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LEGEND OF LEAHY WILL LIVE FOREVER

IT'S a question that probably crops up occasionally in pub sports quizzes: who was the Irishman who beat the greatest fighter that ever lived, 'Sugar' Ray Robinson?

I'm not sure how many would be able to come up with the correct answer: Mick Leahy.

The sad news emerged this week that Leahy, from the Spangle Hill district of Cork, had died on January 6 in Coventry, where he had lived since the 1950s. He was 74.

A fiery, two-fisted fighter, Leahy was never afraid to take on the best. And who better than the fabulous Sugar Ray, whom he fought at Paisley Ice Rink in Scotland on September 3, 1964?

The Irishman got the decision after 10 rounds, though some observers thought he was lucky -- Robinson was 44 and nearing the end of his career -- but the great result was etched on Leahy's record.

In his next fight, Leahy travelled to Vienna to take on another veteran boxing legend, Laszlo Papp, for the Hungarian's European middleweight title.

Floored three times and suffering a burst blood vessel in his throat that affected his breathing, he at least had the satisfaction of taking the three-time Olympic champion the full 15 rounds.

Leahy hit a historic landmark in 1963, when he became the first fighter from the Irish Republic to win a British title. And he did it in style, stopping George Aldridge inside two minutes of the first round.

He had to take out British citizenship to become eligible, and met initial resistance from the British Boxing Board of Control, but the fact that he lived in Coventry from the start of his career probably helped.



passing

It was a former opponent, Tommy Butler, treasurer of the Irish Ex-Boxers Association, who rang to tell me of Leahy's passing, and recall that he beat Mick in the army junior championships in 1952.

Leahy turned professional in 1956 and within five years had fought his way to his first crack at a British title, at welterweight, but was knocked out in the eighth round by Welshman Brian Curvis.

After moving up to capture the British middleweight title, he tried for the Commonwealth crown against Gomeo Brennan, from the Bahamas.

The points decision for Brennan was booed by the London crowd.

The fight most fans remember Leahy for was his 1962 thriller with Irish-American Joey Archer at New York's Madison Square Garden that was shown on British TV's Fight of the Week series.

It was a real Irish occasion, with the ropes painted green, and even Archer's cornerman, Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, sported a green derby hat. The referee, Jimmy Devlin, was, naturally, an Irish-American.

Leahy fought his heart out, but was floored twice and cut over one of his eyes.

He gallantly battled right up to the bell ending the 10th round, when the unanimous verdict went to the hometown favourite.

Mick's career was cut short in 1965 when his car collided with a truck in Coventry.

He lost the sight in his left eye and damaged his hearing. In recent years, he suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

His brother Tony said: "Mick was my best friend and a true gentleman.

"He fought all over the world against some of the greats and had lots of friends everywhere he went."

I know all Irish fight fans will join me in expressing condolences to Mick's widow, Teresa, his five children, Tersea, Noel, Stephen, Maureen and Mark, and many grandchildren.


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