McDonagh Likes Underdog Role Against Holyfield


Generally speaking, Irishmen love to tell stories. And given a few more years, Seamus McDonagh might be a match for any of the fabled raconteurs of the Emerald Isle.

Only 27 years old, McDonagh has already lived enough for a miniseries or two, and Friday night at the Trump Plaza he's co-starring in a Rocky-type production that can only enhance the adventure.

Few are giving the willing but untested McDonagh much chance against unbeaten Evander Holyfield, who is marking time while waiting for an expected heavyweight title shot against Buster Douglas this fall.

"The situation," said McDonagh, "is perfect for me. I may not be up to it, but look at my opportunity."

Those who have seen the lad from County Mayo in Ireland perform over the last couple of years say he has "a puncher's chance." He carries 14 knockouts among 19 wins in 20 starts.

But the fighting is only a piece of the McDonagh tale since he left his homeland eight years ago seeking educational and athletic opportunities.

At one point during a news conference hyping the Showtime bout, someone pointed out Holyfield had just completed a cameo role in a movie produced by a member of manager Ken Sander's family.

"I was in a picture, too, although inadvertently," said McDonagh. "They were filming one day on Fifth Avenue in New York and I nearly ran over Paul Newman."

That was in his coachman days handling a carriage and horses in Central Park. It was just one of the many jobs McDonagh held while striving toward a degree in English literature at St. John's University.

"And don't believe all that bull you might have read about me carrying a 4.0 (grade point average) for a couple of semesters. It looks like I'm going to end with about a 3.7 when I finish up in the fall."

Not bad for a guy who has never gone to school full time. "Reason for that is I always enjoyed the jobs I've worked at and I've always gone for the education, not simply to get a job or anything."

For instance, on a lark recently, McDonagh showed up at tryouts for "Guys and Dolls" at the school and ended up playing an Irish cop, Lieutenant Branigan. "Was that type-casting, or what?" he said.

"I loved it, so stage acting is something I'm definitely going to look into. And then I've always had a fascination to pursue law school. There are definitely many things I plan to pursue and no matter what happens (in Friday night's fight), I'll get to them. It's just going to take more time."

Besides nearly doing a number on Paul Newman, McDonagh was prompted to tell of another stunt of his that made all the papers in the Big Apple. "It was raining real hard and me and the horse were getting soaked," he recalled with a gleam in his eye. "Thought it would be a good idea to find shelter ... in a bar. No sooner were we there when the place suddenly filled up with people."

No, Mr. McDonagh is hardly your run-of-the-mill challenger, a breed that always seems to disintegrate when thrust into the limelight. "I'm relishing this," he assured.

"What's especially good is being involved with Evander. We're both polite guys and the hype has been fun. I'm getting calls from everywhere constantly and it's interesting."

The time will come, of course, when the experience hardens and he will be facing the unbeaten (23-0) No. 1 challenger.

"I have never been down on the canvas as a pro," he said, almost apologetically. "I have more power than Holyfield's last two opponents (one of whom, Alex Stewart, gave him fits) and I have speed. What Buster Douglas did to Mike Tyson excites me and gives me confidence. I think I can do it here."

He continued, "As a people, the Irish are considered good battlers. We're right there to the very end. My father was a fighter. He's here and he's loving this.

"I guess you'd say fighting has run in my family because my grandfather was a bareknuckle fighter who loved it so much he journeyed to the Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney 'Long Count' fight in Chicago just to say he was there.

"I've got six bus loads from New York coming down and two from Boston. Plus family." He smiled, thought on his good fortune and quoted from Dylan Thomas: "Do not go gentle into the night." Form says there's no way it can happen, but Seamus McDonagh is a long shot it's fun believing in.

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