There is a saying in Co Fermanagh that ’the only good thing to come out of Clones is the road to Rosslea’.
Boxing fans would beg to differ and will cite as evidence the achievement of Monaghan’s most famous fighter, Barry McGuigan, who rose to become World Boxing Association (WBA) featherweight champion on June 8, 1985.
In the heat of Loftus Road, London, the home of Queens Park Rangers Football Club, the 24-year old ’Clones Cyclone’ reached the pinnacle of his division by defeating the champion, Eusebio Pedroza of Panama.
McGuigan’s love of boxing developed at the Wattlebridge boxing club and when he graduated to the Smithboro club, a few miles from Clones, where trainer Frank Mulligan saw his potential. Within two years of winning the All Ireland championship, the 17-year old took the gold medal at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada. It was clear that Ireland had a special boxing talent on her hands.
After the Moscow Olympics in 1980, McGuigan turned his attention the following year to a career in the professional ring. However, even with careful nurturing by Belfast bookmaker Barney Eastwood and trainer Eddie Shaw, it was never going to be easy.
In his third professional bout, McGuigan lost to Peter Eubanks in Brighton. Later, after McGuigan's twelfth contest, his Nigerian opponent, Young Ali, died from head injuries. Eventually McGuigan decided to continue his career and by November 1983 a sixth round knockout of Valerio Nati at Belfast’s Ulster Hall added the European crown to the British featherweight title he had won the previous June.
As his star continued to rise, McGuigan’s camp worked tirelessly to get their man into contention for a world title. If proof was needed that the Cyclone could cause damage on the bigger stage, his destruction of former world champion Juan La Porte in the cauldron of the King’s Hall, Belfast, was evidence enough to the Panama based WBA that his time had come.
McGuigan’s legions of supporters descended on London on a hot summer’s night in June 1985 when the showdown with Eusebio Pedrosa finally arrived.
Even before a blow had been struck, the nauseating gimmick of a dwarf dressed as a leprechaun and skipping around the ring spreading magic dust, threatened to insult the honour of the noble champion. McGuigan kept Pedrosa under pressure, had him down on the canvas and won the title on points after 15 pulsating rounds.
‘I can’t believe I’ve done it’, he declared, moments after being presented with the WBA belt.
But he had. And as McGuigain returned to Ireland to celebrate, it seemed, in the euphoria of the moment, that he had the ability, and the benefit of youth, to keep the title for as long as he wanted.
However, within three contests, McGuigan’s title was gone. A mandatory defence against American Bernard Taylor and a much harder encounter with Danilo Cabrera was followed by a fight in Las Vegas in June 1986 against a late stand-in opponent, Steve Cruz, a Texan plumber.
McGuigan, debilitated by an ankle injury and the high temperatures, was out pointed and beaten.
Following a very public parting of the ways with his manager Eastwood, the Cyclone made a brief return to the ring two years later under the management of Frank Warren. The comeback lasted only three bouts before McGuigan decided to end a career that lasted 35 fights.
Outside of the ring he began to use his talents as a boxing analyst and to act as a spokesman for the Professional Boxers Association. McGuigan also works as a boxing commentator and broadcaster, and in 2007 was crowned winner of ITV's Hell's Kitchen
Twenty years after being proclaimed world champion, McGuigan received another world accolade when he was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in June 2005. Recently he told the BBC:
‘When I think of the people who have been there, and the people I grew up admiring – the likes of Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard... it’s just incredible that I’m in the same sort of club.
‘I’ll never be as good a fighter as them, but nevertheless, to be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame is pretty special.’