Ireland has a long and proud history of boxing filled with countless legends and champions. A lot of boxers of Irish origin have found their success and fame in all weights, including light heavyweight, featherweight, fly weight and heavyweight. Boxers from either side of Ireland will be included in this list. We will also be considering boxers with direct Irish heritage but a different nationality. Let’s take a look at the greatest heavyweight boxers to emerge from all over the Emerald Isle. These greats are in no particular order:
1. Tyson Fury
Tyson Fury, born in 1988, goes by the nicknames The Furious One, 2 Fast and Gypsy King. Though he was not born in Ireland, he represents the isle when boxing. His family are of Irish Traveller descent and Fury has had problems securing his dual citizenship as his father’s birth was not recorded officially. Irish Travellers, in the 60’s, only recorded births through the church so the state has no record.
Fury has won the WBA, WBO, The Ring and other heavyweight titles all in the year of 2015. His victory over world champion Klitschko earned him the Fighter of the Year and Upset of the Year awards. Fury is ranked the world’s best active heavyweight as of the summer of 2019 by The Ring.
In 2018, however, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Fury. Due to failing to meet a rematch with Klitschko which was required in order to fight Glazkov, his next IBF challenger, he was stripped of the title. Fury suffered with mental health issues, drug use, weight gain and alcoholism. He was eventually stripped of his other title by The Ring after vacating the rest. After two years of not fighting, Fury challenged Wilder for the WBC title. Though it came to a draw, Fury was noted for his enduring and eventually led to him earning the Comeback of the Year Award from The Ring.
2. Kevin McBride
The Clones Colossus, Kevin Martin McBride, born in 1973 in County Monaghan, is a retired heavyweight boxer who is most known for defeating Mike Tyson fourteen years ago in 2005. Tyson ended the fight, informing the referee that he was no longer able to continue. Tyson claimed afterwards that his heart was no longer in the sport. Meaning that his last fight was with McBride. McBride competed in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Spain as an amateur.
3. Tom Sharkey
The Sailor, Tom Sharkey is listed in The Ring Magazine’s 100 greatest punchers of all time. Which kind of gives you an idea what sort of boxer Sharkey was. Born in 1871 in Dundalk, Sailor won two fights with the Heavyweight champion Jeffries. His career spanned over the century, starting in 1893 and eventually coming to a stop in 1904. Sharkey is known to have won 40 fights during his boxing career, only three of them not being KOs. He only had 7 losses throughout all that time, and even fewer draws, at 5. Sharkey died at the old age of 82 and despite being an Irish boxer was buried in California.
4. Martin Rogan
Martin Rogan, born in 1971 in Belfast, has several nicknames you might recognise him by. Including The Entertainer, Rogie and Iron Man. A retired professional boxer, Rogan is seen as a British boxer as he hails from Northern Ireland. In 2009 he won the Commonwealth Heavyweight title and competed, in 2012, for the Irish Heavyweight Title.
5. Peter Maher
The Irish Giant, Peter Maher, was born in 1869 in County Galway. He was known for his most powerful punch, which, judging by his nickname, was probably something his competitors didn’t want to receive. Maher won the Irish Middleweight Championship title as early as 1888. He then moved up a weight and in 1890 won the Heavyweight Championship of Ireland. Maher would go on to leave Ireland and have a successful and bright career in the United States. There, he won Heavyweight Championship of the World in 1895 – earning that title by knocking out his opponent O’Donnell in the first round. He was defeated the next year in 1986, losing the title. Maher died in 1940 at the age of 71.
6. James J Braddock
Although not born in Ireland, Braddock’s parents were Irish and Anglo-Irish immigrants who migrated to New York. He was Born in 1905 in the Big Apple and earned the nicknames Bulldog of Bergen, Pride of the Irish, Pride of New Jersey and Cinderella Man. Braddock earned the world heavyweight championship and held it for two years from 1935 to 1937.
Despite his actual name being James W Braddock (Walter), Braddock chose this format due to previous boxers having similar names: James J Corbett and James J Jeffries (who lost the championship to Sharkey). He had a counterpunching style, a strong right hook and what was known as an iron chin. During the Great Depression, Braddock had chronic hand injuries and had to turn to dock work and state support in order to keep his family. In 1935, however, he had his comeback, and won the heavyweight title from Baer. Due to this shocking accomplishment, he was nicknamed Cinderella Man.
Braddock died at the age of 69 in 1974 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame posthumously in 2001. He has a park in New Jersey named after him in his honour.
His life was interpreted in the 2005 film Cinderella Man.
7. Dan Donnelly
Dan Donnelly, or Sir Dan, was one of the earlier boxers, a pioneer boxer, born in 1788. He was a professional boxer and the first heavyweight champion of Irish origin. He was inducted, posthumously, into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Pioneers Category in 2008.
Donnelly died at his tavern, Donnelly’s Public House, in 1820 at the young age of 32. He has a plague commemorating his place of death.
If you’ve heard the name Donnelly before, you’ve probably heard of Donnelly’s arm. After his brief burial, his body was taken by grave robbers and was delivered to a surgeon. Those who wanted Donnelly’s body back found the surgeon’s home and demanded the body back. They eventually agreed to take the body but leave the right arm so the surgeon could study it, seeing as Donnelly had been a successful boxer. The arm was brought to a Scottish medical college and was studied for a number of years.
It eventually became part of a travelling circus and eventually ended up in an Irish pub in the early 1900’s. Through the century the arm travelled across Ireland and then in the 90’s it travelled to America and returned back to Ireland in the early 2000’s.
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This were some of the greatest heavyweight boxing – legends who have emerged from Ireland. Surely there are many more big names to come in the future, due to the remarkable and deep seated boxing culture on the Emerald Isle.