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One of Ireland’s greatest prize fighters, Mike McTigue, was born in Kilnamona,Co. Clare. Mike boxed professionally for close on 20 years. During the years 1923-1925, the Kilnamona native was the light-heavy weight champion of the world.
“McTigue gave a masterful display of boxing on the
back foot to take the unanimous decision”.
“McTigue handed Stribbling a shellacking but received no better
than a draw from referee Harry Ertle, who was threatened by the supporters
The early decades of the 20th century were amongst the hey-day of the great Irish and Irish American boxers. World heavy weight champions like Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney dominated the ring during “The Roaring Twenties”, and of course Billy Conn held the light-heavyweight championship during the years 1939-1941.
Born in Kilnamona in 1892, Mike McTigue emigrated to the United States about 1910, quickly making a name for himself as a promising boxer. One of Mike’s first big wins was over “Battling Levinsky” (Barney Lebrowitz). Yet may years would pass before the Clareman would get a shot at the light-heavyweight title.
It was during a tour of Ireland and England in 1922 that McTigue was pitted against Johnny Basham, Dave McGill, Bartley Madden and Jack Reeves. Following a victory over Reeves in Round 3, English boxing promoter Tom Singleton, offered McTigue a title fight against Louis Phal, from Senegal. Known as ‘Battling Siki’, Phal had earlier shocked the boxing world with a solid victory over the French favourite Georges Carpentier.
The title fight held at La Scala Theatre, Dublin, lasted 20 rounds before the Clareman was declared the winner on points.
Back in the United States, Mike put his light-heavyweight world title on the line when he agreed to travel to the Empire State of the South to take on “Young Stribbling”, the pride of Georgia.
According to the boxing historian Nat Fleischer, “McTigue gave Stribbling (whose real name was William Lawrence) a shellacking before a hostile home crowd”. When the referee, Harry Ertle, raised McTigue’s arm in victory, a furious crowd entered the ring ordering the ref to do a re-count of the points. The referee fearing for his life changed his decision and gave the fight to Stribbling. Other reports claim one of Stribbling’s supporters was brandishing a rope.
When the boxing commission learned of the disturbance in Georgia they overturned the referees second ‘decision’ and gave the contest as a draw. McTigue was still champion. Too be fair to ‘young Stribbling’ he had a great record coming into the McTigue fight with only three defeats in 90 bouts and Stribbling did later defeat McTigue. In 1925, Mike lost his title to Paul Berlenbach.
In 1927, under the guidance of new manager, James Joy Anderson, McTigue returned with a more confident, attacking style, knocking out Paul Berlenbach in a re-match in round four at Madison Square Garden. This was an astonishing result for a man who was now 35 and nearing the end of his boxing career. In his swan-song Mike lost the world title fight to Tommy Loughran.
The Kilnamona man hung up his gloves in1930, at the age of 38. McTigue had the distinction of fighting during the Golden Age of boxing in the twenties, and with the passing of The Walker Law in 1920 the sport had grown massively in popularity.
Many appraisals were paid to Mike McTigue for his boxing prowess. Dermot ‘Tiger’ Kelly, a former welter-weight fighter from Liverpool, was a great admirer of McTigue’s. In1967, Kelly wrote a glowing tribute for the Clare Champion, recalling McTigue’s two victories over Harry Greb. Kelly had seen McTigue in action. The gist of his article was that Harry Greb was the only man ever to defeat Gene Tunney and Mike beat Greb twice.
Mike’s sister Catherine Breen concurred with ‘Tiger’ Kelly comments in an interview she gave to the Clare Champion on October 2nd, 1971. “Mike was proudest of his fights with Harry Greb. When he first won the light-heavyweight title I was living in Elmhurst and I can tell you I was a very proud woman. I knew how hard he had tried to get to the top of his profession. I remember his fight with Jack Delaney in the heavy weight division after Gene Tunney had retired as undefeated champion.”