Irish Icons: Barry McGuigan

Monaghan’s greatest sporting son, Barry McGuigan is a true Irish sporting great and one of the finest boxers the country has ever produced. A featherweight world title win in 1985 at Loftus Road in London is what McGuigan will always be best remembered for but his illustrious boxing career spans more than just that night in London. McGuigan was one of few men to unite the split communities in a sporting sense during the troubles gaining support from both Nationalists and Unionists and fighting under the UN flag of peace rather than an Irish or British flag. His record finished as 32-3, 28 of which came by knockout, in a professional career spanning 8 years from 1981 to 1989.

Born in Clones in 1961 Barry was the son of Pat Mcguigan a singer who represented Ireland at Eurovision. Pat would often sing Danny Boy before Barry’s big fights. Mcguigan had a successful amateur career before turning professional in the early 80s beginning at an amateur boxing club in Fermanagh and later at Smithborough boxing club in his native Monaghan. Under the guidance of trainers Danny McEntee and Frank Mulligan, McGuigan won the All Ireland amateur championship in 1976 defeating Martin Brereton on points to claim the title. By then McGuigan had cemented himself as an exceptional amateur. Then in 1978 McGuigan won gold in Canada where he represented Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth games. McGuigan would go on to describe his gold win at Edmonton as a phenomenal experience as he became won of the youngest competitors ever to win Gold at the games at the age of 17. This win made McGuigan an almost household name with over 3,000 fans at the airport and over 1,000 on his return home to Monaghan. McGuigan rounded out a brilliant amateur career by representing Ireland at the controversial 1980 Olympics held in Moscow. He lost to the Zambian Winfred Kabunda in the round of 16 on points.

Following the 1980 Olympic games McGuigan turned professional becoming represented by the late Barney Eastwood a man who would go on to play a crucial role in McGuigan’s career as a negotiator and a man who plotted his path to an eventual World title fight. McGuigan’s professional debut came at Dalymount park where he recorded a win by TKO against Selvin Bell. His first loss would come two fights later losing a heavily disputed decision to Peter Eubank but by the end of 1981 he avenged that defeat in rematch knocking Eubank out in the eighth round. McGuigan won all 8 of his fights in the following year one of these wins however would have a permanent effect on McGuigan’s life. In a fight against Young Ali in which McGuigan won via 6th round knockout. Ali fell into a coma following the fight in which he never recovered. This fight made a young McGuigan question whether to continue boxing or to retire due to the incident. However, McGuigan did continue and in 1983 won the British featherweight title against Vernan Penprase by way of knockout before going onto win the European title against the Italian Valerio Nati at the Kings Hall in Belfast. By this time McGuigan was seen as the number one contender  for the world featherweight title and after 3 European title defences the last of these coming against Farid Gollouze in London and a win against former world champion Juan Laporte in a 15 round decision McGuigan was ready to fight for the World Featherweight title.

In June 1985 McGuigan finally got his shot at the featherweight title against the Panamanian veteran Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road. It would Pedroza’s 20th title defence a record at the time. McGuigan dropped Pedroza in the 7th and after 15 rounds won by unanimous decision. This was undoubtedly McGuigan’s peak moment of his career as 27,000 crammed into Loftus road and  19 million watched on tv across the UK and Ireland. When McGuigan returned he was paraded both North and South of the border with hundreds of thousands of fans from all sides of the sectarian divide coming out in full force. By this point McGuigan was one of the biggest names in world boxing and won the 1985 BBC sports personality of the year the first man born in the Republic of Ireland to win the reward.

McGuigan successfully defended his world title twice before losing the world title in late 1986 to rank outsider Steve Cruz by Unanimous decision in Las Vegas having been dropped twice by the American in 15 rounds and suffering largely due to the extreme heat of the venue. McGuigan temporally retired partly due to the death of his Father and inspiration Pat but he did eventually return closing out his career with 3 wins and a defeat under new management following a well-publicised fallout with Barney Eastwood. Mcguigan would never again replicate the magic of that night in Loftus Road. He is in the boxing hall of fame and now works as a promoter for mostly Irish and British fighters. McGuigan even received a special prize which any Monaghan man would bite your hand off for, a song sung by big Tom McBride about the man named for his nickname ‘The Clones Cyclone’

McGuigan will always be remembered North and South of the border as not only a phenomenal boxer but also as an advocate for peace and that world title bout with Pedroza will never be forgotten by those who watched it live as one of the greatest performances by an Irish Boxer in the modern history of the sport.

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