NEW YORK – Things weren’t looking good for the home team Friday night after John Duddy found himself freely bleeding from a cut below his left eyebrow half a minute into the second round, and they were looking even worse two rounds later when an almost identical cut opened over his right eye.

As Duddy’s career steamrolled its way through America over the past couple of years, even his most ardent admirers found themselves wondering what was going to happen when the Irish middleweight found himself in a real fight with a dangerous opponent.

In the end he passed his examination with flying colors. It was a victory that owed as much to raw courage as to boxing skill, but when the final bell rang, Duddy was ahead on the scorecards of all three judges. Although he probably absorbed more punishment in this one than he had in his first seventeen combined, Duddy won a unanimous decision over former world champion Luis Ramon (Yory Boy) Campas in the main event of Irish Ropes’ ‘Shamrocks and Sombreros’ card at the Madison Square Garden Theatre Friday night to remain undefeated at 18-0 and send yet another sellout crowd home happy.

The card was co-promoted by Roberto Duran’s DRL, and the multinational character of the show meant that the audience had to endure three national anthems – Mexican, Irish, USA – on the trot before Duddy and Campas even got into the ring.

Duddy came out with both guns blazing, but the cut early in the second appeared to slow him down, and midway through that round he was rocked by a Campas left hook and appeared for an instant to be on the verge of going down.

“He hurt me there in the second round, but he never hurt me at all after that,” said Duddy.

The second appeared to be one-sided in Campas’ favor, but remarkably, Tom Kaczmarek – the judge who would favor Duddy by the widest margin in what otherwise appeared to be a very close fight – scored it for the Irishman.

Cutman George Mitchell went feverishly to work between rounds, and while he managed to stanch the flow of blood there wasn’t much he could do about a suddenly emboldened Campas.

As the Mexican pressed forward the shouts kept coming from the Duddy corner: Move to your right! Move your head! Keep your head up, John!

But barely a minute into the fourth, Duddy was cut again, and this time the blood was spreading across the other eye.

Mitchell surely earned Man of the Match honors in this one, because Duddy and Campas would fight for eight more rounds and neither cut was ever a factor.

Duddy said he wasn’t worried that the fight might be stopped.

“The only way they would have stopped it was if I stopped it myself,” he said.

Campas, on the other hand, said he was “surprised they didn’t stop the fight because of the cuts.

“And,” added Yory Boy, “I was even more surprised by the decision.”

Duddy had gone to the body effectively in the first round, but abandoned the tactic as he fought the next five in near-retreat, and never really got back to it.

“Harry (trainer Harry Keitt) is going to bust my balls over that in the coming weeks,” predicted Duddy.

Campas had held the edge over the first half of the bout, but with the seventh the pendulum swung back the other way. Duddy charged forward, spearing Campas with jabs and rocking him with the occasional hard right. Although Yory Boy, a veteran of nearly 100 professional bouts, continued to fight back, it was inexorably becoming Duddy’s fight.

Campas was warned by referee Hubert Earle in the eighth, and while the referee also admonished him for delivering a couple of well-placed backhands, the Mexican got away with it on several other occasions.

Duddy appeared to be genuinely impressed as the old master unveiled his bag of tricks.

“I can’t get over it,” he said afterward. “I was fighting Yory Boy Campas!

“I hit him with everything, but he wouldn’t go down,” marveled Duddy. “I really had my hands full because of his experience, but I never felt I was in trouble. I always felt I had enough left to get through the fight.”

By the twelfth – this one was for the coveted IBA title, hence a 12-round fight – it seemed clear even to Campas that Duddy had a nose in front, and the Mexican came out for the round as if the whole fight depended on it.

“His experience showed in that last round,” said Duddy. “He wouldn’t give up. I felt like I had to suck it up, but he caught me with some good body shots and he caught me with some head shots too.”

Campas won the final stanza on all three scorecards, but when the tallies were announced, Kaczmarek had it 117-111, Tom Schreck 116-112, and Billy Costello 115-113, all for Duddy. (The Sweet Science card agreed with Costello’s.)

CompuBox punchstats also suggested a closer fight: Duddy landed 380 of 856 (44%) to Yory Boy’s 316 of 786. While the two were near-even in power punches landed – 265 for Duddy, 288 for Campas – Duddy’s jab was a factor (115 landed) and Campas’ (28) was not.

Neither the statistics nor the scorecards reflect where the fight may actually have been won – in the corner, between rounds.

“George Mitchell did an excellent job,” said Keitt afterward. “John had three cuts – two over his right eye and one over his left – but George just did a wonderful job.”

Duddy said later that he thought the cut over his left eye came from a punch, all right, but that the second was likely the result of an unintentional head-butt.

“The crowd was tremendous,” said Duddy, who was spurred on by an evening-long ‘Ole!OleOleOle!’ chant from the sizable Irish contingent at the Theatre. “They stayed behind me, even though it might not have been my best performance.”

He quickly qualified that.

“Well, Campas is a legend,” said Duddy. “So maybe I guess it was my best performance in terms of the caliber of the opponent.”

He was still bearing the scars of battle, but, said Duddy, “that comes with the sport. Sometimes it doesn’t look nice, but you have to stand in there and take it.”

The 35-year-old Campas, now 88-9, said he planned to drop back to 154 pounds, a weight at which he held the IBF world title eight years earlier, for his next bout. Where Duddy goes from here isn’t as clear.

Going into Friday night’s bout, Irish Ropes matchmaker Jim Borzell had already drawn up the blueprint for Duddy’s next four fights: First, a featured bout on the undercard of next month’s Wladimir Klitschko-Calvin Brock card at the Garden, next a mid-January bout (possibly on the Ricky Hatton bill in Atlanta), followed by a headline appearance atop a March 16 St. Patrick’s card in New York and then, in mid-May, another main event in Ireland, with HBO likely televising.

The latter three might still happen, but by midnight Friday it seemed clear enough that John Duddy won’t be fighting anybody on November 11. He’d be a longshot to even be sparring by then.

“Now John can get on with life and get some rest,” said Keitt. “After all the wounds heal we’ll decide where we’re going to go next.”

The co-feature matched a pair of Mexican veterans with over 90 fights between them, and saw Julio Cesar (Madasita) Garcia knock out countryman Ernesto Zepeda in three. In the first round, Garcia caught Zepeda in a crouch and bounced a left off the top of his head, knocking him through the ring ropes, and while Zepeda battled back to win the second (on our card, as well as those of all three judges), Garcia was able to turn the tide in the minute and a half the next round lasted.

A minute into the third, Garcia landed a left to the body/left hook combination that put Zepeda on the canvas. Not much later, another Garcia left to the body sent his foe down again. Zepeda tried to rise, but then thought better of it and took referee Gary Rosato’s count on his haunches.

Garcia went to 38-2 with the win, while Zepeda’s record dropped to 37-11-4.

Popular Jamaica (Queens) super-middleweight Mean Joe Greene improved to 12-0 with a one-sided TKO of Dominican Luis Hodge (5-2). Greene knocked Hodge down (right jab followed by a straight left) in the first round, and by the fifth had switched to a two-handed body attack. It was undoubtedly painful for Hodge, and just watching a round and a half of it evidently proved too gruesome for trainer Pedro Delaro, who climbed up on the ring apron midway through the sixth to implore Mike Ortega to stop it. (The referee complied at 1:27 of the round.)

James Moore, Duddy’s countryman and frequent sparring partner, earned his eighth win without a loss by stopping his Puerto Rican opponent Willie Cruz (3-7) in round two of their scheduled 4-rounder. Although Moore had battered Cruz from start to finish, he had a point deducted (for a low blow) by Ortega earlier in the second. When Moore landed a big right hand that turned Cruz’s legs to jelly, Ortega waved it off at 2:41 of the second.

The third Irishman on the card, Galway super-middleweight Simon O’Donnell Jr. was awarded a 4th-round disqualification when an exhausted (and, apparently, intimidated) Philadelphia opponent Terrance Miller quit on his feet. Miller had already been docked a point by Ortega, who finally lost his patience with Miller’s “refusal to fight” and awarded the fight to O’Donnell at 2:02 of the round. O’Donnell improved to 2-0, while Miller fell to 2-2.

Puerto Rican junior middle Yuca Andino remained undefeated at 7-0 with a unanimous decision over Cuban Carlos Aballe (6-3). Earnest but outclassed, Aballe managed to stay on his feet until late in the final round, when he went down from a wild flurry of punches.  One judge (Taylor) scored it a shutout at 60-53 (as did the SweetScience), while Rivera and Trematerra both gave Aballe the fifth in scoring it 59-54.

September 29, 2006

MIDDLEWEIGHTS: John Duddy, 160, Derry, Northern Ireland dec. Luis Ramon Campas, 159½, Navojoa, Mexico (12) (Wins IBA title)

James Moore, 157, Arklow, Ireland TKO’d Willie Cruz, 158, Fajardo, Puerto Rico (2)

SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHTS: Joe Greene, 163, Jamaica, NY TKO’d Luis Hodge, 161, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (6)

Simon O’Donnell Jr., 161½, Galway, Ireland DQ over Terrance Miller, 158, Philadelphia (4)

JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHTS: Julio Cesar Garcia, 150½, Lagos De Moreno, Mexico KO’d Ernesto Zepeda, 149¾, Mazatlan, Mexico  (3)

Yukeno Andino, 150, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico dec. Carlos Aballe, 150½, Holguin, Cuba (6)