8 Best Irish Boxers of All Time

To many, Ireland signifies leprechauns, St. Patrick’s Day, and local pubs. The Irish also have a reputation for being quick-tempered, yet it is far from the truth.

Generally, those hailing from Ireland are warm and welcoming, but part of the stereotype may originate from the incredible boxers and fighters from the region.

The country is home to some incredible boxers who have had successful careers. Here are eight of the best that Ireland has to offer in the popular combat sport.

1. Jimmy McLarnin

Born in 1907, Jimmy started boxing professionally at a young age and was quickly appointed the nickname ‘Baby Face.’ In fact, he had to actively lie about his age to secure a place in upcoming matches.

After losing his first title match, Jimmy returned swinging and faced many fierce competitors, such as Sammy Mandell, Sid Terris, and Al Singer. His most famous win, however, was against Young Corbett III—in which he achieved a first-round knockout.

This victory secured him the title of World Welterweight Champion (the first of two champion titles) and was what propelled his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

2. Barry McGuigan

Representing his homeland in the 1978 Commonwealth Games and again at the 1980 Summer Olympics, Barry McGuigan began his professional career in 1981. He rocketed to fame (or infamy) after his 1982 fight against Young Ali—which sent his opponent into a coma that resulted in his death six months later.

While Barry wasn’t to blame because a blood clot is what ultimately caused Young Ali’s death, the incident shook him. Nevertheless, he still moved forward into an incredible career that saw him win multiple world titles, including the WBA World Featherweight Champion. In 2005, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

3. Steve Collins

Nicknamed the ‘Celtic Warrior,’ Steve Collins was born in Dublin in 1964 and, by 1986, decided to turn his love of boxing into a professional career. He did this by competing in many matches held in the United States during his early years.

Steve went on a rampage after winning 17 matches back to back and securing the Irish Middleweight title. His career continued with him also gaining the WBO (World Boxing Organization) Middleweight and Supermiddleweight titles. He retired in 1997 due to head injuries.

4. Jack Dempsey

Although many don’t know it, Jack Dempsey is the famous icon who inspired the ‘boxing man’ meme. He is also the Irish boxer with the nickname ‘Nonpareli’—roughly translating to someone without equal—because he often participated in matches against fighters significantly heavier than him.

Despite this, he emerged victorious numerous times, including winning his first world title in 1890 against Billy McCarthy. Sadly, Jack’s career was cut short at the age of 33 after he succumbed to complications related to tuberculosis.

5. Freddy Gilroy

Competing at the same 1956 Summer Olympics as John Caldwell (see below), Freddy Gilroy won a gold medal while representing Ireland. This win launched his surprisingly short professional career, which lasted just five years.

During these short years, Freddy made a quick name for himself, winning British, European, and Commonwealth titles in boxing. However, after his victory over John Caldwell, he quickly announced that he was ceasing to compete and retired within a matter of days.

6. John Caldwell

Born in Belfast, John Caldwell first made a name for himself during the 1956 Summer Olympics. Here, he won a bronze medal in the flyweight division, and people quickly began to take notice of him. Four years later, anyone betting on him using casino promotions available in Ireland at the time would have won big.

At this time, he secured the British Flyweight title and competed in many riveting fights. One of these, against Freddie Gilroy, is still often referred to as the best boxing match to ever take place in Ireland. This made John a common name in Irish boxing before he retired in 1965 at 27 years old due to eyesight problems.

7. John Monaghan

Known simply as ‘Rinty,’ John Monaghan was famous for much more than his boxing ability. Serenading crowds of fans with lines of the hit local song When Irish Eyes Are Smiling each time he secured a victory, John is known as one of the most charismatic athletes to ever compete in the sport.

However, singing wasn’t all he was suitable for. John was known as a hard puncher, which helped him secure British, European, and Commonwealth flyweight championship titles. In 1947, he also secured the Flyweight Champion World Title by knocking out Jackie Patterson. His personable character while competing was adored to such a degree that the city of Belfast even erected a statue of him singing.

8. Tom Sharkey

Although born in Dundalk, Tom Sharkey began his professional career in Hawaii after running from Ireland and eventually joining the US Navy. While deployed, he realized he was passionate about boxing and decided to turn it into a career.

Most famous for his fight against Robert Fitzsimmons, Tom became a heavyweight titleholder after Fitzsimmons was disqualified for allegedly hitting Tom while he was down. Although this ruling was controversial, it still secured Tom a place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003.

Honourable Mention: Conor McGregor

Although not a traditional boxer because he chose to participate in MMA (mixed martial arts) instead, Conor McGregor is one of the most internationally famed athletes to come out of Ireland. His many competitions and spirited attitude have made him a household name worldwide. Holding the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) title in both lightweight and featherweight, he is the first fighter ever to hold simultaneous championships in the league. This fame led to some of the most internationally publicized fights, including one against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2017.

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