Those who follow the beginnings of boxing already know, no other sport has been the scene of so many tragedies and sad stories. A dedicated fighter who was robbed by promoters or businessmen; the old warrior who should have already retired, but still had to fight to support his family, and also the promising young man who suffered a knockout and was never the same in the eyes of the fans.
But among so many sad stories growing up in the sport, there are few that are different. Some boxers seem to have been touched by the boxing gods before they were born, this was the case with Jimmy McLarnin, one of the greatest fighters to ever step foot in a ring, and one that the offshore sportsbooks would rank as the favorite every time.
Born in 1907 in Hillsborough, a town in Ireland, Jimmy and his family immigrated to Canada when the fighter was still young. It was in Vancouver that his talent was discovered by Charles “Pop” Foster, a local wrestler who was a friend of his father.
Charles soon convinced Jimmy’s father to build a makeshift boxing academy in his backyard. Foster began teaching the young man the art of boxing, and before he was 16, Jimmy held the British Columbia amateur flyweight title. A few months later, he won his first professional fight in Canada.
MOVING TO CALIFORNIA
In 1924, Foster and McLarnin left for California, where they could make much more money than in Canada.
At only 16, McLarnin could not enter professional fights in his new state. The only option was to alter his birth certificate to look older. Even then, his nickname was given as “Baby Face.”
Within a few months, McLarnin was already competing once a week in Oakland and Los Angeles. They soon noticed that he was a dynamic boxer, but with a lot of power.
In just over a year, McLarnin managed nineteen wins before suffering his first defeat, to future welterweight champion Bud Taylor.
HERO AMONG IMMIGRANTS
Despite the loss, McLarnin was booked for a non-title fight against the then-flyweight champion of the world, Pancho Villa.
Jimmy ended up surprising everyone and winning the fight by decision. Pancho at the time was suffering from a serious dental infection, which ended up taking his life a few days after the fight.
In 1928, at only 21 years old, McLarnin was already a seasoned pro with a solid reputation. His debut at Madison Square Garden, the mecca of boxing in New York, attracted a huge crowd.
On this night, Jimmy knocked out Sid Terris in the first round, and soon became a true idol among Irish American immigrants.
Even without a title shot, any Jimmy fight attracted an absurd number of people.
THE ROAD TO THE TITLE
The road to the title was a tough one for Jimmy, broken hands ended up causing troubles in the fighter’s path on several occasions.
When Jimmy was close to a title shot, he would suffer an injury or a defeat. But his chance came in 1933, almost ten years after he left Canada.
Jimmy defeated boxing legend Young Corbett III in the first round and was proclaimed the undisputed middleweight champion of the world.
Jimmy took a well-deserved break, waiting almost a full year before defending his title. The defense came in the first of three highly competitive bouts against the great Barney Ross.
THE BARNEY ROSS TRILOGY
In the middle of the Great Depression, a crowd of sixty thousand people packed the stands to see the showdown between the two beasts.
Ross took the first fight between the two, but four months later McLarnin regained his title. Ross ended up winning the third fight between the two and getting the belt.
By this time, McLarnin and his trainer had achieved all their goals in American lands. Jimmy won world titles and a lot of money, which was invested intelligently, a rare fact for athletes at the time.
After losing his title, Jimmy fought only three more times, twice against the great Tony Canzoneri, losing the first and winning the second fight. His retirement, at the age of only 32, came with a victory over Lou Ambers.
Jimmy McLarnin passed away in 2004, at the age of 96, in a nursing home in Washington state.