With the city of Lowell on his back and millions watching on Pay Per View, Joey McCreedy will do his best to channel his inner Micky Ward on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The Lowell, Mass., light heavyweight will face reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) Continental Americas champion Sean Monaghan (20-0, 13 KOs) in a 10-round bout on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley rematch, promoted by Top Rank Boxing and available on HBO Pay Per View.
As the underdog against an undefeated champion, it’s a challenge similar to what McCreedy’s trainer, Ward, faced in 1997 when he battled unbeaten prospect Alfonso Sanchez, a fight featured prominently in the biopic film, The Fighter, based on Ward’s career and relationship with his half-brother Dicky Eklund. Sanchez battered Ward for six full rounds until Ward landed a left hook to the liver that sent Sanchez crashing to the canvas, cementing one of the most improbable wins of Ward’s storybook career.
“I’m going to shock the world just like Micky did,” McCreedy said. “I’m going to shock a lot of people.”
At the time, Ward trailed by nine points on one judge’s scorecard and eight on the other two. He had lost every round decisively. That killer left to the body, which became Ward’s go-to punch, not only ended the fight, but ultimately changed the course of both fighters’ careers. Ward went on to win the World Boxing Union (WBU) light welterweight title three years and finished his career with three epic battles against Arturo Gatti. Sanchez won only four of his next 10 fights and was out of boxing within the next decade.
Ward had nothing to lose that night when he stood toe-to-toe with Sanchez. He was a 32-year-old journeyman who had spent the past few years fighting at racetracks and ballrooms just outside of Boston. Sanchez was the undefeated, budding prospect destined for bigger and better things once he disposed of Ward, that is, until one punch changed everything.
Nearly two decades later, Lowell’s newest underdog, McCreedy (15-6-6, 2 KOs), faces similar odds against the undefeated champion – one of Top Rank’s most polarizing fighters – who’s already looking past McCreedy and onto to his next challenge.
Since losing to Providence’s Vladine Biosse on national television in 2010, McCreedy has slowly climbed back into the picture with wins in four of his last five fights, mostly against journeymen. Tonight, he faces his toughest test, a fight that could change everything the way it did for Ward 17 years ago.
“This is going to be a great fight,” McCreedy said. “He’s in shape. I’m in shape. We’re both warriors. He’s undefeated for a reason. But he’s definitely looking past me. Reading some of his quotes, he’s already lining up other fights.
“That’s the biggest mistake he could make. I’m not coming here to lose or be anyone’s stepping stone.”
The similarities between what McCreedy will face against Monaghan and what Ward dealt with in this same city 17 years against Sanchez are so startling even HBO color commentator Roy Jones, who will call tonight’s card, referenced it during a pre-fight repartee with McCreedy at Friday’s weigh-in.
“He said he remembered when Micky was down and how they were all counting him out,” McCreedy said, “but one shot can change everything. I’ve talked to Micky about it a couple of times. He told me I’m getting the same opportunity he got.
“All the pressure is on [Monaghan]. I have nothing to lose. He’s their guy. He knows he’s in for a fight. He’s going to be careful. He’s going to be on his toes. He doesn’t want to get caught. Me? Just let everything go. Leave it all in the ring.”
Aside from imparting his wisdom on McCreedy, Ward also made sure his fighter arrived in Vegas in the best shape of his life. McCreedy worked extensively on his conditioning – “more running than I’ve ever done in my life,” he said – to make sure he won’t run out of gas in the later rounds, if the fight gets that far. McCreedy clocked in at 173 pounds, two pounds below the light heavyweight limit.
“Honestly, I did things in this camp I never did my entire career, things I should’ve done,” he said. “If I did, I’d be the one undefeated right now, but it is what it is. I just have to stay focused. I had incredible sparring this entire camp. I’m not going to die out in the fifth or sixth round like everyone thinks I will.”
This is a new, reenergized McCreedy, not the same carefree fighter who stumbled through his mid-20s losing to journeymen on his home turf in Rhode Island. He knows what’s at stake, and he knows what one big win can do for his career as he approaches his 30s. He’s got living proof working his corner.
“I’m all in. I’m not saying this is my last chance, but it’s a chance that can change my career,” he said. “It’s the chance of a lifetime, and I know it. My family knows it. My team knows it. They’re all here to support me. I’ve got the whole city behind me. It’s a great feeling. I’m going to give it everything I have.”