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20-20 vision – The greatest fighter from Ireland: Barry McGuigan

McGuigan (right) battles the great Eusebio Pedroza.
10
Oct

Most countries have produced at least one or two special boxers whose ring exploits have been etched permanently in our collective memory. That includes tiny nations like Puerto Rico and behemoths like the U.S. and Mexico, as well many in between.

In this feature, The Ring looks closely at 20 countries with strong boxing traditions and selects the best fighter from each.

The process wasn’t easy. First, we had to select the 20 countries, which proved to be painstaking. Some nations that have produced memorable fighters didn’t make the list. And, second, choosing a single boxer from the countries that did make the cut was easy in some cases – Panama, for example – but excruciating in others.

The countries will be rolled out in alphabetical order one day at a time at The Ring.

Notes: The “five more” listed at the bottom of each capsule were among other fighters in the discussion for each nation. … Some boxers lived in more than one country. We assigned each to the country where they spent their formative years. For example, a fighter who left one country as a small child was assigned to his second country.

IRELAND

BARRY McGUIGAN

Birthdate / place: February 28, 1961 / Clones, County Monaghan
Years active: 1981-89
Record: 32-3 (28 KOs)
Major titles: RING and WBA featherweight (1985-86)
Greatest victories: Juan LaPorte, Valerio Nati, Eusebio Pedroza, Bernard Taylor

Background: The process of selecting the greatest fighter from Ireland was particularly difficult, as no one was an obvious choice. A case could be made for such champions as Mike McTigue and Steve Collins, among others. One thing seems certain, though: No Irish fighter made a bigger impact on his homeland than Barry McGuigan. He was born in Clones, County Monaghan, near the border that separates the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland. That seems fitting given the unifying role he would play during The Troubles period – the Northern Ireland conflict – in the latter country, which is part of the United Kingdom. McGuigan was a good amateur, representing Ireland in the 1980 Olympics, but found his greatest success as a pro. He built his reputation – and rabid fan base – as a dynamic, hard-punching prospect primarily in Belfast venues before evolving into a legitimate contender. “The Clones Cyclone” won British and European titles but recorded his first high-profile victory over former 126-pound champion Juan LaPorte in 1985. Two months later came the greatest moment of his career. An estimated 26,000 crammed into Loftus Road Stadium in London, home of the Queens Park Rangers, to watch McGuigan challenge fellow Hall of Famer and longtime featherweight champion Eusebio Pedroza. The Panamanian, one of the best fighters of his era, had made a remarkable 19 consecutive defenses going into the fight. And the run would end there. McGuigan gave a brilliant performance in front of a wildly supportive crowd, including a knockdown of Pedroza in Round 7, to win the 126-pound championship by a unanimous decision. Tens of thousands of adoring fans – up to a quarter million total – gave McGuigan a hero’s welcome in homecomings to Belfast, Clones and Dublin but his appeal was more universal than that. In a time of Catholics vs. Protestants, British vs. Irish, everyone loved Barry McGuigan. He lost his title to underdog Stevie Cruz in the energy-sapping sun of Las Vegas two fights later but he had already left his mark as an Irish legend.

Quote: “Long-standing violence between Catholics and Protestants subsided when McGuigan stepped in the ring. The popular saying of the day was, ‘Leave the fighting to McGuigan,’” the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Five more from Ireland (in alphabetical order): Five more from Ireland (in alphabetical order): Johnny Caldwell, Steve Collins, Bernard Dunne, Mike McTigue, Katie Taylor

(Note: Only boxers from the Republic of Ireland were included here. Those from Northern Ireland – as well as England, Scotland and Wales – will be considered for the United Kingdom entry later in this series.)

Next up: Italy

Ones you missed:

Argentina: Carlos Monzon
Australia: Jeff Fenech
Canada: Sam Langford
Cuba: Jose Napoles
France: Marcel Cerdan
Germany: Max Schmeling
Ghana: Azumah Nelson

 

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