There’s a reason why Notre Dame University named their sports teams the Fighting Irish. The Irish are
known traditionally as being tough fighters, and that certainly includes boxing.
Having had many Irish champions over the years, and even more if you include those who have proud
Irish heritage, it’s not been easy to narrow this list down to a few fighters. And if you keep up with sports
news, then you’ll understand just how many athletes have come from the relatively small country of
The following is our list of the five best Irish boxers of all time.
Born in Curran, Ireland, but competing in the States, there’s no question that Jack “Nonpareil” Dempsey
is one of the best fighters of all time, not just those who were Irish. Dempsey was an old-school tough guy
if there ever was one. He consistently appears in lists of the greatest heavyweights and is considered one
of the toughest and meanest in the ring.
The 6 ’ 1 ” Dempsey won the heavyweight title from the 6 ’6 ” Jess Willard in 1919. He held the belt from
1919 to 1926. During that time, he became the richest fighter ever, up until his time, and even appeared
in a low-budget Hollywood film.
He fought the first-ever million-dollar fight in terms of ticket sales and left a legacy of greatness with a
professional record of 53–6–8.
Born in Hillsborough, Ireland, “the baby-faced assassin” had a pro record of 55–11–3, according to
BoxRec. He’s widely regarded as being one of the best Irish boxers of all time, and many consider him to
be at the top of that list.
Fighting as a welterweight, McLarnin finally won a world title in 1934, having lost his first title shot in 1928
to Sammy Mandell in NY. McLarnin beat Mandell twice after that though, winning a trilogy against his
opponent. However, the second two fights were not title bouts.
McLarnin retired in 1936 while at his peak, and never returned to the ring, having turned away many
lucrative offers. Seemingly, he wanted to leave his legacy intact.
as the signing Irishman. He used to sing and dance before and after his fights, which the crowds loved.
Rinty was the first man from Belfast to win an undisputed world boxing title, which he got from a KO
against Jackie Patterson. Rinty was loved and revered by Belfast locals and went down as an important
figure in Irish sports history.
With a pro record of 51–9–6, he is one of the winningest and most respected Irish boxers to ever
Hailing from Dublin, “The Celtic Warrior” may not have racked up the highest number of professional
fights compared to old-school sluggers like the three above, but he still had a very impressive career.
Collins collected 26 Irish amateur titles before deciding to finally go pro in 1986.
In 1990, Collins got his first title shot and lost in a very close fight that went the distance against Mike
McCallum. It wasn’t until 1994 that he won his first world championship, the WBO middleweight belt from
Chris Pyatt. In 1995 he moved up to super middleweight to upset the then-undefeated Chris Eubank and
claim the title.
After seven title defences, Collins retired and became a modern Irish boxing legend.
Although he is actually Irish-American, “Irish” Micky Ward was an extremely entertaining fighter to watch.
There are other fighters that might be considered more deserving on such a short list, but Ward’s trilogy
with Arturo Gatti is one of the most exciting and best boxing trilogies ever. In fact, after two of the three
fights, both Gatti and Ward needed to be taken to the hospital trauma centre to begin tough recoveries.
Filled with epic combinations and razor-thin results, Ward earned a spot among the greats just through
the sheer heart he showed in some of the most memorable boxing performances of the modern era. Two
of the three fights with Gatti were crowned Fight of the Year by The Ring magazine.
Ward went 38–13 as a pro, and at one point was the WBU light welterweight champ.
Of all the many tough Irish fighters out there, and all of the greatness of the Irish champions throughout
the years, the above list is just a snapshot. We skipped around from the old days to the modern era, but
Irish boxing has an incredibly rich history spanning all divisions, and it’s really worth exploring more. Only
then can the greatest Irish boxers be given true justice.