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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top 10 Irish Boxers of All Time

Top 10 Irish Boxers of All Time

Publish Date: 07/03/2023
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

Greatest Irish Boxers

This list is based off boxers born in Ireland and the talent in Ireland early in the 20th century was top notch.

10) Johnny Caldwell

Johnny Caldwell won a bronze medal at the 1956 Olympics before capturing a world title.

He began at flyweight, becoming British flyweight champion with his victory against Frankie Jones before transitioning to bantamweight.

Caldwell made his mark when he defeated Alphonse Halimi to become world champion, then repeated this win in their rematch before losing it to the legendary Eder Jofre in Brazil in 1962.

Caldwell failed to defeat fellow Canadian Freddie Gilroy and secure the British and Commonwealth belts that year; he eventually did win it in 1964, though.

Video: Dunville Park Statue of Boxer John Caldwell 1938-2009

Dunville Park Statue of Boxer John Caldwell 1938-2009

9) Tom Sharkey

Tom Sharkey hails from Dundalk but is later seen living in New York after fleeing home to become a cabin boy on an ocean liner.

Joining the United States Navy, he began his boxing career while deployed in Hawaii.

Sharkey battled both James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons within one year; after his Fitzsimmons was disqualified by stand-in referee Wyatt Earp – making Sailor Tom world champion.

However, he could never truly defeat James J. Jeffries. Twice losing on points to their American adversary during two fights that totaled 25 rounds in 1899, their fight was the longest in history.

Video: James J Jeffries vs Tom Sharkey 3/11/1899

James J Jeffries vs Tom Sharkey 3/11/1899

8) Dave McAuley

Dave McAuley didn’t have as longย  as a career as others on this list, yet he still merits inclusion for holding onto a world title.

In 1989, Larne native McCauley finally succeeded in his bid to become world champion by defeating Englishman Duke McKenzie at Wembley Stadium, London.

His prior two attempts at winning major titles ended in defeat against Fidel Bassa the WBA champion.

McAuley successfully defended the IBF version five times before suffering a hotly disputed loss against Colombian Rodolfo Blanco in Spain and retiring after that.

Video: Fidel Bassa vs Dave McAuley 1 (Highlights)

Fidel Bassa vs Dave McAuley 1 (Highlights)

7) Wayne McCullough

Wayne McCullough may have fallen short in four of his last five fights as a professional boxer, yet these setbacks should not diminish the legacy he left in the ring.

The Pocket Rocket was awarded silver at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona before claiming the WBC world bantamweight championship by defeating Yasuei Yakushiji of Japan in 1995.

McCullough lost the belt two years later and never managed to reclaim its heights again, yet his failure to become a two-time world champion wasn’t due to any lack of effort on his part.

At super bantamweight, the Belfast-born boxer took WBO titleholder Naseem Hamed the distance and also went the distance against legendary Mexican Erik Morales 12 months later.

Video: โ— Wayne McCullough - Relentless โ—

โ— Wayne McCullough – Relentless โ—

6) Mike McTigue

Mike McTigue was born in County Clare, Ireland but moved to the U.S. at 21.

However, Mike returned home and defeated Battling Siki after 20 long rounds to become the world light heavyweight champion in 1923 in Dublin.

He lost the belt in his first defense to Tommy Loughran but eventually won it back in their rematch.

His second reign would last until 1925, when Paul Berlenbach defeated him.

Video: Mike McTigue - Clare's World Boxing Champion

Mike McTigue – Clare’s World Boxing Champion

5) Rinty Monaghan

John “Rinty” Monaghan is a legendary flyweight world champion who was commemorated with a monument in Belfast, his place of birth.

Monaghan defeated Dado Marino to claim the vacant world championship, although he wouldn’t become undisputed champion until knocking out Scotland’s Jackie Paterson during his next fight.

He often serenaded the audience with renditions of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” After retiring from professional boxing, he worked as a cabaret artist.

4) Barry McGuigan

Barry McGuigan represented more than just boxing – he represented hope during difficult times for Ireland.

As Unionists and Republicans vied for power in 1985, the Clones Cyclone had the support of an entire nation when he journeyed to London for his bout against Eusebio Pedroza and eventual WBA world featherweight title victory.

McGuigan ended Pedroza’s long reign after going 15 rounds for the first time ever. Unfortunately, however, his reign with the belt only lasted just over one year.

McGuigan suffered dehydration before losing on points to Steve Cruz an underdog in an outdoor fight held in Las Vegas.

Video: Barry McGuigan -

Barry McGuigan – “The Clones Cyclone” Highlights/Knockouts

3) Steve Collins

Dublin-born Steve Collins won two world championships as a two-weight boxer, defeating Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn.

The Celtic Warrior turned professional in America but failed to win middleweight title fights against Mike McCallum and Reggie Johnson.

Moving to Britain enabled Collins to finally claim one of his goals; defeating Chris Pyatt in Sheffield, England earned him the WBO belt.

He then switched weight classes, taking on WBO super middleweight champion Eubank at super middleweight, ending both his unbeaten streak and reign with a points win that saw both boxers were knocked down once.

Collins never actually lost the belt in combat but rather forfeited it due to withdrawing from a scheduled fight with Joe Calzaghe due to injury.

Video: Steve Collins - Celtic Warrior

Steve Collins – Celtic Warrior

2) Jack Nonpareil Dempsey

Jack “Nonpareil” Dempsey earned his moniker due to his unrivalled ability and skills.

As per Wikipedia, his career wasn’t without setbacks; two losses against Billy Baker are believed to have been fixed bouts.

Dempsey was born in Curran, Ireland but rose to fame in America.

Earl Gustkey of the Los Angeles Times described him as an American hero who first demonstrated that boxing could be performed as an art form with style, grace and athleticism.

His reign as middleweight champion ended when the legendary Bob Fitzsimmons defeated him in 1891.

Dempsey died four years later due to tuberculosis at age 33 and was honored with induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame shortly thereafter.



1) Jimmy McClarnin

After being defeated at lightweight by Sammy Mandell in 1928 for the title, McLarnin would win his world championship five years later when he stopped Young Corbett III inside one round.

He then engaged in three fights against Barney Ross, losing two out of three bouts to his American opponent but going the full 15 rounds each time.

McLarnin had incredible power in both fists, his right being particularly lethal. Unfortunately, as with many big punchers, hand injuries caused by overuse eventually forced him into becoming more of a boxer during his later career years.

He became one of the 13 World Boxing Champions he defeated and is an inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Video: Jimmy McLarnin - The Belfast Spider

Jimmy McLarnin – The Belfast Spider

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