When you are looking for a natural winner, there is no place to look than the Irish boxers. They are a unique clan, full of ferocity, speed and skill that dates back through the ages. Here we guide you through the top legends of Irish boxing, as we look to find out the secret to their power – and we can’t think it is Guinness or whiskey – but you never know!
Like many Irishmen that have succeeded in the ring, Wayne ‘Pocket Rocket’ McCulloch is a small and mighty package. He is the former WBC Bantamweight World Champion, as well as winning a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games and a silver medal at the Olympics.
The diminutive boxer comes from Belfast and he turned professional in 1993. Within a year he had the NABF title and one more year before he was crowned with the WBC title. He went on to make three defences of his title before losing out to Daniel Zaragoza in a bout in the US. He was then outpointed by Naseem Hamed when he looked to regain the title.
He has a stellar professional record that proves his scrappy nature. He has 27 wins to 7 losses; his wins include 18 knockouts.
It is Caldwell’s start to his career that awards him this place in the list of all-time great Irish boxers. His amateur career was nothing short of miraculous, with a 246-5 record. When he turned professional he racked up an impressive 17 fights with no defeats. He then knocked out Frankie Jones to earn the British Flyweight Title, followed by a points decision to claim the World Bantamweight Title.
Caldwell was an awesome fighter with a power punch. Although he dropped both belts before retiring, his early career makes him a genuine great of the sport.
Time to go further back into the archives and seek out that heritage of boxers. Freddie Gilroy brought pride to the nation when he won gold in the Olympics before turning professional. His professional career was short but potent. He may have only competed for five years but he won multiple titles. He also knocked out the much younger and greatly lauded John Caldwell. So, short and sweet – Gilroy decided to retire on this high.
Although Irish boxing is dominated by guys in the lower weight bands, there were some mighty brawlers to come out of the Emerald Isle too. Tom Sharkey was one of these, with power-hitting helping him to the World Championship. Although born in Dundalk, Ireland, Sharkey ran away from home and found himself in New York City. He made the US his home, joining the US Navy. He began his professional boxing career while he was deployed in Hawaii.
Sharkey was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003 after a career record 38-7-6.
Dempsey hails from the time when boxers posed for photos like they were about to break into 1960s pop moves. He was considered without equal, winning fights with men well above his, sometimes some 25 pounds heavier. Dempsey could easily have become an all-time great of the sport had his career not been cut short at 33 when he died of TB. However, he was still inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992. His career stats tell you why – 50-3-8.
You might argue that McGuigan deserves to top this list – on name recognition alone. He was a boxer that dominated the sport in the 1980s and was someone who drew a big purse despite being in the lower weight categories. McGuigan was unrelenting, going after his opponents without let up, wave on wave of attack. His desire to win was oddly best exemplified by a loss. When he lost his belt to Stevie Cruz in Las Vegas, he was hospitalised with dehydration. He had literally put in so much sweat he needed medical attention.
The Celtic Warrior has the most amazing career, which included winning the middleweight and super middleweight WBO titles. At the start of his professional career, he went on a 17-fight winning streak. Although this was the most impressive part of his fighting career, he is best known for the much-branded fights again the eccentric Chris Eubank. Collins won the first on points. Eubank accused him of cheating after he employed the help of a sports psychologist. So, Collins beat him again in the rematch – completely smothering him from the first bell.
He was forced to retire due to head injuries before his career-defining bout with Joe Calzaghe. However, with a record 36-3 and 21 knockouts, this guy is the most astonishing of Irish boxers.
We must leave the top spot of Irish boxing to the wonder that is Jimmy McLarnin. He has beaten 13 world champions during his career – which rightly earned him a place in the International Hall of Fame. It was not that he won as much as his unrelenting boxing meant boxers found themselves seated quite quickly. He is listed at No 5 of the all-time greats for welter-weight – which is no small thing considering the names that grace this level.