Ranking the Greatest Irish Boxers of All Time: The Ultimate List

Great Irish fighters are always in short supply, which makes the ones that pop up all the more intriguing. The history of Irish boxers is littered with great characters, some of whom are also great fighters. In our list of the greatest Irish boxers of all time, we’ll explore those men and their many achievements in the ring. The history of Irish boxing is not extensive and there’s not as many well-known names from our little island as you might imagine. There are only a few household names in boxing but even so, there are some really interesting characters that we think you’ll enjoy learning about.

Michael Carr

The first boxer on our list is Michael Carr, one of the most decorated amateur boxers of all time. Carr was born and raised in Dublin in the ‘50s and trained at the famous Dolphin Boxing Club. He was an outstanding amateur fighter who won silver at the 1974 and 75 European Championships and gold at the 75 and 76 World Championships. He also fought at the 1976 Olympics, but was forced to withdraw after only two and a half minutes of his first fight with a broken nose. He turned professional in 1977, rising to the number 3 position in the WBA and WBC rankings. In 1980, he became the first Irish boxer to win a world championship belt when he defeated Pedro Francisco for the WBA Featherweight title. The belt was unfortunately not the most valuable in the sport. Francisco was the WBA champion but he had no one to defend his belt against as the WBA’s number 2 and 3 ranked fighters both declined to fight him. Carr defended his belt only once, a victory against Moondram Gavlak, before losing it. Carr had an impressive record of 30 wins, including 26 by way of knockout, 5 losses and 2 draws during his professional career.

John Conteh

One of the most famous boxers on our list is John Conteh. Conteh was born in the ‘50s in Birmingham, England but moved to Northern Ireland as a child, where he started training as a boxer. He became Irish champion in three weight divisions and won gold at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, before turning professional in 1977. He was a very successful professional fighter, winning the WBC, WBA and WBO world titles in the Light Heavyweight division. He retired in 1988 with a record of 50 wins, 12 losses and 2 draws. It’s worth noting that Conteh was a fighter who often got the decision despite getting knocked around the ring. He had a very good jab and wasn’t afraid to take a few hits in order to land one of his own.

Andy Holligan

The next boxer on our list is Andy Holligan, a Liverpudlian who was the WBA, IBF and WBO Featherweight champion. Holligan was a very successful amateur fighter, winning gold at the 1988 Olympics, but turned professional in 1989. He was a top contender for a few years before he was given a title shot against the WBO champion, Mexican fighter, Manuel Vargas. Holligan won the fight by decision, making him the first boxer to win a world title from the city of Liverpool. He defended his title a few times before being defeated by Vargas in a rematch. Holligan finished his career with a record of 37 wins and 3 losses. He’s currently a boxing commentator and has made some controversial comments about the state of the sport. Click here to read more.

James Purdey

The next Irish boxer on our list is James Purdey. Purdey was born in Dublin in the ‘60s and emigrated to Australia as a teenager. He turned professional in 1983 and won the WBC, WBA and IBF World Featherweight titles. He retired in 1999 with a record of 39 wins, 4 losses and 1 draw. Purdey was actually a two-time Irish champion, winning the title in his teens, but lost the belt when he emigrated. He fought and trained in Australia for the majority of his career, but is often included in lists of the best Irish boxers. Purdey will always be remembered for his brutal fight against Scottish fighter, Ricky Burns. The fight went the full 10 rounds, with Purdey taking a beating from the start. He lost the fight and his world title when the judges awarded the fight to Burns by a single point.

Barry McGuigan

The next fighter on our list is one of the most famous boxers to ever come out of Ireland. Barry McGuigan was born in East Belfast in the ‘50s and was a promising amateur fighter, winning gold at the Commonwealth Games and representing Ireland at the Olympics. However, he turned professional and rose through the ranks quickly. McGuigan won the WBA Featherweight title in 1985 when he defeated the legendary Guatemalan fighter, Efrain Gutierrez, who had previously held the title since 1964. McGuigan was only the third boxer to ever beat him. He held the title for three years before losing it to Mexican fighter, Hector Lopez, in 1988. McGuigan retired in 1989 with a record of 32 wins, 5 losses and 2 draws. He also became a world champion as a manager in 1985, when his fighter, Englishman, Willie Limond, won the WBA Bantamweight title.

Ray McKee

The next boxer on our list is Ray McKee. McKee was born in Belfast in the ‘40s and emigrated to Canada as a teenager, where he became Canadian and Irish champion. He turned professional in 1971 and won the WBC, WBA, and IBF World Lightweight titles. He retired in 1980 with a record of 33 wins and 7 losses. McKee was a very successful boxer in his day and held three of the most prestigious world titles. He was a world champion in two different divisions and has been inducted into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame. McKee is also famous for being one of the few professional boxers to ever use the ‘tap out’ technique. The tap out, also known as ‘quitting’, is when a fighter taps his opponent on the leg.

Pat McDonagh

The final boxer on our list is Pat McDonagh. McDonagh was born in Dublin in the ‘40s and emigrated to the UK, where he became British, Irish, European and Commonwealth champion. He turned professional in 1972 and won the WBC World Lightweight title. He retired in 1977 with a record of 33 wins and 2 losses. McDonagh was a very successful boxer in his day and held only the second world title to be won by someone from Dublin. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999. Like many successful boxers of his generation, McDonagh worked as a boxer and a security guard at the same time. He worked as a bouncer at the famous Carlingford Arms pub in London and fought a famous fight there against Scottish boxer, Jimmy McAlinden.


In this article, we explored the history of Irish boxers. We looked at the greatest Irish fighters, some of whom were also great characters. There were only a few household names in boxing but even so, there are some really interesting characters that we think you’ll enjoy learning about.


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