Ranking the 10 Best Irish Boxers of All Time

Rob Lancaster@RobLancs79Featured ColumnistAugust 28, 2015

Ranking the 10 Best Irish Boxers of All Time

0 of 11

    Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

    Ireland has a proud tradition of producing great boxers, stretching back to Nonpareil Jack Dempsey right through to their current champions, like Carl Frampton.

    But who ranks as the best ever? Here, Bleacher Report counts down the country's top 10 pugilists.

    Before reading on, there are a couple of ground rules with regard to the ranking process.

    Fighters from both sides of Ireland were considered, but not American-born boxers with Irish heritage. However, as you will see, several stars left their homeland to find fame in the United States.

    Also, those who won world titles in their careers were given greater preference, though we remembered that there are far more belts to fight for in these current times.

    Prior to beginning the list, it is only right to give a mention to some of the great Irish boxers who were squeezed out.

Honourable Mentions

1 of 11

    Elsa/Getty Images

    The list of great Irish boxers is so long that even the honourable mentions won't be able to fit in every single contender who was considered.

    But, in no particular order, sincerest apologies to the following fighters who didn't make the cut.

    Welterweight Jimmy Gardner, middleweight Pat O'Connor and bantamweight Freddie Gilroy were all unfortunate to miss out.

    From more recent times, Brian and Eamonn Magee didn't squeeze in, and neither did Bernard Dunne, Damaen Kelly or Eamonn Loughran

    As for those still boxing, Carl Frampton and Andy Lee could both feature in the top 10 in a decade from now.

    However, with their careers still ongoing and their legacies not yet known, it was unfair to put the duo in ahead of those who are no longer lacing up the gloves.

10. Mike McTigue

2 of 11

    Professional record: 77-26-8

    Mike McTigue was born in County Clare, Ireland, but moved to the United States when he was 21.

    However, Bould Mike returned home to become the light heavyweight champion of the world in 1923, beating Battling Siki after 20 gruelling rounds in Dublin.

    He lost the belt to Tommy Loughran in his first defence, only to triumph in the rematch between the pair.

    His second reign as champion would last until 1925 when Paul Berlenbach beat him.

    Per Wikipedia, his boxing licence was revoked at the age of 38. He died in 1966 in New York.

    Boxing student Des McCullagh wrote a letter to the Clare Champion newspaper in 1966 (h/t ClarePeople.com) that said, "How would Mike McTigue compare with the boxers of today? He would outbox any man in the middleweight and light heavy divisions and I think only Cassius Clay’s footwork, which is brilliant, would edge a decision over Clare’s Greatest Son."

9. Wayne McCullough

3 of 11

    John Gichigi/Getty Images

    Professional record: 27-7 (18 KOs)

    Wayne McCullough lost four of his final five fights as a professional, but those late defeats should not lessen his achievements in the ring.

    A silver medalist at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the Pocket Rocket won the WBC world bantamweight title when he defeated Yasuei Yakushiji in Japan in 1995.

    He lost the belt two years later and never scaled the same heights again. However, McCullough's failure to become a two-time world champion wasn't through a lack of effort.

    The Belfast-born boxer took WBO titleholder Naseem Hamed to the scorecards in 1998 and then went the distance with legendary Mexican Erik Morales at super bantamweight 12 months later.

    He even stepped up to featherweight to challenge WBO champion Scott Harrison in 2003, losing a lopsided decision to the Scot in Glasgow.

8. Tom Sharkey

4 of 11

    Associated Press

    Professional record: 37-7-6 (34 KOs)

    Although born in Dundalk, Tom Sharkey ended up in New York after running away from home to become a cabin boy.

    He joined the United States Navy and began his career as a boxer while deployed in Hawaii.

    Sharkey drew with James J. Corbett in 1896 and registered a win over Bob Fitzsimmons later in the same year. He was awarded the fight after his rival was disqualified by stand-in referee Wyatt Earp, which made Sailor Tom became world champion.

    However, he could never quite get the better of James J. Jeffries. He twice lost on points to the American, with their second clash, in 1899, spanning 25 rounds.

    There was no third meeting between the pair—Sharkey won just one of his final seven bouts, including suffering a loss at the hands of Fitzsimmons in 1900.

7. Dave McAuley

5 of 11

    Professional record: 18-3-2 (8 KOs)

    While he didn't have the longevity of others on this list, Dave McAuley deserves his place in the top 10 for his stint as holder of the IBF flyweight title.

    The man from Larne made it third time lucky in his bid to become a world champion in 1989, upsetting Englishman Duke McKenzie at Wembley, London.

    McAuley told David Kelly of the Belfast Telegraph: "[Mickey] Duff [McKenzie's promoter] believed that I was coming over as a sacrificial lamb. He was having a voluntary defence, they thought I was just in it for a final pay-day so they took the fight expecting an easy night."

    His previous two attempts to win a major title had seen him lose to the WBA champ, Fidel Bassa.

    McAuley defended the IBF version on five occasions before losing a hotly contested loss to Colombian Rodolfo Blanco in Spain. He retired after the defeat.

6. Johnny Caldwell

6 of 11

    Professional record: 29-5-1 (14 KOs)

    Johnny Caldwell won a bronze medal at the 1956 Olympics before going on to win a world title in the paid ranks.

    He started out at flyweight, winning the British belt courtesy of a victory over Frankie Jones in 1960, before moving to bantamweight.

    The step up paid off when Caldwell out-pointed Alphonse Halimi to become world champion. He also won the rematch by the same method, before losing the strap to Eder Jofre in Brazil in 1962.

    Caldwell was unable to beat compatriot Freddie Gilroy to take the British and Commonwealth straps that same year, though he would eventually get his hands on the two belts in 1964.

    He eventually retired in 1965 and died in 2009 at age 71.

5. Nonpareil Jack Dempsey

7 of 11

    Professional record: 51-4-11 (23 KOs)

    Jack "Nonpareil" Dempsey was given his nickname because of his reputation for being unbeatable.

    He did lose in his career, though not often. Two defeats suffered at the hands of Billy Baker were believed to be in fixed bouts, per his Wikipedia profile.

    Dempsey was born in Curran, Ireland, but made his name in the United States.

    He became a hero in his adopted homeland, per Earl Gustkey of the Los Angeles Times: "To a generation of American boxing followers, he was a fighter who first demonstrated that boxing can be performed as art, with style, grace and athleticism."

    His reign as middleweight champion came to an end when the legendary Bob Fitzsimmons beat him in 1891.

    Dempsey died four years later of tuberculosis at the age of 33. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.

    (There is no footage available of Dempsey in action, so instead take in some highlights of Carl Frampton's win over Alejandro Gonzalez Jr.)

4. Rinty Monaghan

8 of 11

    Professional record: 52-9-8 (19 KOs)

    John "Rinty" Monaghan was a flyweight world champion who has been immortalised with a statue in his home city of Belfast.

    According to Wikipedia, the nickname "Rinty" stemmed from the film character Rin Tin Tin and Monaghan's fondness for dogs.

    Monaghan defeated Dado Marino in 1947 to claim the vacant world title, though he wasn't confirmed as undisputed champion until he knocked out Scotland's Jackie Paterson in his next fight.

    He often treated the crowd to a rendition of the song "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and went on to work as a cabaret artist after his career in the ring was over.

    His final bout saw him draw with Terry Allen. Monaghan—who had also been British, Commonwealth and European champion—died in 1984.

    Per BBC News, Carl Frampton said of his compatriot: "Boxing is a sport now where it's full of alphabet titles and no-one really knows who the world champion is. When Rinty was the world champion, there only was one and everyone knew him."

3. Barry McGuigan

9 of 11

    Professional record: 32-3 (28 KOs)

    Barry McGuigan was more than just a boxer—he was a sportsman who signified hope in Ireland during difficult times.

    While the battle went on between Unionists and Republicans in 1985, the Clones Cyclone had an entire nation behind him when he travelled to London to beat Eusebio Pedroza and become WBA world featherweight champion.

    He told BBC Sport: "It was a very hostile time and there was a lot of craziness going on. I just did not want to get involved in it—there was enough sadness and hatred everywhere we looked. I deliberately took a stance of neutrality and wore the United Nations flag of peace on my shorts."

    McGuigan ended Pedroza's long reign after going 15 rounds for the first time in his career. However, his stint with the belt lasted just more than a year.

    In high temperatures in an outdoor bout in Las Vegas, a severely dehydrated McGuigan was beaten by heavy underdog Steve Cruz on points.

    Having briefly retired from boxing following the death of his father in 1987, McGuigan returned the following year.

    However, a loss to Jim McDonnell led to him hanging up the gloves again. He has worked in the media since, while he is also now managing the careers of several boxers, including Carl Frampton.

2. Steve Collins

10 of 11

    Professional record: 36-3 (21 KOs)

    Dublin-born Steve Collins was a two-weight world champion who toppled both Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn.

    The Celtic Warrior—who turned professional in the United States—started out at middleweight but lost title challenges against Mike McCallum and Reggie Johnson.

    Moving to Britain helped him finally get hold of a major belt, as Collins defeated Chris Pyatt in Sheffield, England, to pick up the WBO strap.

    He then stepped up to super middleweight to challenge WBO champion Eubank, ending the Englishman's unbeaten run, as well as his reign, with a points win that saw both men knocked down once.

    Collins won the rematch by split decision in the first of seven successful defences that included a pair of triumphs over a fading Benn.

    Collins never lost the belt in the ring, instead being stripped of it after withdrawing from a scheduled fight with Joe Calzaghe due to injury. The move by the WBO led to Collins hanging up his gloves.

1. Jimmy McLarnin

11 of 11

    Professional record: 55-11-3 (21 KOs)

    While he emigrated to Canada when he was just three years old, Jimmy McLarnin was born in Hillsborough, County Down.

    Baby Face would go on to become a two-time welterweight champion and would complete a rarity in the sport of boxing—he retired on a winning note and was never tempted into making a return.

    Having lost at lightweight to Sammy Mandell in 1928, McLarnin claimed a world title five years later when he stopped Young Corbett III inside a round.

    He then became involved in a trilogy of bouts with Barney Ross, losing two out of three against the American. On each occasion, however, the pair went the full 15 rounds.

    In writing the fighter's obituary following his death at the age of 96, Mike Lewis of the Guardian said: "McLarnin carried awesome power in both fists and his right was particularly feared. Like most big punchers, he suffered hand injuries and became more of a boxer in the latter part of his career."

    So, why is McLarnin at the top of the Irish rankings? Because he's the third best welterweight of all time, according to BoxRec. Only Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Henry Armstrong are above him.

    The boy born near Belfast was a shining star who beat 13 world champions and is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. His CV is good enough to earn him first place on the list.

    Do you agree with our rankings? Should someone else have been considered for a place in the top 10? Feel free to have your say via the comments section.

    All records used in the slideshow are from BoxRec.