The ‘Emerald Isle’ holds a rich history of producing great fighters. Many world champions have risen from across both the north and south of Ireland; from back in the vintage days of boxing through to the modern era.
Living up to the moniker of ‘The Fighting Irish’, these established champions made names for themselves and built their reputations from their heart, skill and overall success gained within the ring.
Some have stood out from the rest during their journey to the top, whether it was within the last decade or across the past century.
This St. Patrick’s Day, as the Irish celebrate their cultural heritage as an annual tradition, BOXRAW look back at the greatest ever fighters to come from the nation.
Old-School Irish Greats
Widely regarded as the greatest fighter to ever come out of Ireland, Jimmy McLarnin was born in Hillsborough, County Down in 1907 before emigrating to Canada with his family at an early age.
It was across America where he cemented his Hall of Fame legacy, becoming a two-time welterweight world champion and overcoming many fellow greats such as Benny Leonard, Barney Ross and Tony Canzoneri.
After a victory over Lou Ambers in 1936, McLarnin retired and never looked back. Unlike many fighters of his era, he resisted the temptation of returning to prize-fighting and lived out the rest of his life healthy and financially comfortable through smart business investments - living to the age of 96.
Around the same era but several divisions higher than McLarnin, County Clare-born Mike McTigue ruled as light-heavyweight world champion in the 1920s.
McTigue won his world title by dethroning Senegalese champion Battling Siki at the La Scala Theatre in Dublin, earning a 20-round decision on St. Patrick’s Day in 1923 despite the ongoing Irish Civil War conflict right on the venue’s doorstep.
Before the famous American cultural icon Jack Dempsey arrived on the scene, there was another Irishman by the same name who first made an impact in the late 1800s.
Nonpareil Jack Dempsey, born in County Kildare, is credited with being boxing’s first-ever middleweight world champion and eventually became a Hall of Fame inductee. One of his only three recorded losses came at the hands of all-time pound-for-pound great Bob Fitzsimmons.
Another fighter from County Clare, George Gardiner, is considered the first undisputed light-heavyweight champion in history and also held claims to the middleweight crown. He was involved in bouts with the likes of Jack Johnson, Barbados Joe Walcott and Bob Fitzsimmons.
County Cork-native Jack McAuliffe is regarded as one of only 17 boxing world champions to have retired without suffering a defeat in his career. He is another Irishman regarded as one of the best from his country. Born in 1866, he went on to reign as lightweight champion in his Hall of Fame career.
Other all-time Irish greats include heavyweight punchers ‘Sailor’ Tom Sharkey and Peter Maher, the holder of the most first-round knockouts in boxing history, as well as Belfast’s popular former flyweight champion Rinty Monaghan and the sport’s first-ever featherweight champion Ike Weir.
There have been many other all-time greats throughout history who have held deep Irish heritage and welcomed their backgrounds during their careers, including the likes of John L. Sullivan, Mickey Walker and Gene Tunney.
It was all of these iconic Irish champions that paved the way for future generations to proudly represent their nation in the ring and achieve success on home soil and abroad.
Modern Day Irish Champions
Belfast favourite Carl Frampton had long been leading the way in terms of the greatest modern day fighters from ‘The Emerald Isle’.
‘The Jackal’ rallied to two division world titles and notched up wins over the likes of Scott Quigg, Leo Santa Cruz and Nonito Donaire in his career.
Despite failing to make history as Ireland’s first-ever three-weight ruler against Jamel Herring; his legacy as the greatest Irish champion in modern times was already secured.
One of the country’s other most successful champions has strong claims for that distinction too, though, with Steve Collins Sr. having rallied to world title supremacy at both middleweight and super-middleweight.
Known as ‘The Celtic Warrior’, the Dubliner epitomised the fighting Irish spirit throughout an esteemed career; in which he earned two ring victories over both high-profile UK rivals Chris Eubank Sr. and Nigel Benn.
In the 1980s, at a time when Ireland was affected by The Troubles, Barry McGuigan was another leading Irish name; one who became a symbol of neutrality and peace while receiving support from both sides of the community at home.
Born in County Monaghan in 1961, ‘The Clones Cyclone’ reigned as featherweight world champion in his career with his most prominent triumph coming against Panamanian Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road in London.
Arguably the best female fighter in history, Katie Taylor, has been a catalyst in reviving women’s boxing to a mainstream audience with her eye-catching abilities and overall achievements.
Following 2012 Olympic Gold on a long list of amateur glory, the Wicklow-born fighter has become a two-weight world champion as a professional; including holding the undisputed lightweight crown.
Other modern day Irish champions have included popular former middleweight title holder Andy Lee, a student of the legendary Emanuel Steward and second-cousin of world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
Known as ‘The Pocket Rocket’, Wayne McCullough was another more recent great. The Belfast fighter ruled as bantamweight world champion after winning an Olympic Silver medal for Ireland at the 1992 Games.
With Ireland’s strong connection to boxing and the continuous success of its fighters, many more successful stars will undoubtedly have their hands raised in the ring while proudly draped in their national flag for years to come.
Header image: Sportsfile