NEW YORK -- Buddy McGirt, a consummate pro, sat quietly on the dais, listening to his fight manager, Al Certo, exchange insults with rival manager Lou Duva and then give a blow-by-blow account of the impromptu brawl Certo had last week with Madison Square Garden boxing director Bobby Goodman.
For McGirt, who defends his World Boxing Council welterweight title and reputation as one of the world's finest fighters against Pernell Whitaker at the Garden tonight (HBO, 10), such vaudeville acts demeaned his chosen profession.
"All these years that Certo's been working my corner," said McGirt, "he's been screaming in my ear, 'Roll with the punches!' Like they're not supposed to hurt or something. Well, when I finally hang 'em up, I'm going to get Al in the back room of his tailor shop and see how well he rolls from a left hook."
McGirt was joking, but in more than 11 years of fighting while compiling an impressive 59-2-1 record, the native New Yorker has learned to roll with punches thrown at him in and out of the ring.
It took almost a decade of fighting and a near-flawless 12-round performance in wresting the welterweight title from Simon Brown in Las Vegas on Nov. 29, 1991, to gain McGirt the respect of the cynical fight crowd.
Thrashing Brown was the defining fight of his career, and even today, there are those who wonder if it was a once-in-a-lifetime effort.
Said Whitaker's veteran trainer, George Benton: "You've got to wonder if McGirt was really that good or Brown that bad. It could have been a combination of both, but there's always doubts."
These doubts magnified in January, when McGirt, using only his jab and right hand while nursing a sore left shoulder, barely survived a late-round rally by Mexican slugger Genaro Leon to retain his title.
Preparing this past month for Whitaker, McGirt appeared
reluctant to test his left hand against sparring partners. When reporters raised questions, McGirt cracked: "Yeah, I've been to the doctor and got the screws taken out of my left shoulder. Now I'm ready to fight King Kong."
Added Certo: "We've got nothing to hide. I grabbed Buddy last week and told him, 'The doctor says your shoulder is fine now, and there's nothing to worry about.' And if Whitaker wins, there ++ won't be any alibis. We'll give him all the credit he deserves."
Still, lingering doubts over McGirt's physical condition prompted Las Vegas oddsmakers to establish Whitaker, 29, the former undisputed lightweight king and IBF junior-welterweight champion, as a solid 12-5 favorite tonight.
McGirt has grown accustomed to people selling him short despite his impressive record. His first loss came in a non-title match with Frankie Warren in 1986. He gained revenge two years later with a 12th-round TKO of Warren to capture the IBF junior-welterweight crown.
McGirt, 29, is out to prove to the world that he can beat the left-handed Whitaker (31-1, 15 KOs) in a chess match or a down-and-dirty brawl.
"Sure, Whitaker is fast, clever and cute," McGirt said. "But I'm just a little more clever. And his being a lefty is no big deal. I've fought six southpaws and stopped five of them."
Who: Buddy McGirt (59-2-1, 44 KOs), Brentwood, N.Y., vs. Pernell Whitaker (31-1, 15 KOs), Norfolk, Va., 12 rounds
What: For McGirt's World Boxing Council welterweight title
When: Tonight, 10
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York