Interview Sean O’Grady - WBA Lightweight Champ and Champion Analyst By Ken Hissner (Jan 12, 2010) DoghouseBoxing
Sean O’Grady turned professional at 15 and retired at 24. The kid from Oklahoma they called “Bugglegum” turned 50 this year and still looks like he could go 10 rounds. O’Grady won the WBA lightweight title from Kronk’s Hilmer Kenty, 20-0, in Atlantic City, over 15 rounds, on April 12th 1981.
O’Grady entered the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992. His final record was 81-5 with 70 knockouts. Though born in Texas his family came to Oklahoma when he was 11 where his mother Jean managed him while his father Pat trained and promoted him almost out of the trunk of their car traveling the southwest. He was unbeaten in his home state of Oklahoma in 61 fights. “My dad would call people up 3am in the morning to save on the phone bill. Eddie Futch would let it ring 20 times and still answer it. The Frazier’s, Joe, Marvis and Jacqui were three of my favorites as a family. My dad would call Joe,” said O’Grady.
“We had a ring in the backyard and a trailer. When the fighters would rest before the fight they would not put their trunks on so they didn’t wrinkle them. They would just put their robe on over their cup, laid down and rest. Sometimes they would forget when they got called to the ring to put their trunks on,” said O’Grady.
O’Grady turned professional in January of 1975 and scored knockouts in his first 9 fights with 8 in the 1st round. Only Ramon Campos in May of that year went the distance over 6 rounds. He would repeat that feat going the distance in July going 10 rounds. He was 26-0 with 22 knockouts in his first year. His competition was limited when in February of 1976 he took a major step up fighting Danny “Lil Red” Lopez, 28-3, with 27 knockouts. Lopez in his previous fight stopped the former WBA champion Ruben Olivares, 79-6-1 while coming off the canvas which was not unusual for the little red head. O’Grady’s corner stopped the bout after the 4th round. “He had the longest arms and was the hardest puncher. Next to him I looked like I had a tan. He was a Ute Indian who I didn’t want to knock down because he was twice as tough when he got up,” said O’Grady.
Just 6 weeks later O’Grady would start another knockout streak scoring 13 straight by year’s end. In March of 1977 he started the year off stopping Earl Large, 30-14-1, in 9 rounds. O’Grady only weighed 121. He would travel east for the first time to Madison Square Garden to be part of 4 10 rounder’s including Alexis Arguello in one. O’Grady defeated the 2 time NY GG champion Davey Vasquez, 17-9, over 10 rounds ending his knockout streak at 18. Vasquez had never been stopped up to this point of his career. “I learned so much from this fight. I called him the crab. He would get so low and when I would get the upper hand he would come back,” said O’Grady. This was June of 1977. He would return to Oklahoma scoring 4 more knockouts by end of the year.
On St. Patrick’s Day in 1978 at The Alladin, in Las Vegas, O’Grady would share the card with a pair of Irishmen in “Gentleman” Gerry Cooney and “Irish” Bobby Cassidy. He would stop Eddie “the Flea” Freeman, 21-1, of Memphis in the 1st round. “He called me about 2 years ago and said it’s the Flea. I thought it was Flea from Chilly Peppers. We had a nice talk,” said O’Grady. Just 6 days later he had his third match with Ramon Campos whom he had decisioned twice. This time he put Campos into retirement in the 1st round. “I had gotten cut so many times that in 1976 when I went to get stitched up they used a zipper,” said O’Grady.
Next O’Grady stopped the former WBA bantamweight champion Romeo Anaya, 42-13-1, in 3 rounds in a super featherweight bout at the Olympic Auditorium, in Los Angeles. “He hit me with a left hook to the throat. I am glad he didn’t have a right hand to go with it. After the fight I could hardly talk,” said O’Grady. In June of 1978 in a blood bath he was cut early by Japan’s Shig Fukuyama, 27-13-3. His opponent had stopped Danny Lopez in 1974 and challenged for the WBC featherweight title in 1976. n the 2nd round O’Grady was head butted over the right eye. By the 4th round though O’Grady was outfighting his opponent the blood was all over both fighters. In the 5th round the referee finally called in the ring physician. If this fight was held anywhere but Oklahoma City it would have been stopped. Somehow O’Grady managed to hurt his opponent with an uppercut that had him holding on for the first time in the fight. He followed up with a combination that dropped him. Upon rising from the canvas O’Grady was all over him with a flurry of punches until the referee stepped in and stopped it. I was head butted and I understand he also butted Lopez in their bout. We were both cut and they were trying to put a tourniquet on me to stop the bleeding,” said O’Grady.
In October of 1979 having moved up to the lightweight division, O’Grady won the USBA title defeating Arturo Leon, 22-16-2, over 15 rounds. “He was like a bull,” said O’Grady. His opponent had gone the distance the previous year with WBC super featherweight champion Alexis Arguello. Leon hadn’t been stopped at this point of his career. In July of 1980 O’Grady would defend his title winning a split 12 round decision over Gonzalo Montellano, 25-0-1, in Omaha. His opponent fought to a draw in his previous fight with Herman Montes, 24-1-1. “He was very tough and his dad trained him also. I would always try to talk to whoever I fought afterwards. When I was a kid my parents would take me to the Olympic in Los Angeles and I admired the Mexican people how they supported their fighters,” said O’Grady. When being introduced O’Grady would be blowing a bubble while chewing gum. It usually wasn’t until he got to his corner when his dad would replace the gum with a mouthpiece.
It was this win that propelled O’Grady into a WBC title bout in November of 1980 against Scotland’s southpaw Jim Watt, 37-7, in Glasgow. It was Watt’s 4th title defense after previously defeating then unbeaten Olympian Howard Davis, Jr. Famed referee Arthur Mercante was one of the 3 judges who had O’Grady behind 104-103 going into the 12th round when the fight was stopped on cuts in Watt’s favor. O’Grady had taken a 73-1 record into this fight in his first title attempt. “I was butted in the 9th round causing the cut,” said O’Grady.
After a warm-up St. Patty’s Day decision win O’Grady challenged Kronk’s Kenty, 20-0, for his WBA title in Atlantic City in his 4th title defense. One thing I remember prior to this fight is two clean cut well dressed and well mannered young men about to share the limelight in a world title bout. I hated to see one lose but unless it was a draw someone obviously had to. “At the weigh-in I could see Sean was up for this fight and I got a bad vive and told Kenty we’re in for a fight,” said Manny Steward. Steward wanted to cancel the fight due to Kenty developing a cold, but was overridden by Kenty and Kenty’s wife. They felt he won with colds before, but Steward told them that was the amateurs. “Before the fight I was scared. It seemed like he had all the support. He had Emmanuel Steward, Tommy Hearns and many other great boxers in his corner! He was the best boxer I faced. Even in the later rounds he continued to try to beat me. He was so tough and fought with the heart of a champion. He threw up in his corner between the 10th and 11th round yet he still came out for more. The crowd was electric. I remember them chanting for me and it inspired me to keep going. They probably inspired him, too! After the fight I really felt sorry for him. I am so proud that I won that fight. I interviewed him on Tuesday Night Fights and can say that we are friends. One thing I learned about boxing is that even though, through 15 rounds you say no words whenever you fight someone you look into their soul. You know what kind of person your adversary is. I can tell you Hilmer Kenty is a solid person. He is a man of character,” said O’Grady.
In the 14th round O’Grady had Kenty trapped in a corner with the referee close by, but Kenty worked his way out of trouble. In the 15th and final round with a cut by his left eye O’Grady fought back while a desperate Kenty tried to pull the fight out. “His whole career was based on this one fight. In what amounted to the best performance of his career, O’Grady won on all scorecards by 146-139, 146-138 and 147-137 including referee Larry Hazzard’s scoring the fight. Ganigan had lost his previous fight to Rodolfo Gonzalez, 17-0-1, who would meet Noel for the WBA vacant title.
O’Grady was 22 and on top of the world with a 75-2 record. This is when the bottom fell out. He was to defend against #1 contender Claude Noel in September in his first defense. His father Pat decided to form the WAA Organization and 6 months after his son won the WBA title he would have him fight Olympian Howard Davis. When Davis pulled out, the Hawaiian southpaw, Andrew Ganigan, 33-3, with 29 knockouts, filled in for the WAA lightweight title in Little Rock, Arkansas in October of 1981. “Sean loved his father who did a good job in getting him to the top,” said Steward. After both fighters were rocked in the 1st round in a 16 foot ring you knew it was going to be a knockout finish. In the 2nd round Ganigan had O’Grady hurt and dropped him. O’Grady rocked Ganigan before getting knocked onto the bottom rope in a corner. The referee called it a second knockdown. Ganigan then hit O’Grady on the right hip knocking him down for the 3rd time automatically stopping the fight. Ganigan would never defend the title but fight Arguello 7 months later and have him on the canvas in the 1st round. After the Arguello fight, Ganigan’s career was ended by one of Steward’s future IBF lightweight champions Jimmy Paul fighting for O’Grady’s old USBA title. “I had 5 losses and 3 of them were to southpaws,” said O’Grady.
In February of 1982 O’Grady was back in Oklahoma for two fights fighting for the last time there. He would score two knockouts and follow-up doing the same in Denver over opponents in the welterweight division. He then took on Pete Ranzany, 57-7-2, on actor Sylvester Stallone’s promotional debut at Caesars Palace, in Las Vegas. Ranzany was a good fighter but couldn’t win the big one to position for a title fight. O’Grady would lose by scores of 97-94, 97-93 and 96-95. “The only posed picture I have in my house is of Pete Ranzany. I saw him against other welterweights and he was always tough. He was a good tough fighter and my plan was to move on him. Unfortunately when I got into the ring I was looking around for the boxer I saw at the weigh-in. He appeared bigger, stronger and faster than me. HE WAS A BRICK! He hit hard and he took a good shot. I looked into his soul as well,” said O’Grady.
In February of 1983 in Northridge, CA, O’Grady would score a knockout before going to Chicago for his final fight. He would return to the lightweight division to face John “The Heat” Verderosa, 23-1, out of New York. O’Grady was dropped twice in the 4th round when the referee stopped the fight. “Verderosa could punch! And he did. He just caught me clean. He was a tough boxer! It would be the end of the road as a boxer at the age of 24, but eventually a whole new career would open in boxing for the kid from Oklahoma. He had almost been like a “teen idol” this good looking kid who charmed anyone who would meet or see him over the network with his down home personality and that million dollar smile. “The champ is a great guy,” said Buck Smith. Smith is another Oklahoma fighter who had 179 wins.
After his retirement he would join team up with Al Alberts in doing the commentating for the USA Networks Tuesday Night Fights up until 1994 when the final curtain closed on them. “I started to work for USA in 1984. I was very fortunate to be able to work in the sport I love. Boxing is a wonderful sport and as a broadcaster I could remain in the sport with the intention to bring out man of the great things about boxing. With television, I was able to translate all the good that is in these boxers and all the good in their direction,” said O’Grady.
I asked him if any particular fight stood out that he covered. “Paez versus Calvin Grove. One had to feel sympathetic for Calvin. He was a terrific boxer with exquisite moves and punches. Paez was a clown in his family circus. That fight had all of the elements that would prevent one from successfully defending his title. Grove must have felt so alone. It was so emotional for both parties” said O’Grady. He has since joined Fox Sports Network and is known for his color commentating, interviews and even going in the corner between rounds. Fox has not been active of late but may start up again as a promoter of Spanish boxing. “I miss broadcasting and hope to someday produce boxing,” said O’Grady.
Today, he also works for NAI Sullivan out of Oklahoma City in the commercial real estate field along with his wife Robin. “I call Sean whenever I am in Oklahoma to get together with his wife and him,” said Steward. “If I was to start fighting today I couldn’t recommend anyone better than Manny Steward to handle me,” said O’Grady. I asked O’Grady about his walk with the Lord especially in those fighting days. “I was always a “Christian Boxer” because I did believe that it is better to give than to receive. In the lonely sport of boxing and as a young man I had no one else to confide in except my belief in Christianity,” said O’Grady. When they call O’Grady “Champ” it’s pertaining to him not only in the ring but out of the ring!