Barry McGuigan was one of the greatest boxers this country has ever produced, which is definitely saying something, given the quality of fighters from Ireland over the years
By Adrian Collins
Barry Mcguigan, who later became known as the Clones Cyclone, was one of the best boxers to hail from this fair island, who represented Ireland at the Olympics, and became the World Boxing Association featherweight champion.
Barry began boxing at an early age, and had an instant talent for it, but it was his performances at the 1978 Commonwealth Games, representing Northern Ireland, that made the world sit up and take notice of the Clones man.
He claimed gold at the games, somewhat to his own surprise after defeating Tumat Sugolic in a final which the man from Papa New Guinea made a very real contest for McGuigan.
The emotion was clear on his face however, as he almost immediately burst into tears as soon as his hand was held aloft in victory.
McGuigan also went to the Olympic Games in 1980 representing Ireland, and made it to the hitrd round before he was eliminated by Winfred Kabunda of Zambia on points. This was certainly a disappointment for a young McGuigan, but he has since stated that this helped to spur him on to win the WBA featherweight title, perhaps more than a gold medal would have.
He turned pro the next year, and his début was an impressive knock-out win against Selwyn Bell in Dublin. Although he suffered a setback shortly afterwards, losing to peter Eubanks in his third fight, his relentless march towards a title was one that could not be stopped.
In 1982, a crucial moment in McGuigan's career was the fight against the Nigerian boxer Young Ali, after which his opponent fell into a coma and died. This shook the Clones Cyclone badly, at just 21 years-old, and he almost left the sport as a result. He had to make a very serious decision at that point if he wanted to stay in the sport, but he decided to stick with it and carry on fighting.
By the time 1985 rolled around, McGuigan was one fight away from a shot at the title, and all that stood in his way was the figure of Juan Laporte. In an exhilerating and extremely difficult fight (one that McGuigan himself often remarks was his most difficult), he earned his right to face Eusebio Pedroza, a fight that was held in Loftus Road.
On the 8th of June, 1985, 25,000 people filled the stadium, with 12,000 coming over from Ireland, to watch the big match-up live, and an estimated TV audience of 20 million people tuned in to what would be one of the biggest nights in the history of boxing in the island of Ireland.
When his hand was lifted in victory after a unanimous decision from the judges, the emotion of the occasion and the achievement overtook him, and through his tears, he was able to tell the audience that he was dedicating his fight to the memory of Young Ali.
Hailing from Mongahan, he also had a good understanding of the turbulent political situation at the time in the North, but when he would fight in Belfast, both sides would turn out to lend their support.
He would wear a dove of peace on his shorts, never wore any colours which showed an allegiance, he fought under the United Nations flag of peace, and his father would sing Danny Boy instead of any anthem. He campaigned against sectarian violence from both sides, and his slogan was “leave the fighting to Barry”.
His recent media work has also shown that McGuigan's knowledge of the sport is incredible but perhaps his most lasting legacy is exactly that ability to bring people across the divide together in one place.
Barry put it best when he said of that incredible night at Loftus Road that “I get people to this day saying how wonderful a time they had during that dark period in our history, when they came to watch me fight”.
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