Who’s the greatest? It’s the question that underlies the very ethos of boxing. And while it’s relatively easy to agree on who might dominate the sport at a given time, comparing the greats from across the years is always going to demand a degree of imagination and subjectivity.
However, in boxing, there is more to greatness than winning fights and titles. Is there any sport in which the humanity of the participants is more laid bare? Sure, if you are looking to make a profit out of boxing betting, you’ll be studying the form as if you were at a horse race. But the most popular and memorable fighters are not necessarily those who had the most successful careers in statistical terms, but the ones with whom we could truly identify. Take a look at these names, for example.
Compare McGuigan’s record with that of others in the 1980s, and you’d probably say he under achieved. Sure, 32 wins from 35 fights including the World Featherweight crown in 1985 is a performance to be proud of, but that magical night at Loftus Road marked the beginning of the end. In 1986, he had to be hospitalised for dehydration following the gruelling 15-round bout against Stevie Cruz under the Nevada sun, and when his father, who was his biggest inspiration, passed away the following year, he hung up his gloves for good.
McGuigan’s star rose and fell in the blink of an eye, but for that brief moment in 1985, his was the name on everyone’s lips. At a time when the troubles were at their height, all came together to support him, regardless of whether they lived to the north or south, or were catholic or protestant.
The current female undisputed World Champion is worthy of a place on any list, but like McGuigan, her achievements go way beyond the mere stats of being undefeated in 14 fights and a host of titles across the World Championships, European Championships and Olympics. Taylor grew up in Bray, and while she was still attending St. Kilian’s Community School, the phrase Girl Power was gathering momentum across the land.
Little did she know at the time that she would become Ireland’s best example of the phenomenon. In her teens, she demonstrated a precocious talent for football, and played in the boys’ team on level terms. She went on to enjoy a successful career in the Dublin Women’s League, and represented the Republic of Ireland on 11 occasions before turning her attention to boxing. There can be few more inspiring sports women in this or any era.
Here’s another fighter whose record, while speaking volumes, tells only half a story. The man from Belfast is the first ever fighter from Northern Ireland to hold titles in two weight classes. Yet it has been his performance in adversity as much as his success that has endeared him to boxing fans across Ireland and beyond.
When he lost to Josh Warrington last year, many assumed that was the end of his career. Yet he has shown a determination to bounce back. Like McGuigan before him, Frampton has proved to have universal appeal, and McGuigan himself has described him as “a beacon for peace and reconciliation.”