Throughout the 1980s Barry McGuigan was a cultural and sporting icon. His 1985 World Featherweight championship winning performance against Eusebio Pedroza, at QPR’s Loftus Road Stadium, attracted more television viewers than any other sporting event that year with over 20 million people tuning across the UK and Ireland. It wasn’t just McGuigan’s exciting and highly effective fighting style that made him popular but his good nature that at the height of the troubles encouraged people in Northern Ireland to ‘leave the fighting to Barry’.
Nearly 20 years later, young and old, still clamour to speak to, or have their photograph taken with ‘the Clones Cyclone’ and Barry has always found time to please them.
Recently Barry was in Banbridge, Co Down to help launch a book about local boxing legend Albert U’Prichard, who refereed his first amateur contest in 1973. After a hilarious speech, Barry kindly agreed to an interview with irish-boxing.com.
Why did you decide to start Boxing? I didn’t really decide to start Boxing, it just happened. I was always an energetic kid. I was a decent footballer (soccer) and a good middle distance runner, then I got into Boxing and I discovered very quickly that I was good at it and it all started from there.
Who were your childhood idols? There were many people I looked up to and admired from the early seventies, including John Conteh, John H Stracey, Charlie Magri, Dave ‘Boy’ Green, Alan Minter, Tony Sibson and Jim Watt. But probably the ones I most admired and aspired to were Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Alexis Arguello, Tommy Hearns, Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez. Ali was somebody that everybody in Boxing looked up to, but because he was a heavyweight I couldn’t empathise with him in the same way as I could with the others.
After losing your third pro fight did you have second thoughts about your choice of career? No! I didn’t have second thoughts because I; and everybody else who saw the fight knew that I had been given a lousy decision. What’s more I had given my life to the sport, and I had made a decision to be a professional boxer and I wasn’t going to give in because of that minor injustice. I’m not the kind of person who gives up easily. The only time my career was in serious jeopardy was after Young Ali died (following a contest with McGuigan). I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue after that.
Can you describe how it felt to have won the World Title in front of 27,000 people, all cheering you on? I would need a book to describe what it felt like to win at QPR that night back in 1985. It was just something unique and special. Only those who were actually at the fight can actually understand the overwhelming feeling of pride that we all felt. It was a truly inimitable occasion. To this day people often tell me that they remember where they were when I won the World title against Eusebio Pedroza.
Throughout your career you received tremendous support, not only here in Ireland but also in Britain, do you miss the crowds and the glory? I always had great support in Britain. Of course I miss the roar of the crowd, every Boxer does! I know I’ll never again get the adrenaline that I got when I was boxing, the buzz is irreplaceable. However, I have accepted that a long time ago and I have other things to achieve. Do you ever look at the Featherweight champions who have followed you and thought, “I could have beaten you?” No I don’t, because every era is different and I don’t think it is fair to compare.
You retired at the relatively young age of 29, unlike so many others you stayed retired, were you ever tempted to come back? I was never tempted to come back because I had made my mind up to concentrate my efforts in another area. It’s not a sport that you should linger about in, yet I’m acutely aware of how tough it is for some boxers to hang up the gloves. When I formed the Professional Boxers Association, which is now the British Boxers Association (BBA), one of our aims was to encourage boxers who have recently retired to seek counselling so that they can blend back into society. The ego is a powerful drug, almost as bad as the class A stuff. So many ex-boxers get involved in trouble after their career comes to an end, be it domestic disputes, abusing drugs or alcohol. Many of them don’t know what to do with themselves after their boxing days are over. It is a really serious problem that is now only starting to be addressed.
Your current role on Sky Sports must be your dream job, getting paid to watch and talk about fights, without getting hit yourself. How did you first get into presenting? I was actually commenting on Boxing before I won my World Title in 1985. I remember doing the Sean Mannion v Mike McCallum fight for the World Light-Middleweight title. I was working for RTE. I’m sure it was 1984 or there abouts, so I have been doing it for a long time. It was a natural progression for me, and all those boxing books I studied instead of studying my schoolbooks paid off. But seriously what T.V companies who cover boxing want is someone who has respect within the boxing community, someone who has reached the dizzy heights and someone who can articulate their thoughts consistently. Thank God I fitted the criteria! I started commentating and doing studio analysis full time as soon as I retired from boxing in 1989. I worked for ITV, BBC, Eurosport, Screensport, Prime Network in the USA and Star TV in Asia. I signed exclusively with Sky Sports in 1995. Sky is a fabulous organisation and they are fantastic to work for. It is such a pleasure to be part of the evolution of the coverage of boxing and I hope to be doing it for a very long time to come. I also write about the sport every Saturday in the Daily Mirror. I just love being involved in the game and I do my altruistic bit through the BBA, and that is where I get my gratification.
It has been said that Dublin Featherweight Bernard Dunne is a star of the future, when can we expect to see him on our TV screens? Bernard Dunne, by all accounts is a pretty special boxer/fighter and I can’t wait to see him in action. Brian Peters (his manager) is doing a great job with him and he is associated with Sugar Ray Leonard, one of the biggest names in the game. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we pick up some of his fights. Pro Boxing has always struggled to survive in the south of Ireland so Brian has done the right thing by taking him to America. Sparring is the most important aspect of your training and the LA Gyms are just crammed with great little Mexican fighters and Freddie Roach’s gym (where he trains) is no exception. Bernard looks as if he is headed for the top and I wish him well and can’t wait to commentate on him.
Of all the prospects in Boxing, who are your tips for the top? My tip for the top in Ireland is Bernard Dunne of course, in the UK Alex Arthur, Matthew Macklin, Kevin Mitchell, Carl Froch, and Danny Hunt. The jury is still out on Audley Harrison, 3 years as a pro and he hasn’t fought anybody remotely dangerous. At the rate he’s going he won’t be fighting for the world title until he’s forty, if he ever does that is! But I have never known a time where there is such a dearth of Heavyweight talent, so Audley certainly has a chance. But he’s got to be busier and he has to face a better standard of opponent.