“Fightin’ Irish” boxing history rich in Boston

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“Fightin’ Irish” and Boston boxing has been synonymous for more than a century, since the Irish first started emigrating to the United States in general, Boston in particular, after the Great Potato Famine.

Many Irish and Irish-American boxers have fought in the Greater Boston area, some born and others resettling there. This rich tradition continues next month in a different way when the three-city 2018 USA vs. Ireland Northeast Boxing Tour kicks-off Monday, March 12, at the newly renovated Royale Entertainment Complex in Boston’s famed theater district. The Boston stop, which is being presented by Budweiser, will have general admission tickets for $20.00 and a limited amount of $30.00 reserved tickets go on sale today (Monday, Feb. 12) at 12 p.m. ET are available to purchase online here.

The USA vs. Ireland Northeast Boxing Tour will continue March 15 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass., concluding March 21 at The Manchester Downtown Hotel in New Hampshire.

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All the duals will begin at 7:00 p.m. EST and tickets will be made available for purchase in the coming weeks. Each city will showcase up to 12 bouts, which will all be live streamed, free of charge, on USA Boxing’s website (

The tradition started back in the 19th century with “The Boston Strongboy,” John. L. Sullivan (Roxbury, MA), the first millionaire American athlete, as well as the first “gloves” world heavyweight champion and final “bare knuckles” heavyweight champion of the world. An International Boxing Hall of Famer, Sullivan won 38 of 38 pro fights, 30 coming by knockout, with only one loss and two draws.

Another Hall-of-Famer from that era, Jake Kilrain (29-5-8, 17 KOs), lived in Somerville and Quincy, both Boston suburbs. Kilrain (1829-1899) also reigned as world heavyweight champion.

Irish boxers from Greater Boston continued this rich tradition through the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries with world champions and top contenders such as welterweight Paddy Duffy (31-3,16, 18 KOs), Lawrence welterweight Mike Glover (Cavanaugh – 30-5-5, 16 KOs), and Charlestown welterweight Mike “Twin” Sullivan (28-6-16, 17 KOs), and Newton bantamweight Jimmy Walsh (33-10-20, 14 KOs)

In the 1950’s, Woburn lightweight “Irish” Tommy Collins (61-12, 44 KOs) was dropped 10 times at the Boston Garden by world champion Jimmy Carter, until he finally succumbed in the fourth round. His gutsy performance, however, earned him an appearance on the popular Ed Sullivan Show.

Arlington heavyweight Tom McNeeley (37-14, 28 KOs), unsuccessfully fought for the world title in 1961, stopped in the fourth round of his Toronto fight versus defending champion Floyd Patterson, and McNeeley’s son, Boston-native and later Medfield resident Peter “Hurricane” McNeeley (47-7, 30 KOs) famously was stopped in the opening round by “Iron” Mike Tyson in the latter’s first fight after his release from prison.
In the 1980’s, Irish boxers made their way to Boston to fight; some returned home after their careers, others relocated in the area. In 1984, Ireland-native Sean Mannion (42-14, 13 KOs), who had moved to the Dorchester section of Boston, lost a 15-round decision in Madison Square Garden to Mike McCallum for the World Boxing Association (WBA) Super Middleweight World Championship.

Steve “Celtic Warrior” Collins (25-2-1, 18 KOs) moved to Everett, later to Brockton, to work with Goody and Pat Petronelli, who handled Marvelous Marvin Hagler throughout is Hall of Fame career. Collins captured the World Boxing Organization (WBO) middleweight and super middleweight world titles before moving back to Ireland.

Collins’ younger brother, Packie Collins, also moved to Brockton to fight. He later worked with Irish heavyweight champion Kevin “The Clones Colossus” McBride (35-10-1, 29 KOs), who went on to knock Tyson out and into retirement. McBride, who still lives in Dorchester, was a stablemate of former Team Ireland head coach and current Team USA head coach, Billy Walsh, at the European Games. Both were also Ireland Olympians, respectively, in 1988 and 1992.

Another Ireland Olympian, Wayne “Pocket Rocket” McCullough (27-7, 18 KOs), moved to Las Vegas from Northern Ireland. The luck of the Irish wasn’t with him in Boston in 1997, when he lost his World Boxing Council (WBC) bantamweight title at Hynes Convention Center, by way of a 12-round split decision to Daniel Zaragoza.

Arguably the most famous and popular Irish-American boxer, outside of Sullivan and Jack Dempsey, is Lowell junior welterweight “Irish” Micky Ward (38-13, 27 KOs), who was involved in three Fight of the Year award winners, two from his epic trilogy with Arturo Gatti, and the first boxer with more than 10 career losses to earn a $1-million purse. Ward’s life was portrayed by another Boston icon, actor Mark Wahlberg, in the award-winning movie, “The Fighter.”

Irish boxers are still coming to Boston to fight. Locally-based Murphys Boxing has promoted numerous shows in Boston featuring world-class boxers such as Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan and undefeated super bantamweight TJ “Power” Doheny (18-0, 13 KOs), as well as undefeated rising stars such as “Sting” Ray Mayotte and New England & Massachusetts heavyweight champion Niall Kennedy (10-0, 6 KOs).

The Irish team will announce its boxers later this month after the conclusion of its National Championships.

Headlining Team USA’s roster is 2017 World Championship bronze medalist Troy Isley (Alexandria, VA). USA Boxing’s team will also include Virginia Fuchs (Kemah, Texas), who won four international gold medals in 2017, 2016 Youth World Champion and 2017 Elite Continental Championships silver medalist, Delante Johnson (Cleveland, OH), 2017 USA Boxing Heavyweight National Champion Jared Anderson (Toledo, OH) and 2016 Youth World Championship bronze medalist and 2017 USA Boxing Super Heavyweight National Champion, Richard Torrez (Tulare, CA). A full roster for each city will be released closer to the start of the tour.

USA vs. Ireland Schedule
March 12: Royale Entertainment Complex, Boston, Mass.
March 15: MassMutual Center, Springfield, Mass.
March 21: The Manchester Downtown Hotel, Manchester, N.H.

All boxers and bouts are subject to change.

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