Best I Faced: Barry McGuigan
Although Barry McGuigan’s career was fleeting, he accomplished a lot in a short space of time. Arguably, the supremely popular fighter’s greatest accomplishment was bringing Ireland together during “The Troubles” in the 1980s.
McGuigan was born in Monaghan but grew up in nearby Clones in the Republic of Ireland, on the border of Northern Ireland. His father was from the north which made the younger McGuigan eligible to box at the 1978 Commonwealth Games. He returned home from Edmonton with a gold medal. Two years later, he fought at the Olympic Games, losing in the third round.
He decided to turn pro, though had some big decisions, largely because of the goings on in Ireland.
“The support of my hinterland was all in Northern Ireland,” McGuigan told RingTV.com. “So I thought, when I go pro, I could do one of two things: I could go to Dublin and box out of the Boxing Union of Ireland, which wasn’t an organization of any great notoriety. There wasn’t great support for professional boxing.
“But in the north, for some reason, there was great support for professional boxing. So I thought, well, I can move half-a-mile up the road and be in the north, live with my family, train in Belfast, be promoted in Belfast but I had to take out citizenship and that was a whole different ball game because we were right in the middle of the worst period of politics, or what is euphemistically called, ‘The Troubles.’ There was a lot of tension, murders. There were certain sections you couldn’t go and I was an Irish guy, taking out British citizenship.”
McGuigan made his debut in May of 1981, winning by second round stoppage. He surprisingly lost a decision in his third outing to Peter Eubank (Chris’ older brother). Unperturbed he returned and, after two wins, avenged the loss by stoppage.
Tragedy struck the following summer when, after beating Young Ali, his opponent fell into a coma and passed away several months later. With a heavy heart, McGuigan continued his career and won the vacant British featherweight title in the spring of 1983. Later that year, he won the European title, stopping future junior featherweight titlist Valerio Nati in six rounds.
Three more European title defenses followed – all by stoppage – and a hard earned decision over battle-tested Juan Laporte prepared him for a fight with long-reigning WBA 126-pound champion Eusebio Pedroza.
The fight took place at the home of Queen’s Park Rangers F.C. in front of 26,000 rabid patrons. Several celebrities attended, including Irvine Welsh and Lucian Freud. An audience of 19 million people tuned in on TV to watch the fight.
McGuigan fought the fight of his life and was rewarded, much to his fervent fans’ delight, with a unanimous decision. The win earned him 1985’s BBC “Sports Personality of the Year.”
He returned to joyous scenes.
“The Greatest moment of my life was coming home to Belfast and Dublin,” he said proudly. “75,000 people gathered in one hour in Belfast. Two days later, in Dublin, 200,000 people came out to see me. It took me one hour to go the length of O’Connell Street, up to the Mansion House, the greatest day of my life. To know what it meant to people both north and south of the border, it was phenomenal. 15,000 in my hometown, they drank for a week.”
Just three months later, McGuigan returned to action to face the unbeaten uber-talented Bernard Taylor, his mandatory challenger. The only blemish on the American’s ledger was a draw against Pedroza. They fought at McGuigan’s home away from home, the Kings Hall in Belfast.
“I closed (Taylor) down, cut the ring off, put him under pressure,” he said. “I knew was going to lose possibly four, five rounds but I closed him down and he couldn’t take the pressure. He couldn’t fight at that pace.
“I looked at several of his fights beforehand and, every time I watched him, I thought, ‘How the hell am I gonna beat this guy?’ because, every time I looked at him, he was so fast. But I knew he couldn’t fight at my pace, so we started off and I just walked him down, head movement, close tight guard and I could feel him as I was hitting him.
“In the seventh round, I buried a left hook to the body, nothing, the noise was deafening, I gave him a little shove and, when I gave him a shove, he made a noise and I knew he was gone. That was right on the bell. I went back to my corner and remember Harry Carpenter (ITV commentator) saying, ‘McGuigan’s got a smile on his face.’ because I knew I hurt him. I didn’t think he wasn’t gonna come out. It completely broke him.”
Next up was tough Dominican fighter Danilo Cabrera, who was stopped in the penultimate round in Dublin.
In the summer of 1986, McGuigan headed to Las Vegas – on the undercard of Thomas Hearns-Mark Medal/Robbie Sims-Roberto Duran – he met Steve Cruz outdoors at Caesars Palace with temperatures reaching 110 degrees.
At the halfway point, McGuigan was ahead but the searing heat sapped him of his energy and down the stretch he faded. He was dropped in the 10th, penalized a point for low blows in the 12th and touched down twice in the 15th round. He lost a close decision – by one point on two of the scorecards – and later spent the night at a local hospital due to dehydration. The fight was voted THE RING Magazine’s “Fight of the Year.”
Almost two years later, he returned to kick off three stoppage wins before he lost to Jim McDonnell (current trainer of James DeGale) in May of 1989. McGuigan decided to retire from boxing, despite being just 28 years old. He did so with a record of 32-3 (with 28 knockouts) and never returned.
“I was burned out physically and mentally,” he explained. “My appetite for the game, and all of what happened with my ex-manager, it made me sick to my stomach.”
There were two men the all-action whirlwind would have liked to have faced: Sandy Saddler and Azumah Nelson.
“I’d have loved to have fought Sandy Saddler. He was a great great fighter, one of the greatest of all-time. (Azumah) Nelson, that would have been a great fight, hands up. He was a better fighter than me; his career defines him as better than me. His longevity was greater than mine.”
For several years, McGuigan served as a boxing pundit, initially on ITV and later on Sky Sports. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005.
He decided to take a new path in 2008, after a chance meeting with a young Carl Frampton at the National Stadium. He was scouting for son Shane, who was going to compete in the Irish amateur championships.
“I decided to manage guys. I’d resisted, then I saw Frampton and thought, I’m going to look after this guy; he’s unbelievable,” he said excitedly. “Something about him, I saw this kid box twice and I was like, I love this guy.”
Things quickly snowballed and the two remain together.
McGuigan, now 56, is married to childhood sweetheart Sandra. The couple live in Kent and have four children. He is the CEO of Cyclone Promotions and manages Frampton. Two of his sons Blane and Jake also help run Cyclone Promotions. Shane no longer boxes but is a renowned trainer, who runs McGuigan’s Gym in Battersea, working with WBA super middleweight titlist George Groves, Josh Taylor and Frampton, among others.
McGuigan graciously took time to speak to RingTV.com about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
Charm Chiteule: The best jab was either Pedroza or Charm Chiteule. Chiteule was very good; he blackened my eye. He was very slick, tough durable. I hit him with a lot before I got him out of there.
Eusebio Pedroza: Lateral movement, spatial awareness, head movement, knew where you were, stepped back, stepped in, he could block. I think I caught him once with a good left hook to the body at the end of the fifth round. He was very hard to hit. He was brilliant on the inside, really good at riding a punch, blocking, slipping, rolling his head, pulling back, in and out. Very, very tasty on the inside, very sophisticated.
Juan Laporte: Laporte had an incredible chin, unbelievable chin. Nobody ever put him down. I had him out on his feet in the 10th round. He said he’s never been so badly hurt. He fought Julio Cesar Chavez; he fought so many world champions and I think he was stopped at the end of his career. His corner retired him. Nobody ever put him down. Nobody actually stopped him in the ring. He was definitely the toughest. A chin like granite.
Bernard Taylor: “The B.T. Express”, incredibly talented, 440 amateur fights, lost six times, won the Pan-American games, won everything, amazing talent, very very quick. Without a doubt, he was the quickest.
Taylor: Again, he was so quick, beautiful feet, into punching distance, fire off a volley of shots, get back out again and step to the side. Never went the same way, often guys that move are predictable. They had a preference. Often guys who are orthodox jab and push off the right foot and walk into a right hook or overhand right, whereas he would go this way or that way, equal fluidity, forward and back, in and out, side to side, brilliantly talented, just floated around the ring.
Pedroza: Far better, just clever, smart, hold you, pull you back. I never stopped. I kept on coming. I put him under pressure. He was very smart, very clever, great spatial awareness. He was a master on the inside; he’d lean on you, shove you, just to create space. He was guilty of lots of misdemeanors. What he’d do is, he’d create enough space; he’d hook and hit you with his hook and forearm. He was clever and subtle. He’d put your head down and pull you into an uppercut. It’s a real skill. I’m not promoting it but his ability to fight on the inside was really tremendous. I couldn’t swallow properly for two or three days (after the fight). His boxing intelligence, that’s your DNA; it’s innate. He had that ability, miles better than anyone else I fought. Although I was young, I was a young hungry lion who put him under pressure. He didn’t start to fade until after the halfway stage. Taylor was more talented but not in the same league.
Laporte: Laporte was the strongest, strong as a bull. Physical strength, naturally strong. He went up to 140 pounds; he fought Kostya Tszyu, Charles Murray, very strong guy. Physically, although he weighed 126, he was as strong as a welterweight. Really good fighter, a bit of a wasted talent.
Laporte: Laporte by a mile. He could punch, nearly took my head off. He hit me in the ninth round and, when I was a kid, I lived in the diamond in Clones. My mum and dad had a grocery business. My (now) wife’s family owned a hardware store, a beautiful little town of 3,000 people. There was also a toy shop owned by Mrs Keenan. He hit me and I’m coming forward and throwing the jab and, in the 10th, I stepped in and his head went back, so I thought, “I’ll try it again.” As I came forward I saw red. It was his right hand coming at me; he beat me to the punch. I didn’t know where I was. I thought I was in Mrs Keenan’s shop. That’s the God’s honest truth; I thought, “What am I doing in Mrs Keenan’s shop?” That’s how much he hurt me. I grabbed a hold of him. I don’t know how I cleared my head. (Referee) Harry Gibbs was going, “Break, you’re holding.” I could hear this noise but I held on and then eventually he broke us up. He swung a few more shots and I managed to get myself together and got to the end of the round. That was the hardest I’ve been hit. It was the most bizarre feeling. It took me back to my childhood. I came back to my corner and Eddie Shaw used to do this anytime he thought I was hit with a good shot: He had a big sponge and put it in ice cold water and threw it and shocked you back into your senses.
Pedroza: Back to Pedroza, you can go around in circles and talk about how brilliant Bernard Taylor was but skill is about winning consistently, 19 successful title defenses, seven years as champion of the world, one of the longest reigning featherweights. He was a phenomenal fighter. I was privileged to fight someone that good.
Pedroza: Without a doubt, he was one of the greatest fighters of all time. I pail compared to Eusebio Pedroza. He was one of the greatest featherweights of all time. I’m proud to share a ring with him.
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