BACK in late 1966 a man by the name of Des McCullagh, who hailed from Abbey Street in Ennis, penned a couple of letters that appeared in The Clare Champion newspaper.
McCullagh was a student of boxing and in both contributions he extolled the virtues of a man he called “Clare’s Greatest Son” and “the best boxer ever to be born in Ireland”.
That boxer was Mike McTigue from Kilnamona, who had just passed away in New York. In 1966 he was Clare’s last world champion, a recognition he still holds to this day, fully 90 years after his crowded hour when he was crowned World Light-Heavyweight champion.
“He was not the first Clareman to don the gloves and bring honour to his native county,” wrote McCullagh. “Men like George Gardiner from Lisdoonvarna who was a world champion, Petty Officer Patrick ‘Nutty’ Curran (from Kilkee) who fought for a British title and Jack Hickey (also from Kilkee) were all good exponents of the noble art of boxing, but their records, good and all as they were could not compare with Mike McTigue’s record in the fistic game.
“Mike fought the best in the world in three different weights. McTigue was unlucky to be fighting in an era of such great men as Jack Dempsey (The Manassa Mauler) Gene Tunney, Mickey Walker (The Toy Bulldog), Harry Greb, who was the only man ever to beat Gene Tunney, Jack Sharkey, Tommy Loughran and a host of other top class boxers to numerous to mention.
“How would Mike McTigue compare with the boxers of today?,” continued McCullagh in 1966. “He would out-box any man in the middle-weight and light-heavy divisions and I think only Cassius Clay’s footwork, which is brilliant, would edge a decision over Clare’s Greatest Son.
“Mike McTigue proved himself one of the greatest boxers ever to don gloves. He was a world champion and champions don’t grow on trees, certainly not a world champion with the boxing craft of Mike McTigue. We in Clare may never see another world champion, so don’t let us forget the best we ever produced,” he added.
THIS glowing testimonial could well be used as the basis for backing up a renewed campaign to get Mike McTigue inducted into boxing’s prestigious Hall of Fame.
The clamour for McTigue’s inclusion has been ongoing for a number of years, most recently in America by the late Sean Malone from Clarecastle, who dedicated much of the last years of his life to this ‘Hall of Fame’ crusade.
Others have also backed the campaign – people like his distant relative and namesake, monumental sculptor Mike McTigue, who travelled to America a number of years ago uncovered a recording of McTigue’s world title win that occurred 90 years ago this coming Sunday.
Another champion of Clare’s last world champion is Andrew Gallimore – McTigue’s biographer, who chronicled the Kilnamona man’s remarkable journey in ‘A Bloody Canvas – The Mike McTigue Story’ and who described his subject as “one of the most remarkable champions of the world in the history of boxing”.
And, his is certainly a remarkable story – one that runs through the full gamut by taking in the underworld, wealth, poverty and corruption in high and low paces.
It’s all in the Mike McTigue story.
“I heard of Mike McTigue through my interest in boxing,” recalled Gallimore “and knew about him becoming a champion of the world at the height of the Civil War in Dublin.
“At that time there were only eight boxing world champions – there were eight weights and one champion in each weight. World title fights were rare events and they rarely took place outside America.
“The notion that somebody managed to put together a world title fight in Dublin at this time was extraordinary. That attracted me,” he added.
It was on March 17, 1923. The Civil War had entered his final bloody phase, but there was a temporary peace on St Patrick’s night as McTigue went into the ring against the Senegalese-born Battling Siki.
This was Andrew Gallimore’s starting point. “That’s all I knew about Mike McTigue, that he beat Battling Siki that famous night. From there I went to New York and find out exactly what became to him.
“All sorts of adventures happened this man. He was one of these guys that things just seemed to happen to. The story got buried in archive houses in the States. Americans were more concerned with Dempsey and Tunney, so his story was forgotten.”
McTIGUE’S journey to La Scala Theatre on St Patrick’s Day in 1923 began nine years earlier when he started boxing. He’d emigrated to America in 1912 – a journey also taken by his brothers Thomas, Martin, James and Pat and sisters Kate and Ellen.
He was working as a beef handler of New York’s West Side when his prowess as a puncher and potential boxer first emerged. “His foreman was getting hassle with someone trying to blackmail him,” recalled Gallimore, “so Mike got involved in a fight defending his boss and flattened him with one blow. His boss was so grateful that he sent him to a local gym for boxing lessons.
“A guy called George ‘Elbows’ McFadden who was seen as being one of the old school boxing teachers in New York took him under his wing. It started from there,” he added.
So began a career that saw him become a journeyman pro with over 120 fights to his name between his first in official bout in March 1914 through to this world title bout nine years later.
The closest he came to the bigtime was winning the Canadian Middleweight crown in 1920 – it still wasn’t good enough to get a title shot in New York.
That changed when Mike headed for home in late 1922. To pay his way to Ireland he had four fights in England en route, winning them all inside four rounds.
Irish promoter Tom Singleton was ringside for one of those wins. He was impressed and was instrumental in lining up a title bout against Battling Siki, a Senegalese who had sensationally beaten Frenchman George Carpentier to win the World Light Heavyweight title.
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