Riches of Clare: - Kilnamona’s World Champ

Clare Champion, Friday, November 21, 2003

The Riches of Clare exhibition at the local authority–run Clare Museum charts the county’s history. In this article, Róisín O’Connor writes about one of the Banner’s most famous sportsmen.

One of Clare’s most famous sportsmen, Michael Francis McTigue, was born in Kilnamona, Co. Clare, on November 26, 1892.

Like many before him he was forced to emigrate to the US at the age of 16, and it was on the tough streets of New York that McTigue developed the passion for boxing that would eventually bring him fame.

Mike Mc Tigue began boxing professionally in 1909, and although his early record is not available, it is evident that he possessed the skill and attributes of a good boxer from an early age. In 1923 he got the recognition he deserved by taking the World Light Heavyweight title.

In January of that year, Mc Tigue defeated Jack Reeves in just three rounds, and with this victory, Mc Tigue was offered the opportunity to go head to head against Louis Phawl from Senegal, known as Battling Siki, for the World Light Heavyweight Title.

Battling Siki was born Baye Phal on September 16, 1897 in Senegal, and moved to France when he was in his teens. He changed his name from Baye to Louis and at the age of 15 he began prize fighting.

From 1912-1914, Siki fought in France, obtaining an unimpressive record. He enlisted in the French Army at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille Militaire for bravery in combat. After the war Siki resumed his boxing career and succeeded in winning 43 of 46 fights, from 1919-1922.

In 1922, Siki sensationally defeated Georges Carpentier, World Light Heavyweight Champion in Paris, in front of 40,000 people. Carpentier was fighting on French soil for the first time in three years, and was heavy favourite against Siki, who was chosen as a “safe” opponent.

As the new champion, there was no shortage of offers for his services, and many lucrative amounts of money were being offered to Siki to fight against other prominent boxers.

Although Siki had proved himself to be popular with the public, as was typical of the time, he was often on the receiving end of ridicule and racism, even from his own handlers. Newspapers called him “Championzee”, and “Child of the jungle”. One French publication printed a story with the headline “Siki would give half his winnings to become white”.

Siki managed to gloss over the negative cruelty of the press, and relished his new found celebrity status, where he played the role of exhibitionist, often walking the streets of France with a pet lion on a leash. He enjoyed life in the fast lane, and soon had the taste for liquor, flashy clothes, and women, but at a cost to his career.

Battling Siki signed up for his American debut, which was to be held on November 30th, 1922, at Madison Square Garden, against a fighter called Kid Norfolk. The bout was postponed, and Siki travelled to Dublin to take on Mike McTigue.

The title fight was held on St. Patrick’s Day, 1923, at La Scala Theatre, in Dublin. It lasted twenty rounds, before McTigue was declared the winner on points.

Now the offers of lucrative fights came rolling in for Mike Mc Tigue, and he went on to defeat “Young” Stribling in a non-title fight before surrendering his title to Paul Burlenbach, over fifteen rounds in May 1925.

Although Mc Tigue got a chance to recapture the title, the Clareman was defeated by Tommy Loughrane from Philadelphia in 1927. This fight also went the distance and points once again defeated McTigue.

Mike McTigue died in Queens, New York on August 12th, 1966, aged 74 years. From 1914-1930 he had fought an impressive 167 bouts. His popularity didn’t go unnoticed as thousands of people turned out to pay their respects.

On the other hand, although he has not gone down in boxing annals as a great fighter, Battling Siki is remembered for one of the fight game’s most intriguing and tragic stories.

Three months after loosing to Mc Tigue, Siki lost again, this time to Emile Morelle, costing him the crowns of Europe and France. Rebounding with two knockout wins in France, on November 20th, 1923, Siki finally made his American debut against Kid Norfolk, only to lose a fifteen round decision.

A month later he lost to Jack Taylor.

Siki’s last chance of redemption came on March 13th, 1925, against Paul Berlenbach, but it was not to be, Siki lost in the tenth round.

Although Battling Siki had excelled himself in his career, it was his personal life that brought about more attention, and it was catching up on him.

On December 15th 1925, Siki was found dead, shot twice in the back at close range on a New York street.

According to Lilian Phal, her husband told her that he had been threatened by a man named Jimmy over the sum of $20. A gun was found across the street from the murder scene, but the killer was never captured.

Although Siki had a successful final ring record of 63 wins, 21 losses, 5 draws, 5 no-decisions, and scored 35 knockouts out of 63 wins, and was knocked out just twice, only 400-500 people turned out in Harlem at Siki’s funeral to pay their respects.

Michael Mc Tigue's boxing gloves, worn during World Championship Title fight against 'Battling Siki'

Press Cuttings