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The fighting Irish. It’s cliché as old as leprechauns and the gift of the gab. And a cliché a fair few Irish are not too proud of. Granted, that outdated stereotype of a belligerent drunken Irishman, fists cocked and pipe in mouth is an image our nation that perhaps we best leave behind. But there’s another side to the fighting Irish. It’s not just young and ignorant men looking for a fight, it’s a representation of a nation’s spirit; always oppressed, but never willing to go down without a fight. An island nation, inflicted with famines and invasions, we’re naturally going to have a bit of a chip on our shoulder. And what better representation of the fighting Irish is there than our actual fighters? Both at home and further afield through generations, the Irish have produced a litany of world class warriors, from legendary Irish-American pugilists through to modern-day world champions and superstars, the fighting Irish are not to be trifled with. Here’s a few of our nation’s greatest fighters, some you may not have heard of and others you know all too well:
John L. Sullivan
First off we’re going to acknowledge the original Boston boxer, as Irish-American as they come; John L. Sullivan (1858 – 1918). Sullivan is a legitimate legend in the sport of boxing. This man can lay claim to being the first Heavyweight World Champion of gloved boxing. And he held it for ten years. Nuff said. Also look at that magnificent handlebar moustache. Sullivan actually crossed over the two eras of boxing; from bare-knuckle to gloved, specifically under what was known as the “Marquess of Queensbury rules.” His early years as a bare-knuckle boxer ensured his iconic status when he was still an active fighter, with the sport he illegal he dispatched his opponents in underground settings, such as on a barge going down the Hudson river, as you do. Unfortunately, Sullivan was quite fond of the ol whiskey, and he would ultimately retire at the age of just 29. Nonetheless he was a superstar by early 20th century standards and would live out his life as an occasional actor, public speaker, reporter and bar owner.
The “Clones Cyclone” Barry McQuigan is a well-known face to anyone who follows boxing and a living legend of British and Irish boxing. Building up an excellent amateur record McQuigan made the step up to professional boxing at just twenty years of age. He went on to win the British Featherweight title in just under two years, fighting fifteen times along the way (losing once). The European Featherweight title followed not long after and he would achieve his dream of becoming World Champion winning the belt via unanimous decision over long time Featherweight World Champion, Eusebio Pedroza. Following a legendary public reception in Belfast (which hundreds of thousands attended) McQuigan would manage to defend his belt in both Belfast and Dublin, before eventually losing to Steve Cruz in Las Vegas, in what would eventually be voted Fight of the Year. What has made McQuigan such an enduring and popular figure was his refusal to put himself either side of the sectarian divide. Fighting at the height of the Troubles, McGuigan was conscious of the fact that his fights were a means of escape for many people in Northern Ireland, in fact he refused to wear any shorts that could be easily tied to Nationalist or Unionist views.
No discussion of Ireland’s greatest fighters would be complete without Steve Collins. “The Celtic Warrior” is quite simply the most successful professional boxer to have been born and reared in Ireland. Surprisingly, he made his professional debut in the States, and would fight his first 19 fights there. He built up a particularly strong following in Boston, Massachusetts, relying on the massive Irish-American community. A testament to Collins’ character, he would not get his hands on a world title until well into his career, winning the WBO middleweight title on his third attempt. Collins immediately moved up a weight class to fight the notorious Chris Eubank for the Super-middleweight title (although he was forced to relinquish the middleweight title) and defeated him on Irish soil in Cork. He would defeat Eubank once more in an immediate rematch, again in Co.Cork. Collins would go on to defend the WBO Super-middleweight title an impressive six times before retiring. Sadly Collins never got the one fight he truly craved, a unification bout against American Superstar Roy Jones Jr. We’re going to assume the thoughts of taking on The Celtic Warrior scared him stiff.
There are few sporting arenas Ireland has excelled in better than amateur boxing. And when you think of Amateur boxing, and happen to come from this island, there is but one name that immediately comes to mind: Katie Taylor. Katie Taylor has done for more amateur boxing, and indeed women’s boxing, than any other individual. It is not just her ridiculous record, we’ll get to that, but also her position as a truly exemplary ambassador. Katie Taylor is a class act, absolutely no doubt about it. As humble and down to earth as you could possibly expect, Taylor has combined these attributes with an insatiable work ethic and world class set of skills. Between 2005 and 2015 Taylor utterly dominated the women’s lightweight class to a near farcical degree. While Steve Collins can be considered the most successful professional Irish boxer of all time, his record compared to Katie Taylor simply flatters to deceive. Quite simply between these years Taylor owned the European, European Union and World Amateur Championships. She was undoubtedly the pound for pound no.1 female boxer on the planet and would eventually lay claim to being the most decorated female boxer in the world. Undoubtedly the high point of her career was achieving Gold at the 2012 Olympics in London. It was one of those of wonderful sporting events that anyone in the country can recall. Her support setting new noise levels in the arena, her ability plainly being several leagues ahead of her competitors and the sheer joyous reaction from Katie as she realised her dream, becoming an Olympic Gold medallist. Away from boxing Katie has enjoyed a few appearances on television without ever being an ever present. When Katie Taylor does decide to call it a day she will have transcended discussion of her place in Ireland’s fighting lineage, rather people will argue her place as Ireland’s greatest ever athlete. Proper order too.
This chaps only an up-and-comer now, probably wouldn’t have heard of him. Yes, Conor McGregor has very quickly gone about making himself the most famous Mixed Martial Artist on the planet at this moment in time. Not bad goin for a lad from Crumlin! It must be said that Conor’s fame and fortune hasn’t solely come off the back of his antics at press conferences (although they’ve helped) really Conor has enjoyed a phenomenal few years inside the octagon and can lay claim to being one of the main players in the evolution of MMA becoming a mainstream sport. Conor made his name as a dual-weight (featherweight and lightweight) world champion in Cage Warriors, a European promotion before making his move to the big leagues of the UFC. Conor’s rise through the UFC was meteoric, in a little over a year and half he dispatched seven opponents, six through KO/TKO, took a dreaded ACL injury in his stride and became the promotion’s biggest star. Oh, and one of those seven opponents was Jose Aldo, the UFC’s only featherweight champion and pound for pound no.1 fighter at the time of the fight. In 13 seconds of the first round too, not too shabby. Conor would immediately make a move for the lightweight title against Rafael Dos Anjos, however Dos Anjos would pull out with a foot injury, meaning Conor would face Nate Diaz instead. We all know what happened next. Taking the fight at welterweight, two weight classes above his usual featherweight, Conor started well but faded badly looking tired and outmatched, losing by submission in the second round. His reaction to defeat appeared to earn him even more plaudits however and the immediate rematch gave McGregor his shot at redemption. In what will probably be fight of the year McGregor managed to prove his doubters wrong, lasting the full five rounds to win by decision. The stage is now set for Conor to fulfil his dream of being a UFC dual-weight world champion in a few short weeks. McGregor will face the new lightweight champion, Eddie Alvarez at the UFC’s first ever event in New York, in Madison Square Garden. All in all, not bad for a lad from Crumlin.
Here at TwoTon Murphy, we are immensely proud of our fighting history. We’ve shown ourselves to be a resilient people and that’s been proven in the litany of world class fighters we’ve produced both at home and further afield. Why not have a look at our own tribute to the Fighting Irish with our Boston Irish Boxing tee: https://twotonmurphy.com/product/boston-irish-boxing/ It’s our tip o’ the hat to all our fighting brethren.
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