By Alan Hubbard
Josh Warrington will have the satisfaction of knowing that when he makes the first defence of his IBF world featherweight title at Manchester Arena on December 22 he will be pitting his fists against the best fighting man Northern Ireland has ever produced.
That’s how I rate Carl ‘The Jackal’ Frampton and you can be sure I am by no means alone.
As a two-weight world champion and a helluva fighting man he tops my list of the ten all-time great boxers from Ulster.
The Fighting Irish is a phrase synonymous with the Noble Art. With good reason. The Emerald Isle has always produced terrific boxers, stretching back to Nonpareil Jack Dempsey right through to their current idols like Frampton.
With one of boxing’s biggest nights of the year approaching on Saturday week in Manchester I have decided to concentrate on those boxers from north of the border. Frampton’s hordes of fans will be descending en masse to the Manchester Arena.
Many’s the exciting night I have spent in Belfast watching Irish eyes smiling as those fists are flying. They love a good punch-up there, and they will certainly get one when the first bell rings in Manchester.
So why does Frampton rank as the best ever in my book? Like the scoring of ringside judges, this is subjective and I award the title to The Jackal on a split decision from, his estranged former manager and mentor, Barry McGuigan by virtue of him being a two-weight world champion, and the appreciative following he has on both sides of the Irish Sea.
In compiling my top ten list I have discounted boxers born in the United States with Irish heritage. However, several stars left their homeland to find fame in American rings and these qualify for consideration.
Also, those who won world titles in their careers were given greater preference, though there are far more belts to fight for in these current times.
So here is my pick.
1: CARL FRAMPTON
Professional record: 26-1-0
As articulate with his words as well as his fists Carl has held the WBO interim featherweight title since April 2018, and is a former world champion in two weight classes, having held the unified WBA (Super) and IBF super-bantamweight titles between 2014 and 2016, and the WBA (Super) featherweight title from 2016 to 2017. As skilled and crowd-pleasing a boxer as Ulster has ever seen, he probably has the biggest home-town following since Ricky Hatton and with his pedigree is likely to start a slight favourite against new champ Warrington.
2: BARRY McGUIGAN
Professional record 32-3
The ‘Clones Cyclone’ was more than just a boxer — he was a hugely popular personality who signified hope in Ireland during difficult times. While the battle went on between Unionists and Republicans in 1985, he had an entire nation behind him when he travelled to London to beat Eusebio Pedroza and become WBA world featherweight champion. McGuigan ended Pedroza’s long reign after going 15 rounds for the first time in his career. However, his tenure of the belt lasted just more than a year. In high temperatures in an outdoor bout in Las Vegas, a severely dehydrated McGuigan was beaten by Steve Cruz on points.
3: JIMMY McLARNIN
Professional record: 55-11-3
Born near in Hillsborough near Belfast ‘Baby Face’ McLarnin emigrated with his family to Canad at the age of three to become as an outstanding boxer who beat 13 world champions and is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Having lost at lightweight to Sammy Mandell in 1928, McLarnin claimed a world welterweight title five years later when he stopped Young Corbett III inside a round. He then became involved in a trilogy of bouts with Barney Ross, losing two out of three against the American. On each occasion, however, the pair went the full 15 rounds. McLarin, who was 96 when he died, is rated by Boxrec as the third best welterweight of all time, behind Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Henry Armstrong.
4: RINTY MONAGHAN
Professional record: 52-9-8
I recall listening to broadcasts of his fights as a kid, when he would always finish with a rendition of ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’. He was a flyweight world champion who has been immortalized with a statue in Belfast. Monaghan defeated Dado Marino in 1947 to claim the vacant world title, though he wasn’t confirmed as undisputed champion until he knocked out Scotland’s Jackie Paterson in his next fight. Frampton says of his illustrious compatriot: “Boxing is a sport now where it’s full of alphabet titles. When Rinty was the world champion, there only was one and everyone knew him.”
5: DAVE McAULEY
Professional record: 18-3-2
While he didn’t have the longevity of some others on this list, McAuley deserves his place in the top 10 for his stint as holder of the IBF flyweight title. The man from Larne made it third time lucky in his bid to become a world champion in 1989, upsetting Englishman Duke McKenzie at Wembley. He said at the time: Mickey Duff [McKenzie’s promoter] believed that I was coming over as a sacrificial lamb. He was having a voluntary defence, they thought I was just in it for a final pay-day so they took the fight expecting an easy night”. McAuley defended the title five times before losing a hotly contested loss to Colombian Rodolfo Blanco in Spain. He retired after the defeat.
6: JOHNNY CALDWELL
Professional record: 29-5-1
Johnny ‘Ice Eyes’ Caldwell won a bronze medal at the 1956 Olympics before going on to win a world title as a pro, outpointing the experienced French-Algerian Alphonse Halimi at Wembley to become world bantamweight champion. He also won the rematch the same way before losing the belt to fierce-punching Eder Jofre by ko in Brazil in 1962. Caldwell was unable to beat compatriot Freddie Gilroy to take the British and Commonwealth crowns that same year, though he would eventually get his hands on the two belts in 1964. He retired in 1965 and died in 2009 at age 71.
7: FREDDIE GILROY
Professional record: 28-3
Another talented Belfast boy, Gilroy won a bronze medal for Ireland at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne and as a professional, he took the Commonwealth (British Empire) and European bantamweight titles in 1959 and contended for the World bantamweight in 1960, also against Alphone Halimi, losing on points. Two years later he fought fellow Belfast star John Caldwell what is widely regarded as one of the greatest fights ever to be held in Ireland. Gilroy won when a badly cut eye prevented him continuing. He retained his British Empire bantamweight title, and immediately announced his retirement from his short but successful boxing career. He died at the age of eighty in Belfast two years ago.
8: RYAN BURNETT
Professional record: 19-1
The 26-year-old is Northern Ireland’s most recent world champion, having held the WBA and IBF titles between 2017 to 2018 before retiring against Nonito Donaire with a back injury. As an amateur Burnett represented Ireland at the 2010 Youth Olympics, winning the a gold medal at light-flyweight. Burnett defeated Lee Haskins via a 12 round split decision to win his first world title and become Northern Ireland’s first world bantamweight champion in 20 years, knocking him down twice. The final judges’ scores were 119-107, 119-107 for Burnett and 118-108 for Haskins. The result was later changed to a unanimous decision as judge Clark Sammartino who scored the fight for Haskins put the wrong name in the box.
9: WAYNE McCULLOUGH
Professional record: 27-7
A silver medalist at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the Pocket Rocket won the WBC world bantamweight title when he defeated Yasuei Yakushiji in Japan in 1995. He lost the belt two years later and never scaled the same heights again. However, McCullough’s failure to become a two-time world champion wasn’t through a lack of effort. The US-based Belfast-born boxer took WBO titleholder Naseem Hamed to the scorecards in 1998 and then went the distance with legendary Mexican Erik Morales at super bantamweight 12 months later. He stepped up to featherweight to challenge WBO champion Scott Harrison in 2003, losing a lopsided decision to the Scot in Glasgow.
10: EAMONN MAGEE
Professional record: 27-6
Magee’s deeply troubled life out of the ring included being shot in the leg by the IRA. Inside it he held the Commonwealth light-welter title and challenged for the European and British welterweight belts. His biggest fight was against Ricky Hatton for or the WBU welterweight title before a 20,000 sell-out crowd in Manchester. In what Hattonls then trainer Billy Graham called The Hitman’s toughest fight Magee knocked the Mancunian down for the first time in his career after only one minute of the fight in round one. Magee again pressurised Hatton in the second round and again Hatton looked in trouble. However, he battled back, keeping Magee on the ropes for much of the remainder of the fight. Magee eventually lost this keenly contested fight on points over 12 rounds.
A biography of Magee published in 2018 titled The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee was joint winner last year of the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
Apologies to the many great fighters from the Republic from Jack Doyle and Mike McTigue to Steve Collins and Andy Lee, who were excluded of course, and to those doughty Ulstermen, such as Paddy Barnes, Eamonn Loughran, Billy ‘Spider’ Kelly, Brian Magee, Danny McAlinden and Des Rea who missed the cut.
And maybe another exciting young man from fight-hungry Belfast, one Michael Conlan, will be heading that top ten list in years to come…
IBF world featherweight champion Josh Warrington takes on former two-weight world champion Carl Frampton at the Manchester Arena on December 22nd live on BT Sport Box Office. Mark Heffron and Liam Williams contest the vacant British middleweight title and Belfast’s blue chip featherweight prospect Michael Conlan (9-0) takes on former commonwealth champion Jason Cunningham (24-5). Elsewhere on the bill World flyweight title challenger Paddy Barnes (5-1) and unbeaten Light Heavyweight contender Steven Ward (9-0) return to action.
Tickets are priced at £50 Upper Tier, £80 Tier, £100 Tier, £150 Tier, £200 Floor/Tier, £300 Floor, £400 Floor, £600 Inner Ring VIP Hospitality and are available. Tickets available via Manchester Arena.