Date: January 9, 1900
Location: Broadway A.C., New York, New York, USA
Terry McGovern was a ferocious fighter. His punching was so powerful, his approach so ruthless, he became known by the nickname “Terrible.”
He was the original crouching, swarming power-puncher. Imagine a 5’3” Mike Tyson—but full of even more ill-will towards his opponents.
That was McGovern.
He is one of the greatest fighters of all-time and for a span of two years—from 1899 to 1901—he was the sport's most devastating and terrifying force.
Harry Forbes, Oscar Gardner (two times), Frank Erne, Aurelio Herrera and Joe Gans—McGovern battered every single one of them. And did so in unforgiving and sadistic fashion.
None of them lasted more than five rounds.
But it’s his knockout win over George Dixon—along with that annihilation of Pedlar Palmer—that lands McGovern atop this list.
In January of 1900, McGovern rang in the century with a brand of never-before-seen boxing violence.
McGovern and the defending champion Dixon were scheduled to fight 25 rounds for the world featherweight title. McGovern—the bantamweight champion after dethroning Palmer three months prior—was looking to become only the third fighter in history to have won world titles in two weight classes.
He was still aged just 19.
Dixon was first to enter the ring. Not a minute later, McGovern climbed into his corner. Both champions were called to the center of the ring where they shook hands.
It was on.
Dixon, cool and collected as always, “opened with a left swing to the head,” observed the Salt Lake Tribune. “McGovern ducked and sent his right over the kidneys.”
McGovern was finding his way inside the champion’s defense and went after Dixon’s ribs with all his might. McGovern was landing between six and 10 punches at a time.
But Dixon, who was recognized as the best featherweight in the world as far back as 1890, reportedly laughed at his challenger's body attack.
But McGovern did not waver. He continued to batter Dixon’s ribs and kidneys from the clinch.
“He seemed to have no other object in view,” said World on January 10, 1900.
In Round 2, Dixon seemed to finally weaken. Hoping for some time away from the abuse, Dixon was said to have pushed McGovern away only to see the fistic hurricane rush back and ram “a dozen short right jolts [to Dixon’s] kidneys.” (World)
Attempting a rally, Dixon landed flush left uppercuts to his challenger’s body and face.
McGovern only laughed at him.
“Once more Dixon came with a left-hook on the jaw. McGovern smashed him in the body and laughed as Dixon hung on,” reported World.
This frightening phenom was becoming too much even for one of history’s greatest champions.
Save for a tremendous right-hand that Dixon landed in the third round that staggered his opponent, the fight was all McGovern. In the seventh round, the end looked near.
Dixon was noticeably tired by now, hanging on in the clinches. But, as in every round up until that point, it was in the clinch where “McGovern roasted [Dixon’s] ribs” (World).
McGovern had produced something that had never before been seen: he “pulled back his body and put all his strength in a right hand smash on the short ribs” (World), sending Dixon on to all fours—the first knockdown of a 14-year career.
It was to happen eight further times in Round 8.
World recaps the closing moments of the title fight-turned-assault:
“[Dixon’s] eyelids were drooping and his legs were shaking but he made a vicious rush at McGovern and swung his left fiercely for the jaw.
Terry, laughing, ducked it and clinched. For the last time he drew back… to get distance and rammed home his right on Dixon’s sorely battered ribs.
The blow knocked Dixon flat on his face.”
A ruined Dixon attempted to get to his feet one last time—but his manager, Tom O’Rourke, stopped the fight and saved him from any more harm.
“Terrible” Terry McGovern was born. He was crowned the featherweight champion of the world, his second title in as many years.
He simply couldn’t be stopped. He was an apex predator, a lion ravenous with hunger; the very air around him trembled in fear.
McGovern was a true legend-killer—and just a teenager.