By Jay Mwamba
Twenty-three years after a motorcycle accident cost him his right leg, cruelly ending a promising amateur career, Eddie McLoughlin made a successful return to the boxing ring last Friday with a dramatic third-round stoppage of John Toliaferro in their $20,000 challenge match at the Elks Club in Queens.
The adventurous Mayo-born trainer, who has skydived, lived in the Australian outback and culled kangaroos from helicopters in the years since the crash, dominated the wildly cheered bout between two old pugs before leveling his foe 35 seconds into the third stanza.
Toliaferro, a 44-year-old who has undergone two hip replacements, was counted out after being floored by a three-punch combination by McLoughlin, whose prosthetic leg was never a factor.
"He hit me in the [protective] cup," was the only protest the ex-pro, who barely managed to land a few face-saving jabs on McLoughlin’s grizzled and determined face, could offer before disappearing.
Ecstatic at prevailing over Toliaferro in the bout to settle a minor feud, McLoughlin, 42, said his hard training had paid off.
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"Alo prepared me well. I felt really good," he said, giving kudos to Alo Kelly, the 20-year-old star fighter of McLoughlin’s Irish Ropes B.C. stables who was his trainer for the match.
Showing encouraging signs of being an astute future trainer, Kelly, who spied on Toliaferro in training before the fight and had predicted that he wouldn’t last three rounds, said McLoughlin hurt the man with his first body punch of the fight.
"Toliaferro just wasn’t there for the power. He was hurt and had to keep moving," Kelly added.
McLoughlin, forcing the action from the start, was clearly the better of two aged fighters with long lost skills. The quality was less than compelling, but the passions aroused by the fans made it a dramatic contest, especially with McLoughlin having been adjudged the underdog against the former pro, by both appearance and Gleason’s Gym regulars.
Apart from a strong pair of legs that kept him dancing around the ring, Toliaferro showed none of his vaunted speed and simply appeared unable to let his hands go.
And after McLoughlin had strafed his body with shots through the first two rounds, Toliaferro, despite his claim of low blow, appeared to be not too disappointed when the referee called the match off early in the third.
McLoughlin said his patent combination of a left hook to the body, left to the head and right to the head that had earned him over 50 knockouts in his 60-7 amateur career had done Toliaferro in.
In his last amateur contest, in the 1995 European Under-19 championship welterweight semifinals in Munich, McLoughlin iced France’s Pierre Valcastue in the second round with a left hook. He had the motorbike accident shortly afterward.
His brief comeback a success, McLoughlin said there would be no more ring appearances in his future, except as trainer of the Irish Ropes club. "That’s it," he emphasized.
Ditto Kelly, who said he was looking forward to competing in the New York Golden Gloves tournament, whose light heavyweight Open Final he reached last year.
McLoughlin has pledged to donate most of his $20,000 winnings from the challenge match to Fr. Colm Campbell’s St. Theresa’s Church in Sunnyside, Queens, and the Barbara Deinhardt Fund, set up for Barbara Deinhardt, a 25-year-old Irish-American nurse who became a quadriplegic last July after a swimming pool accident.