Boxing trainer Eddie McLoughlin’s life has never been short of challenges. The Mayo-born former amateur prospect lost his right leg in a motorcycle crash at age 19, but even that couldn’t stop him from sky diving, prospecting for gold or culling kangaroos from helicopters in Australia years later.
On Jan. 15, McLoughlin, prosthetic leg and all, returns to the ring after 23 years in a three-round challenge match to settle a little feud with a rival Gleason’s Gym trainer.
The 42-year-old, who was headed to the welterweight final in the 1975 European Junior Championships when he lost his leg, won’t be at a complete disadvantage at the Elks Club in Queens: his opponent, a 44-year-old ex-Chicago pro named John Toliaferro, has had two hip replacements.
McLoughlin and Toliaferro will be duking it out for more just the bragging rights at Gleason’s in Brooklyn Heights. They’ve each agreed to put down $10,000 toward a $20,000 winner-take-all purse that McLoughlin, a Maspeth-based contractor, says he will donate to charity if he wins.
"It’s been an ongoing thing that started off very timid a few months ago," McLoughlin, a husky 5-foot-7 bachelor with a mop of blonde hair and mustache, said.
Toliaferro, who delivers affidavits for a Manhattan lawyer on the side, hinted to a clash of egos. "He’s got his Irish pride and some must have rubbed off onto me from my [Irish] stepfather," he said.
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"It’s a silly thing, like all feuds are, between two guys that should know better," noted Gleason’s proprietor, Bruce Silverglade.
Inane as their tiff might seem, both McLoughlin and Toliaferro, a Harlem resident who claims a 35-6 (19 KOs) record from a pro career that ended in 1985, are dead serious about their match. It will be on the same night, but apart from a show at the Elks Club featuring fighters from McLoughlin’s Irish Ropes ABC, to avoid contravening amateur regulations.
"I’m gonna embarrass him," said the 5-8 Toliaferro. "He thinks that because I have a little handicap, he can beat me. My hips are stronger than his [good] leg. I’ve got steel in them."
Conceding that he would be hobbled by his prosthetic leg more than a tad, McLoughlin has asked for, and been given, a two-ounce concession on whatever gloves they use, in a bid to reduce Toliaferro’s edge on speed.
"I know he’s got two artificial hips, but he’s going to be a lot faster than me," he said. "I want to have a little bit of advantage until I catch and hurt him."
But how do two men eligible for disability prepare for what could be an all-out brawl? One by riding a bike, walking and sparring now and then; the other by turning to his 20-year-old protégé.
Turning the old master-pupil concept on its head, McLoughlin has put himself under the tutelage of his star Irish Ropes fighter, Alo Kelly, the five-time All-Ireland champion he led to the New York Golden Gloves light heavyweight final last March.
"He’s looking good," Kelly said of his eager charge, whose daily regimen includes a three-mile run on the treadmill. "The left hook is his secret weapon. That’s the one that will do the damage."
It’s McLoughlin’s bread-and-butter punch from his amateur days in Mayo and Mullinger, Co. Meath.
"I had a record of 60-7 as an amateur, and with those 60 wins, I probably had 52 or 53 knockouts, and out of those, 46 of them were from the left hook to the body," he said.
McLoughlin’s last amateur victim, Frenchman Pierre Valcastue, who later fought Sugar Ray Leonard in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, was felled by a left hook in the second round of their 147-pound European Under-19 Championship semifinal bout in Munich back in January 1975. A month later, McLoughlin had the motorbike accident.
And while the left hook may be McLoughlin’s biggest asset, his balance, or lack thereof, will most likely be his biggest liability.
"Since it’s my right leg that is gone, I’ve got to keep moving to my left and keep the [prosthetic] right leg out far to help me balance better," said McLoughlin, who has been working on his footwork in sparring sessions with Kelly.
For all the bluster between McLoughlin and Toliaferro, neither man is keen to inflict serious harm on either himself or the other.
"The last thing I want to do is end up on the ground and someone on top of me giving me the kiss of life," McLoughlin mused.
"Hopefully, at the end we’ll shake hands and laugh it off, and maybe share a beer," Toliaferro said.