The walls are painted with the iconic green, white and orange of the Irish flag. As a sports fan growing up in the Boston area there are a few places that should be considered hallowed ground – Fenway Park, the Garden and the tiny room on the second floor of Gold’s Gym in North Chelmsford that I’m currently standing in. Sure I’m here to cover “Irish” Joey McCreedy but I’m standing in Micky Ward’s boxing gym, and it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve spoken to Micky I still get nervous around him. I guess that’s the blessing and curse of being who I am, from where I’m from – Micky Ward means something to fight fans in this area.
McCreedy’s journey back to this gym was a strange one. After spending time being trained by Ward and Dicky Eklund as an amateur he moved on to the River Brother’s Boxing Gym in Lynn, MA as a professional. McCreedy speaks highly of everyone at the Rivera Brother’s Gym, but sometimes fate has an interesting way of dealing with things. Coming off a difficult loss to Otis Griffin McCreedy needed a change of scenery. He will tell you that had things happened differently for the Rivera Brothers he’d still be with them. But the Rivera Brother’s lost their gym in Lynn so “Irish” Joey McCreedy is standing here with me in Ward’s gym –with Dicky Eklund and ready to turn the page to a new stage in his career.
While it’s difficult in my mind to ignore Ward the other half of this training tandem deserves more attention then he gets. I was once told that Micky Ward’s best attribute was Dicky – which is ironic because I’ve also been told that Dicky’s worst attribute is also Dicky. But Dicky Eklund trained Micky– and his training regime is simple, bust your ass in the gym and work harder then you’ve ever worked before so that when the fight comes the other guy gets tired and you realize that nothing that can happen in a fight is worse then what happens when Dicky Eklund gets you in the gym. To say that I’m excited to see Eklund at work is an understatement, and while most things in life will ultimately let you down – Dicky Eklund in the flesh, working out Joey McCreedy exceeds even my wildest expectations.
McCreedy meets me at the gym in a sauna suit – he’s already at weight, a byproduct of a last minute change of opponent and weight class (from middleweight to super middleweight). However, he tells me that he ate a big meal last night so he wants to make sure he burns off the extra calories, in less then an hour he’ll be pulling the sauna suit off in a puddle of sweat in a scene that makes me feel like McCreedy might be ready to fight at junior middleweight by the time Eklund is done with him here.
In the ring Eklund is vocal. He shouts out instructions to McCreedy as he holds the mitts. Charging Joey to not forget to keep throwing the jab, following it up with the body shots – oh those famous body shots. If you’re going to carry the nickname “Irish” and have Dicky Eklund in your corner you best be prepared to throw some body shots – and Joey McCreedy is putting in a full days work to the body. Eklund’s mind as a trainer is incredibly sharp, picking up on tiny mistakes that McCreedy is making as they go around the ring – shouting out about how to keep his head focused on the torso and not allowing his eyes to follow the trajectory of his own punches. McCreedy – like an attentive student follows direction as I notice him keeping his head stationary from the time Eklund pointed out the mistake to him, a synergistic student/teacher relationship. Let’s face it – McCreedy is an Irish boxer from Lowell, when Dicky Eklund or Micky Ward tells you do something you’re going to do it.
The most impressive thing about McCreedy working the mitts is the speed. With six (6) knockouts as a professional in 11 wins it’s no surprise to hear that McCreedy has some pop, but the speed with which he throws his punches is much more impressive then I expected. Obviously looking like a superstar in the gym doesn’t mean anything but Eklund has McCreedy more compact, using his body and hipes to throw punches better then I remember Joey in the past (when much of his power seemingly game from the shoulders/arms). It’ll be interesting to watch on Friday night if McCreedy looks faster in the ring then he has previously.
But when you watch Dicky Eklund train a fighter it’s the conditioning that you really want to see. It’s the constant movement, the constant action – the sweat, the exhaustion and the fact that nobody seemed to bring water for McCreedy (or Sean Eklund) for the first three rounds of sparring. With sweat pouring off his face McCreedy is getting put through the ringer by Eklund as both Dicky and Micky seem to delight in punishing McCreedy – possibly making Joey wish the Rivera Brother’s had never left his corner.
After working with the mitts – Dicky takes McCreedy to the heavy bag where they set up shop for what feels like a lifetime. Dicky isn’t standing off to the corner – he’s holding the bag, he’s punching the bag, he’s yelling out instruction and all the while his eyes never leave his student. McCreedy is working on his jab and following it up with (surprise, surprise) work to the body. After the heavy bag it’s sweltering in the gym and now it’s time for the jump rope. This isn’t your little sister’s double dutch either this is eight (8) minutes of straight jumping rope as Ward and Eklund shout out different ways to jump rope including a ridiculous amount of high knees. After about six minutes (and about 45 minutes of the workout) McCreedy started to look a bit fatigued, and the rope hit his legs more then he would’ve wanted. The struggles didn’t upset Ward or Eklund who tell Joey to keep going with smiles on their faces – I’m telling you these two were delighting in the pain on McCreedy’s face. If nothing else Joey McCreedy will be in phenomenal condition Friday night, Eklund and Ward are making sure of that.
After the eight minutes of jumping rope you’d think there’d be some rest – but there won’t be, not on this day. Eklund takes his charge back into the ring – this time for some abdominal work and push-ups. It was at this point that I was reminded of why I sit behind a keyboard and don’t step between the ropes. I’d run through the list of ab exercises that the group did but it wouldn’t matter – the goal appeared to be not to let your feet touch the ground until your stomach felt like someone had dropped a bag of hot coals on it. Of the four people in the ring doing the exercises only one seemed to have no problems at all – and that was Dicky, who followed up the workout by singing, dancing and shadow boxing all around the ring.
In keeping with my cliché theme there is an old saying about doors closing and windows opening and I honestly believe that is what happened for Joey McCreedy. I respect the Rivera Brother’s but I think McCreedy had gone as far as he could under their tutelage. After his loss to Griffin it was time for a change and even McCreedy seems to agree that his career is in the right hands now. “It’s a great opportunity, when I was young, when I was in my amateur days through the West End and all of that stuff I had them and it’s just the best. Dicky Eklund and Micky are the best trainers on the whole east coast probably the world. They’re really downgraded, not a lot of people recognize them for being great trainers they just get recognized as great fighters but what they put us through is hell. But everything pays off in the end with all the hard work they put us through. There are no trainers out there doing what they’re doing to us – it’s great to be back with them, I love it. They push me until I can’t breathe anymore. It’s a great workout, I’m so happy to be back with them.”
This Friday night Joey McCreedy has said that he’s putting it all on the line – not in a WWE style “win or go home” type of situation, but more in the vein of him working as hard as he possibly can in the gym, getting the best team behind him and knowing that the Joey McCreedy that steps into the ring on Friday night is going to be the best Joey McCreedy yet. Will it be good enough? Only time will tell, but I can say with some conviction after seeing him work with Eklund in the gym that McCreedy isn’t taking anything lightly. Eklund is doing his best to break him – to find out what his limits are but Joey keeps coming back, he calls himself a beast and that’s what Dicky Eklund is trying to draw out of him. Dicky said through a smile that he’s fixing the mistakes that Joey was making and I have to say that if anyone is going to do just that – it’s going to be Dicky Eklund.
In closing McCreedy knows what some people are going to say. He carries the “Irish” moniker, he’s from the same town and now he’s got Ward and Eklund in his corner. The clichéd stories will write themselves (expect mine sometime around Saturday morning) but McCreedy doesn’t look at his situation like you might expect. “You gotta put all of that stuff – all the people talking about how you’re this or that – you’re like Micky, you’re like Dicky – I’m just trying to be me right now. That’s the best thing that I can do right now, Micky is Micky, Dicky is Dicky and I’m just trying to make my own name like all the amateurs in the West End they’re making their own name. It’s an honor for people to say “you’re form the same town as Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund” it’s definitely an honor but at the end of the day – I’m just being me.”