. “I’m not making a living from boxing. Not even close.”

“Shelby is too good of a fighter to let this loss count him out,” added Croon. “Anyone can get stopped. Even Jack Dempsey got stopped.”

After 11 years as a pro, Pudwill is not ready to pack it in on a sour note. He was awaiting a visit from his parents, with whom he is very close, and together they will discuss his boxing future.

He is open to offers from managers and promoters. He, and everyone close to him, knows that the Pudwill who lost to Duddy is capable of much more than he showed on that unfortunate night in New York.

Asked if he believed Duddy was as good as his legions of supporters think he is, Pudwill was circumspect.

“It didn’t go long enough for me to determine if he is anything special,” said Pudwill. “I will continue to advance and I hope he continues to advance. I’d love to have a rematch, but I realize that is unlikely.

“I hope he turns out to be as good as everyone thinks. If he does, at least then I can say I lost a true world champion.”