The date was April 12, 1981. On a happy note, my father, the sole person who planted the seed of boxing in my mind, turned 53, and on the same day, but not on such a bright note, legendary Heavyweight Champion of the World, Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis passed away, at the age of 66.
In other lighter news that year, Pac Man was introduced to the video arcades where many of us, including me, spent long weekends and summer days dropping our quarters into the machine to chomp those bad guys up. MTV went on the air running around the clock music videos, debuting with “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles, which turned out to be a one hit wonder, and a question for the Trivial Pursuit Game.
In boxing, the “Fight of the Year” was Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommy Hearns for the Undisputed Welterweight Championship of the World. Leonard stopped Hearns in the 14th round in a fight that the media clamored to.
But that same year, under less media hoopla, World Boxing Association (WBA) Lightweight Champion Hilmer Kenty, from Detroit, Michigan was defending his title for the fourth time against top rated lightweight, Sean O’ Grady from Oklahoma. Kenty and O’Grady mixed it up for what many thought was 1B for “Fight of the Year” honors.
The fight that afternoon was called by Howard Cosell on ABC Network and in Cosell fashion he pumped it up during the announcing of the fighters. Kenty was the proven champion going in. O’Grady was the tough challenger who had faced Jim Watt just four and half months earlier for Watt’s World Boxing Council (WBC) version of the lightweight belt. In that fight, O’Grady was ahead when Watt intentionally head butted him, causing a gash that would eventually lead to O’Grady being stopped in the 12th round of a scheduled 15 rounder.
Off this gusty performance with Watt, O’Grady was given another shot at WBA Champion Kenty.
The first round started out with Kenty boxing and nailing O’Grady with fast jabs and right hands. O’Grady started his body attack early, and did some effective infighting. Round one: 10-9, Kenty.
In round two, O’Grady started out strong throwing and catching the champion Kenty with hard left hands. Kenty was still the faster of the two, but with eleven seconds left in the round, O’Grady knocked the mouthpiece out of Kenty’s mouth.
Just a few seconds later, O’Grady dropped Kenty with a hard right hand. Kenty beat the count, and referee Larry Hazzard, working at that time in only his second world title fight, wiped off his gloves, and sent him to his corner. Round two: 10-8, O’Grady.
Round three had O’Grady again coming out as the aggressor and landing hard lefts to Kenty following up with very good bodywork. In the middle of the round, Kenty was rocked by O’Grady and went across the ring into the ropes. At this point, it was all Kenty could do to keep the determined O’Grady off of him. Round three: 10-9, O’Grady.
Round four started out better for the champion Kenty, who took his corner’s advice and got back behind his jab that worked well for him in round one. O’Grady still was working the body effectively, but this round was pretty much even. Round four: 10-10, Even.
Round five started out with O’Grady very strong behind his left hand for the first two minutes of the round and backing Kenty up to the ropes once again. Kenty hung in there, and as he came off the ropes, their heads clash causing an unintentional cut over O’Grady’s left eye which was bleeding profusely. O’Grady, always known to cut, was now rubbing the blood out of his eye. Round 5: 10-9, O’Grady.
Round six had a determined Kenty working his jab and right hand on the cut sustained by O’Grady in the previous round. O’Grady, clearly bothered by the cut, was pawing at it to get the blood out of his eye, and Kenty had a much better round. Round six: 10-9, Kenty.
Round seven showed the ebb and tides of this exciting fight, when O’Grady, who in the previous round was losing momentum, came back with a big left that backed Kenty once again into the ropes to take a pummeling. Kenty sustained a cut over his right eye, and could only land feeble jabs that did not keep O’Grady off of him. It almost appeared as if Kenty would go down again in this round from the huge punishment he was taking, but to his credit, he stayed on his feet. Round 7: 10-8, for O’Grady.
Round 8 saw Kenty start out strong once again with very fast combos landing on O’Grady, but a huge left hook met Kenty’s face flush and he went down to the canvas once again. Once he arises, O’Grady is all over him again. Round 8: 10-8, for O’Grady.
Rounds 9 – 15 pretty much mirrored each other, with a gutsy champion trying to do everything he could to hold on to his belt, at times being effective with a sharp jab and solid right hands. But it just wasn’t enough to keep the challenger off of him. In the end, the body attack paid huge dividends along with a hard left hand which scored throughout for O’Grady.
My final scorecard had Sean O’Grady winning by 148-135. The two judges had it 146-138, 147-137, and referee Larry Hazzard had it 146-139. Even though these scorecards are very wide, this was an action packed fight with Kenty always in the fight, and coming back to catch O’Grady throughout the entire 15 rounds.
Kenty after losing his title to O’Grady…
Kenty would go on to fight for three more years, without ever again challenging for a world title. He would beat former rated John Montes via decision, and in the same year, 1982, he was stopped in three rounds by Roberto Elizondo.
On August 16, 1984, Kenty faced Davey Odom in front of a hometown crowd in Detroit, Michigan, winning a ten round decision. This would be Kenty’s swan song at age 29. He retired fairly young, and, unlike so many others before and after him, he stayed retired.
Today, Kenty is an executive of Metro Detroit construction firm and has done very well financially with his business from all accounts.
O’Grady and the mystery after the title belt win from Kenty…
With O’Grady’s win, he was now the WBA Lightweight Champion of the world, or was he? In an interview with O’Grady that is featured in my boxing book, Boxing Interviews of a Lifetime, I asked him the following question:
Copyrighted: 2002, By “Bad” Brad Berkwitt, Boxing Interviews of a Lifetime. (In your fight with Hilmer Kenty you struck gold by winning the WBA Lightweight Title. What happened to you being the champion and defending the belt?)
“The title was stripped from me by a judge. To be honest, I don’t really know all the circumstances around it, and really have hesitated to find out, because I really don’t want to know. From what I understand, Kenty had some kind of contract made between the number one contender to challenge for his title. Subsequently, five months later, I was stripped of the Lightweight Title”.
***If anyone out there can shed more light on this scenario, and has the proof to back up, I will do an update to this piece, and share it with our readers.
O’Grady, now with his title taken away, would go on to fight for two more years, with lesser wins over non descript opponents, but when he stepped up against the likes of Andrew Ganigan, KO2, Pete Ranzany, L10, and Johnny Verdersosa, TKO4, he lost.
After his fight with Verderosa, O’Grady retired for good, and as Kenty did the following year, stayed retired at the even younger age of 24.
O’Grady may have outdone his fame in the boxing ring, when he teamed up with Al Albert, doing the boxing commentary for USA Tuesday Night Fights on the USA Cable Network. He did this for 13 years starting in 1985 going through to their final year in 1998. More recently, O’Grady has been seen doing part of color commentary for the Tough Man Contests shown on the FX Channel. Even more recently, he was back with his first love, boxing on the Fox Sunday Night Fights with Barry Tompkins and Rich Marotta doing commentary. Sadly, this TV show that had boxing is now off the air as well with very few outlets showing the sport anymore. Those days must change!