Former world champion and famed trainer James “Buddy” McGirt is a staple at the annual International Boxing Hall of Fame ceremonies in Canastota, New York, as an invited guest. Many feel that McGirt himself should be an inductee as both a fighter and trainer, like he is in the Florida, New York and New Jersey Boxing Halls of Fame. As a fighter, he was a two-division world champion. As a trainer, he has led multiple well known fighters to upsets and world title victories. He was also a recipient of the coveted Trainer of the Year award.
But, all of these accolades and accomplishments were the furthest things from McGirt’s mind following his recent trip to the Emergency Room. It was a terrifying experience for him to say the least. Fightnews.com caught up with McGirt at his home in Vero Beach, Florida, where is now resting comfortably and recovering.
Buddy first of all how are you feeling?
I am feeling much better than I was 10 days ago.
Please update our readers on the recent events that took place with regards to your health?
Well, a few weeks back I was in California for a fight as the trainer of IBF #1 ranked junior welterweight Sergey Lippinets. Following his victory, I was having difficulty breathing. I didn’t tell anyone which obviously I should have. Instead, I got on a plane and came home to Florida. Upon arriving home, I was still having very serious issues with my breathing. I couldn’t sleep and I was sweating intensely. I mean it was crazy. It felt so unreal. I never felt like this in my life. I had all kinds of things racing through my mind. I thought maybe I was having mental effects from my boxing days. I laid back down and I thought I heard my late mother’s voice telling me to get up. So I got up and my wife Gina asked me why I was sweating so badly. She herself was wrapped in a blanket trying to keep warm. So you can imagine her thoughts when she saw me sweating like that. I was so out of it and sweating so bad that I went outside in my underwear without event thinking. My wife said that we should go to the emergency room as it was 4 am or so. I said let’s wait 30 minutes to see if this passes. She told me I might not be living in 30 minutes and insisted we leave immediately which we did.
Were you more coherent at this point?
Yes, I was, but I was still pouring sweat and struggling to breathe as we headed to the hospital. When I arrived at the hospital, I told the nurse that I have atrial fibrillation (also called AFib or AF) which is an irregular heartbeat. After I told her that, she took one look at me real seriously and cut the conversation short immediately. The next thing I know I was in the ER with IVs in me and having a series of tests being run on me. God as my witness, I truly thought I was going to die. I thought I was checking out of this world permanently.
What did the doctor tell you then?
They got me stabilized to the point where I was able to breath normal. The doctor said I had contracted bronchitis. Which combined with my heart condition was making my heart work overtime. This is why I was sweating so badly and could not catch my breath.
Will you return to training?
Absolutely. I am finally almost back to my normal self now. I need that exercise that boxing gives me, for sure. I was at 240 at one time which is way too high of a weight for someone of my height of 5’6. I am down to 220 now. My immediate goal is to get down to 200. All the fast food and nonsense I was putting in my body is over and done with. I feel I got a second chance at life. My 53rd birthday is coming up January 17th and I want to be here and in good health. I owe it to myself and my family. I had to bury my mother who I was very close to on my birthday nearly a year ago. I attended two funerals of two different fighters who I trained in a span of days. This experience has really opened my eyes that I have to take care of myself much better effective immediately.
Let’s speak on your high profile days as a trainer for a moment. What do you see different from then to now?
When I trained the late Vernon Forrest and the late Arturo Gatti, Antonio Tarver, Lamon Brewster and many others, it was a different time. There was no asking the trainer what you’re doing, or who you are sparring, etc. Nowadays, these fighters want to be coddled. Many trainers are afraid to tell the fighters anything they won’t like in fear of losing their jobs. Say what you want about Floyd Mayweather Sr., it’s one thing I respect about him. He won’t back down to any fighter, not even his own son. My approach is the same but when Vernon died I was really a mess mentally. The years that followed, I took some training opportunities I normally would not have taken. Some of the stuff I went through was some real comedy.
Yeah. One fighter I worked with asked me to check the gloves of his sparring partner. I was like ‘Well, just duck and you won’t get hit!’
Wait. It gets even better.
I had someone reach out to me in Southern California asking if I would be interested in training his fighters and I was like ‘Okay.’ Then he asked if I had a resume. And I was like ‘What?’ and he repeated it and asked if I had a resume. So anyhow I came out to California to meet with him. Saw some of the trainers that he had on staff who didn’t even seem to have any boxing experience whatsoever. So we go in his office and he asks me again if I had a resume. So I told him it was in the car. I went out to my car and drove off! (laughing).
How are things now for you in terms of stability as a trainer?
I am in a good place right now. The bulk of my training services are for the fighters of Andrew Zak’s Journeyman Management, and Alex Vaysfeld and Alex Mezhirovsky’s Union Boxing Management. Each of these men has their own distinct personality which makes for a very good team. Andrew is more mellow but do not confuse that for weakness whatsoever. Guys like him come around once in a lifetime. If I have an issue with a fighter who I’m not able to calm down, then I send him to Andrew to smooth it over. You need people’s skill as well in this game. Especially with the current state of mind of fighters’ of today. Andrew has that aspect down to a T. Alex V. has a more direct to the point approach with a fighter. If I have a fighter I can’t calm down then he is going right to Alex V. He doesn’t play around but his way gets him results so it works out. I have seen him release fighters immediately who won’t listen. He has a no nonsense approach and I get that. He is taking a big risk on these fighters. Alex M. is real smooth gentlemen. He stays in the back and observes and translates as well for the fighters and me. What I like about them all is they let me do my job and I don’t interfere with what they do. Everybody stays in their lanes. They truly get the business. I forsee their stables growing immensely. Who wouldn’t want to work with these guys? They do outstanding work for their fighters and they are making waves in boxing very quickly. It’s not always business though. Lots of laughs. I will share with you briefly a funny moment that came at my own expense, no less.
Well, I called Andrew, Alex V. & Alex M. from the ER to tell them I was ok. Their immediate responses were that they were currently smoking cigars and had just put the finishing touches on my eulogy. (laughs). We just have that kind of special bond that we can joke like that.
Anything you like to say in closing?
Yes, a special thanks to Andrew, Alex V and Alex M. Thanks to them whenever I come to California I have my own place to stay and my own transportation to get around. They go above and beyond what the majority of managers would do for a trainer and they stay loyal to me as I am to them. They were on my case for real that I did not tell them I was ill following the Lippinets’ fight in LA. They genuinely care about not only their fighters well being but mine as well. Also, I’d like to thank comedians Mike Epps and Russell Peters. As well Kenny and Larry Whack and Jerry Rosenberg. These guys all contact me to make sure I am ok or to see if I need anything when I am in California. Last but not least thanks to my family for being there for me always and also thanks to the fans.