In the North of Munster, on the West Coast of Ireland, lies County Clare, a region perhaps more renowned for Hurling than it is for boxing.
In fact, at the time in question, the small island had only one fighter who had battled his way to the top, George Gardiner, a former claimant of the World Light Heavyweight title, who hailed from Lisdoonvarna.
Gardiner’s reign as champion was short, but he would retire with wins over the likes of Jack Root, future heavyweight champion Marvin Hart, Barbados Joe Walcott, Peter Maher, and with losses to future hall of fame inductees, Bob Fitzsimmons and a green Jack Johnson.
Moving forward some years, on June 3rd 2016, Clare fell silent at the news of the passing of one Ennis’ favourite sons, the irreplaceable Muhammad Ali.
In 2009, Ali visited County Clare where he had been invited to a civic reception to commemorate the fact that his great-grandfather, Abe Grady, had hailed from Ennis.
Grady, according to records, though some of it is disputed, lived on the Turnpike Road before emigrating to the United States in the 1860s. He would finally settle in Kentucky where he would end up marrying an African-American woman whom he had freed from the slave trade.
Grady’s wife would give birth to a daughter named Odessa Lee. Odessa would eventually meet a gentleman by the name of Cassius Clay Snr, and then in January 1942 the man who would later proclaim himself as the Greatest was born.
Muhammad Ali may be, by family extension, the most famous person to hail from Ennis, however, there is another gentleman who through sheer hard work, an element of luck, war and other circumstances would write his name into the annals of boxing history.
In 1892 in the small village of Kilnamona, roughly five miles from Ennis, Michael Francis McTigue was born. The McTigue family-owned or leased around 30 acres of land in the vast, empty countryside. This part of Ireland had been brought to its knees in 1845 by the potato famine and Michael remembering his early days stated that he had been born “just outside the money.”
McTigue was a natural athlete and during his early teens won the high jump during an athletics meeting between the six counties of Southern Ireland.
Unemployment was extremely high in Ireland with workers’ pay and conditions often very poor. The city of Dublin was poverty-stricken, and at the time it was recorded as having the worst slums anywhere in the British Empire.
With the Act of Union bringing Ireland under British parliament control from the early 1800s the British would oversee the nation as it fell into abject poverty and disease. Over one million people would die during the Great Famine that followed, which, in turn, created some two million refugees.
As the years rolled past Ireland witnessed a significant population decline as tens of thousands sought to leave the country in search of a better life. This resulted in increased tensions with the British government, which would eventually lead to the increase of Irish nationalism, Irish republicanism, ethnic and sectarian tensions.
“When the British ruled Ireland when people couldn’t pay the rent, the British would set up sentry boxes in front of the farms,” recalled Mike’s brother, Tom, in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “The lads would harass the sentries, and that was a cause of a lot of trouble.
“One of the reasons Mike had to leave Ireland was that he hit one of the sentries with a rock. He had to appear at court in Limerick because of it. And there it was that a friend of his, Pat Haggerty, was shot at. Mike was in a fight because of it.”
It was around this time that Mike would become yet another statistic among the fourteen thousand Irish that emigrated between the years of 1901-1911. According to his brother Tom, Mike apparently travelled to England in 1910, and from there he would move on to New York on the SS Baltic of the White Star Line. The Baltic, which had just a few months earlier alerted the doomed Titanic of ice warnings, arrived in New York on Friday 13th September 1912.
Arriving at Ellis Island, which at the time was the world’s most active immigration station, Mike gave his nationality as British of Irish descent.
He would move to the Bronx in New York City and live with his brother Patrick, where he worked in a packing house carrying huge slabs of meat to the local markets.
Work in the packing house was hard, poorly paid, and employees were overworked. Like many tough manual labour jobs, it was the perfect breeding ground for fighters — similar of the pits of Wales and Scotland, where fighters would take off to the hills and valleys and fight for extra pay or to settle a score.
On one occasion Mike apparently got into an argument with a behemoth from the packing plant. Punches were swapped, and the giant was knocked out. According to Tom, a witness to the exchange piped up saying, “you should be in the [boxing] ring.”
Mike would eventually turn professional on the New York club scene in March 1914 at the age of 22 (although some reports state he was in his late-20s). He would earn only a few dollars for a fight and took whatever fights he could get.
On December 6th 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in London and was considered by some as the main reason for the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. The treaty was signed after the War of Independence, which would ultimately lead to the creation of the Irish Free State, while the six counties in the North East would remain part of the United Kingdom.
For many Republicans, the split was simply unacceptable, and acknowledging the treaty would have meant giving up on the Republic, a Republic that many were prepared to fight and die for.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty would divide many people, good friends often became foes, and though neither side wanted war, in April 1922 some 200 anti-treaty IRA militants, desperate to provoke a conflict with the British, occupied the Four Courts in Dublin in hopes that they would reunite to fight their common enemy.
The Commander in Chief of the National Army, Michael Collins, desperately wanted to avoid war or any bloodshed and tried to negotiate. However, matters changed for the worse on 22nd June 1922 when General Sir Henry Wilson, Security Advisor for the New State of Northern Ireland was shot dead outside his home.
By way of retaliation, the British made threats to attack the Four Courts if the Irish Government could not step in and resolve the situation or were unwilling to do so. With his hands tied, Collins had no choice but to give the order to attack the Four Courts.
Ireland, who had just gained its independence, were now at war with each other and some Irish historians are quoted as saying the “Civil War was bloodier and far more bitter than the War of Independence.”
On mainland Europe, in the 1920s it was a time of movie stars and celebrities, and in the summer of 1922, there was no bigger star in France, perhaps the world, than Georges Carpentier. As Ireland struggled, France had prospered after recovering from the German offensive that started in 1914 during the Great War. Referred to as the “crazy years” the 1920s saw economic growth soar as France’s production of hydropower increased eightfold during the decade. The economy was further enhanced with new products including auto, radio technology and aviation — in rolled the money and up popped the Cabarets.
Three months after the assassination of General Wilson in September 1922 Georges Carpentier — movie star, war hero and the recipient of the Croix de Guerre — also happened to be the World Light Heavyweight champion. Carpentier would make his first defence of his World title on home soil against an unknown fighter.
The then-unknown fighter — Battling Siki, hailed from Saint-Louis, Senegal, and was himself a war hero who would later become the first ever African world champion.
Saint-Louis, known locally as Ndar, is the main capital of the Saint-Louis region of Senegal based on the north-west coast of Africa. Established in 1659 by the French, it became the first ever permanent French settlement in the country and would become the capital of French West Africa in 1895.
Two years later, on 16th September 1897 Ahmadou “Louis” M’barick Phal, also known as Louis Phal was born. To boxing fans and historians he is known merely as Battling Siki AKA The Singular Senegalese.
According to one French professor, the term Siki was a title of nobility in Senegalese and Phal was the name of the former Kings.
Siki’s early life in Senegal is subject to some speculation; however, according to Siki himself, he was 8 years old before he left the port city of Saint-Louis.
“I use to go the docks and watch the ships,” explained Siki. “One day a big ship came in en-route to Marseilles and as it was to remain some days [docked in port] the passengers use to come ashore.
“Among them was a German woman (some reports state she may have been French) called Madame Farquenberg — a dancer who had lots of money. She saw me as an 8-year-old kid and had me show her the city. She asked me if I wanted to go on the ship and sail to France, see other lands and have a good time.
“In France, the dancer got me nice clothes and taught me daily on how to read and write. She danced in many European cities, and I would go on the stage as her little servant, dressed in red velvet.”
Sadly, the good times wouldn’t last as Madame Farquenberg job took her to Germany. Siki was unable to travel with her as he didn’t hold a passport. Explaining the situation, Siki said, “She left me in Marseilles with money to care for me. I never heard from her again. I tried writing to her, even after the war, but to no avail. She was kind to a black boy. Only for her, I would be slogging away in Senegal’s hot climate.”
Other reports of Siki’s young life also suggest that perhaps Madame Farquenberg may have died leaving the young Siki to work as a busboy before taking up boxing in the old fairground boxing booths.
Another story claims that Siki didn’t leave Senegal at eight years old and was in fact still in his hometown diving for coins thrown from passenger ships into the port water at the age of ten.
Further reports suggest that Siki may have left Senegal after signing on as a seaman, before jumping ship and becoming stranded in Marseilles.
Apparently, after the money left to Siki ran dry, he worked long hours washing and drying dishes with little pay to buy food.
Siki’s introduction to boxing came through a chance meeting with a man called Paul Latil, a boxing instructor from Marseille, who would become the first of a litany of managers in Siki’s career.
In 1912, at the tender age of fifteen Battling Siki started his professional career with a loss, near Cannes, France, with Siki retiring in the second round. Siki’s career would continue with mixed success until July 1914.
On 28th July 1914 with the outbreak of the Great War Siki thought it was his duty as a French citizen to serve his country.
“We of Saint-Louis are French citizens,” explained Siki. “We have the right to vote, we are citizens, and we have duties, so I joined the Eighth Colonial Infantry Regiment at Toulouse.”
The Eighth Colonials were solely made up of Africans. After the outbreak of war North African and Senegalese infantry travelled through Morocco en-route to France, with five Senegalese battalions sent to the Western Front.
Siki’s war record was distinguished with reports suggesting that he had been one of the bravest soldiers in his company, seeing action on several fronts and being regarded as an all-around solid infantry soldier.
Siki’s actions at Gallipoli and the Somme saw him awarded several military honours for bravery such as the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille Militaire; two of which are ranked in the top three of military honours awarded by France.
Upon leaving the military as a war hero and with his military record Siki should have had his pick of regular civilian jobs, however, his prospects were bleak.
Many reports suggest Siki was forced to return to boxing in May 1918 as the racist French labour laws after the end of the war restricted Africans from certain jobs.
Siki could have easily walked into any government post where his skill of linguistics may have been useful as he is reported to have been fluent in no less than six languages, including English, Dutch and French.
France’s attempts to regulate the labour market kept Africans out of many skilled jobs, and most were encouraged to take an apprenticeship in agriculture. As a result it vastly limited the earning potential of the many minorities and immigrants living in France.
Between May 1918 and July 1922 Siki fought an estimated forty-six times compiling a record of 43-2-1, mostly against club fighters. Many of his fights would take place in and around Toulouse, Paris and Marseille. However, Siki was not opposed to fighting on the road, travelling to ply his trade in Holland, Belgium, Germany, Spain and Algeria.
In September 1922 Siki was presented with an opportunity, of sorts — to challenge for the World Light Heavyweight title as well as the European Light Heavyweight & Heavyweight titles.
Georges Carpentier won the World Light Heavyweight champion after defeating Battling Levinsky in October 1920 by a fourth-round knockout. Carpentier was also the long-standing European champion at light heavyweight (beating Bandsman Dick Rice by KO2 in 1912) and at heavyweight (beating Bombardier Billy Wells by KO4 in 1913).
The following year Carpentier made an unsuccessful attempt to win the World Heavyweight title when he faced Jack Dempsey — getting stopped in four rounds in a fight that generated boxing’s first ever million dollar gate.
Carpentier next saw action in January 1922 where he defeated Australian heavyweight George Cook in four rounds in London. Four months later he defended his title against the former World Welterweight Champion and future Hall of Famer, Ted Kid Lewis.
During the first round of Carpentier vs Lewis, which saw both fighters holding and hitting, the referee vigorously tried to separate the combatants and tugged on Lewis’ right arm. Lewis, distracted for a nanosecond, was caught with a vicious right hand from Carpentier, dropping him for the count.
The stage was now set for Carpentier to return home to France and defend his titles for the first time in three years. That title defence came to pass on the 24th September 1922, in the outskirts of Paris, at the Stade Buffalo (opened only a week before, and of which Carpentier was part owner and promoter) in front of 50,000-plus spectators, with Ernest Hemingway in attendance, Carpentier defended his World & European titles against Battling Siki.
At the time, it was estimated to be the biggest crowd to attend a boxing match in European boxing history.
However, there was a problem, the fight was apparently fixed, or so thought the Carpentier side (although some observers believe Carpentier wasn’t privy to all the information). Siki was meant to take a knee in the first round and a dive in the fourth.
Siki got irritated that Carpentier was not pulling his punches after he had taken a knee in the first round, which signalled that the fix was on. Siki went down again in the third round for a count of seven. This was also apparently pre-arranged to make the fourth round stoppage look legitimate.
Incandescent with rage, Siki tore into Carpentier in the fourth round with wild and reckless shots. Carpentier stood his ground and attempted to battle back, but Siki was clearly landing the heavier shots. The fight ended in bizarre circumstances when Siki stopped Carpentier halfway through the sixth round.
Laying a terrific beating on the champion, Siki knocked out Carpentier, and as a result, the combatant’s legs became tangled, and some believed Siki had tripped an unconscious Carpentier.
Carpentier was carried to an ambulance on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. Meanwhile, Siki was disqualified by referee Harry Berstein, Carpentier was awarded the victory and looked set to retain his titles.
In the end, common sense eventually prevailed, as judges Victor Breyer, Jean Pugol and Mr Dennison went into consultation for an hour after the fight ended and the decision was reversed.
Battling Siki was the new Light Heavyweight Champion of the World and the first-ever African to become a World Champion in the muddy and corrupt world of professional boxing.
As Champion, Siki lived a lavish lifestyle, becoming the toast of the nation. He was often seen walking down the streets of Paris with lion cubs on leashes, attending the finest banquets in his honour, mixing with high society, as well as the leading actresses and dancers of the day. Unfortunately for Siki, not long after becoming champion his woes quickly piled up.
After blowing all his money, he visited his friend, Blaise Diagne, and coughed up the truth of the fixed fight with Carpentier.
Diagne, who was the first black African to be elected to the French Chamber of Deputies, was apparently so angered at Siki’s confession that he retold Siki’s story in the Chamber of Deputies and demanded an official investigation.
The result was a national scandal; however, no action was ever taken against Carpentier. Instead, Siki had his licence revoked by the French Boxing Federation in November 1922, which also saw him stripped of his French light heavyweight title. However, they had no authority to strip Siki of his world title.
In the same era of the million dollar gate a world title should have been a precious commodity for Siki, but the legacy of Jack Johnson, the deeply hated ex-heavyweight champion, still hung over the sport.
With Siki now banned from fighting in France, he sought to take on British heavyweight champion, Joe Beckett in London. However, at the insistence of the French, who had also contacted the Americans, the British Home Secretary William C. Bridgeman ruled that the bout couldn’t take place.
“In bouts between men of colour and white men, the temperaments of the contestants are not comparable, and, moreover, all sorts of passions are aroused,” said Secretary Bridgeman, attempting to justify the contest being banned.
The British were merely doing the bidding of the French commission by not allowing Siki to fight on their shores and citied racial tensions or potential riots if the fight between the two men was allowed to go ahead — even though fights between white and black boxers had already taken place in Britain.
In fact, it had only been eleven years since pressure had been placed upon the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill to ban Jack Johnson from fighting in the UK against Bombardier Billy Wells.
While Johnson was held in equal contempt by both the American and British authorities, the mannerisms of Siki were not too dissimilar to that of Johnson. Both men were ostentatious, both liked to party, both liked to spend money, and both liked to cavort with and marry white women.
According to the Times of London, Siki was considered as an “apparent threat to the British Empire.” The same Empire that began its slow disintegration in December 1922.
An article by Ring Magazine twenty-five years after the fight explained the situation thus, with just a sprinkle of racism.
“Siki had become something of an annoying problem to the French authorities. The irresponsible savage from the African jungles had been troublesome enough before his spectacular knock out of Georges Carpentier in Paris in late 1922. That triumph unloosened what few bonds of propriety and restraint Siki had. Wined and dined at every turn he went completely berserk in a mad pursuit of pleasure, it was only a matter of time before the better elements of France became utterly disgusted with him.”
Around the time of the Siki-Carpentier fight, Mike McTigue, who was now apparently 27 years old, was still earning a pittance. His highest purse so far had come in 1919, when he was paid $700 for fighting Battling Ortega in Boston.
While taking heavy punishment in the ring, McTigue made the decision to travel back to Ireland with his family on holiday with quiet plans to get better opportunities.
McTigue had established a reputation as a clean fighter, he wasn’t flashy or spectacular, physically he was nothing special to look at, and in fact, while he looked frail, he was much stronger than his appearance.
McTigue lived a quiet life with his family, but the big fights, titles, and huge purses he craved seemed nothing more than a distant dream as he tried to navigate the mob-infested boxing scene of the 1920s.
Setting sail with his family in tow, McTigue was utterly unaware that his homeland was at war. His initial plan had been to travel to France to seek out a fight with Carpentier. That was until the wireless broke the news that Carpentier had lost his title, while McTigue was halfway across the Atlantic.
McTigue then decided to travel to England and in October 1922 knocked out former British, Commonwealth & European welterweight champion Johnny Basham in four rounds in a contest fought at 160lbs.
In December 1922 McTigue retired Barbados born Harry Knight in four rounds and in early January 1923 stopped Harry Reeve in three rounds. Reeve had previously faced Siki in four bouts going 0-3-1 against the Senegalese fighter. Reeve & Siki had fought for the fourth and final time just two months before Siki’s bout with Carpentier.
With his options limited, a career seemingly on the ropes, and with very little cash, Siki needed a fight. Frustratingly for Siki, no country seemed willing to let him pitch up and defend his title. That was until the 6th December 1922 when the Irish Free State came into being. Now the Home Secretary, William C. Bridgeman, who had previously banned Siki from entering England, had no control of who was allowed to enter Ireland.
As a result, a few Irish businessmen and sportsmen jumped on the opportunity to make potential big fights in Ireland, but due to the war and the poverty-stricken state of the country they had to attract a fighter who wouldn’t break the bank and would defend his title under the market value — in stepped Battling Siki.
One of the businessmen keen to promote boxing in Ireland was Tom Singleton, a racehorse owner who always had a burning ambition to promote big fights in Dublin. However, Singleton knew with the poverty that had besieged the nation they would struggle to sell tickets for more than a few shillings.
The Irish Government quickly approved the fight. Siki would earn some much-needed money and Singleton would have the opportunity to stage a big fight in Ireland. The only outstanding matter was finding an Irishman to step into the ring with Battling Siki on Saturday 17th March 1923 — St Patricks Day.
It would be the first world title fight to take place in Ireland since Tommy Burns, on his world tour, had defended the World Heavyweight Title against Wexford native Jem Roche at Theatre Royal in Dublin in 1908.
Mike McTigue just happened to be the right Irishman in the right place at the right time and was invited by Singleton to take on Siki. The total purse of the bout is believed to be $2,000, with $1,500 going to the winner. Other reports suggest the total purse was $10,000 with 75/25 split in favour of the winner.
With the political situation still white-hot, the Republicans became determined to ensure that the bout never took place. On the morning of the fight, McTigue received a death threat at his Spa Hotel in Lucan stating he would be hung if he entered the ring.
In response to the threat, the government sent a fleet of armoured cars to Lucan, putting McTigue under armed guard until he was in the ring. Battling Siki, who had been very curious about the damage caused by the civil war was also afforded an armed escort from the Claremont Hotel.
Later in the day, a bomb was placed in a trash can on O’Connell Street (the scene for most of the fighting during the Easter Rising) in Dublin city centre just adjacent to the La Scala Theatre, where the fight would take place. The bomb did not detonate, and it is believed the would-be bomber may have taken the detonation cord out of the device.
The Republicans knowing that they couldn’t get close enough decided to lay
Later that day, Battling Siki, who
Ringside tickets for the 3,000 seat venue cost around $1.10. The fight itself was unremarkable, and a full copy of the fight does still exist. A digitally remastered copy of the fight with no sound was posted on YouTube a number of years ago but has sadly since been taken down.
With the paying customers sitting stoically they witnessed McTigue keeping out of Siki’s distance or as some newspaper reports tried to explain politely; McTigue was on his bike as Siki came charging in with his head down throwing wild punches.
The fight was scheduled for twenty rounds, and after ten, saw Siki racking up the rounds as McTigue simply threw a flicking jab in a mundane attempt to keep Siki off of him.
McTigue struggled badly with Siki’s aggressive style and was unable to figure out how to work his own openings in order to hurt the champion. To make matters worse, he then received a huge right hand from Siki that split McTigue’s left eye in the eleventh round.
Soon after, McTigue, who was still doing his best to avoid Siki, stopped and stepped in with a punch that landed on top of Siki’s head breaking McTigue’s thumb.
As the fight entered the fifteenth round, Siki was showing visible signs of tiredness. By the sixteenth round, McTigue started to get more on top of the fight, as Siki, who was so tired by this point that his corner had to push him out for the next round.
By rounds seventeen and eighteen, McTigue no longer on his back foot, stood his ground and was able to avoid Siki’s wild swings before countering with a one-two to the champions face. Now the challenger’s strength was coming into play, and he managed to push Siki around. Matters changed slightly in round nineteen when Siki caught McTigue with a flush shot that saw the Irishman looking to relocate his bike again.
According to online reports, as the fight entered the twentieth and final round the crowd, who apparently had been shouting at McTigue to hit Siki earlier in the contest, fell silent as an unmarked Siki and a bloodied and swollen McTigue started the round. The silence was soon broken when McTigue landed a short right hand before the fighters scrapped it out in the centre of the ring for the remainder of the round.
As the fight ended the referee, Jack Smith raised the hand of the victor –the new World Light Heavyweight Champion, Mike McTigue. The crowd erupted in joy as a jubilant McTigue was given a warm embrace from his father before being hoisted into the air.
Outside the theatre, Republicans and Free Staters, who were huddled together waiting on news of the outcome of the fight, united as one, let out one almighty cheer. It resulted in government troops firing their weapons to disperse the crowd in the street so that the crowd in the arena could leave.
At the age of 31 McTigue had finally climbed to the summit of the sport; however, reports of the fight and those of other observers will state that McTigue was more than fortunate to be given the decision. Some called it the Great Dublin Robbery, others felt sorry for Siki who felt the dethroned champion won by a margin of 11-9.
News of McTigue winning reached Clare just before 10pm that evening and bonfires were lit on the hills of Kilnamona to celebrate. The Irish sky looked to be on fire as the young and the old celebrated in unison.
The Clare Champion newspaper reported the scenes as such.
“The scenes that followed [McTigue’s victory] could scarcely be described. All our people, young and old, were frantic with joy. Cheers for McTigue, for Kilnamona and for Clare rent the air. Tongues of fire shot here and there in the distant hills until the whole country seemed to be ablaze.”
McTigue could now look forward to the big paydays, paydays that were out of reach of people like Siki and other black fighters of the time.
As for Siki, his brief spell in the limelight was now over, he would never attain that lofty status as a champion again. Siki would move to America towards the end of 1923 and ended up fighting in the nightclubs of New York’s infamous Hell’s Kitchen, becoming more famous for his exploits walking along Broadway (such as slashing the face of a police officer) than anything he did in the ring. Sadly, his career as a boxer always suffered due to the racial segregations of the time.
Siki would go on to lose a decision over fifteen rounds with future Hall of Famer, Kid Norfolk, eight months after losing to McTigue. He would also later secure a win over Marcel Nilles.
Three days before his last fight on the 13th November 1925 in Baltimore, he applied for American citizenship.
His final professional bout ended as a twelve round decision loss to Lee Anderson, who held a handful of wins over Sam Langford, Kid Norfolk and had suffered a number of losses to Tiger Flowers.
A little over a month later on 17th December 1925, during the early hours of the morning in Hell’s Kitchen, a drunk Battling Siki was lured away from a café by three men who had apparently promised to buy him alcohol.
Battling Siki’s lifeless body was later found on West 41st Street, lying face down on the ground with spent bullet casings found in the gutter next to his body. Siki was killed by two gunshots, one entering his lung and the other his kidney. He was just 28 years old, and the case was never solved. He left behind an estate believed to be less than $600.
By his own admission, Siki was a Muslim. However, his American wife (Siki also had a Dutch wife, still in Paris whom he was still married to at the time of his death), after identifying his body, gave him a Christian burial in a Harlem funeral parlour on 19th December. She told the press, “he lived as a Christian and he will be buried as one.” It is stated that friends attempted to persuade Mrs Siki to bury him as a Muslim.
At the funeral service, Reverend Adam Clayton Powell said, “No man ever came out of Africa who had a more dramatic life or had a more tragic ending. A lack of proper preparation or a noble purpose were the two dreadful mistakes of his life. Our civilisation is perhaps more to blame for these mistakes than he was.”
Siki’s body was finally laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Flushing Cemetery near a green iron fence across from 46th Avenue & 168th Street. The now disinterred grave finally had a headstone placed at the grave in the mid-1970s by the International Veteran Boxers Association with a simple inscription, “Lest We Forget”.
The inscription is quite fitting for a man who served his country during military conflict with such distinction. While considered a menace with alcohol in him, when he was sober, he was regarded as a gentle and sensitive man.
On 5th March 1993, Siki’s body was disinterred, and the former champion began his final journey to a Muslim tomb as he was repatriated to his homeland where he remains a prevalent figure to this day. So popular in fact, that a local hotel was named after him. The Siki Hotel can be found on the corner of Abdulaye Seck/Marie Parsine, Saint-Louis, 190, Senegal.
The United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid also held a special ceremony to honour Siki and the World Boxing Council, who had funded the repatriation. The service was attended by Terry Norris, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.
McTigue, on the other hand, returned to America to rapturous applause and would soon defend his title twice against Tommy Loughran in no-decision contests (though newspaper decisions citied Loughran as the winner of the first fight and McTigue the winner of the rematch) meaning that the title could only change hands if McTigue was stopped inside the distance.
Bizarrely McTigue lost his title during his next bout in October 1923 to Young Stribling after armed men entered the ring making death threats to both the referee and McTigue. The referee is said to have raised the hand of Stribling as the winner, only to later reverse his decision in the safety of his hotel room; declaring the fight a draw.
A rematch took place the following March, in which Stribling won the newspaper decision, but the title remained with McTigue. McTigue boxed twice more in 1924 until he ran into the reigning World Welterweight champion and future Hall of Famer, Mickey Walker. McTigue who weighed 160lbs lost the newspaper decision to Walker who entered the ring at 149 ¾ lbs.
Finally, on 30th May 1925, McTigue lost his title to deaf-mute born and future Hall of Famer, Paul Berlenbach, at Yankee Stadium. According to reports Berlenbach “hammered the defending champion relentlessly.” McTigue would win only three rounds over the scheduled fifteen, and by the end of the contest he was “bleeding and weary, a sorry spectacle, yet deserving of sympathy.”
By the end of 1925, McTigue fought four more times going 3-0-1 with his final fight of the year being a highly controversial split decision win over Tiger Flowers.
McTigue’s 1926 got off to a bad start as he was knocked out by another future Hall of Famer and future light heavyweight champion, Jack Delaney.
The start of 1927 saw McTigue stop Berlenbach during a rematch in just four rounds before he was stopped on cuts against Jack Sharkey.
McTigue found another chance at world glory against Tommy Loughran; however, he would lose the bout on points.
A month later McTigue would rematch Mickey Walker, who was now the World Middleweight champion and was stopped in two minutes and fifteen seconds of the opening round.
McTigue was now a very wealthy man, he had invested wisely and purchased a lovely home to bring up his family. Then on 24th October 1929, he lost everything in the stock market crash that would trigger the Great Depression and bring to an end the roaring twenties.
The market bottomed out on Black Tuesday with total losses for the month coming in at a crippling $16 billion. McTigue’s investments became worthless overnight, some $150,000 was gone in the blink of an eye just as he was preparing himself to retire from the ring.
Forced to return to manual labour for a short time, McTigue decided to return to the ring, as an ex-champion he was able to earn a few dollars and set off on an American tour, mainly on the East Coast, with a stop-over in Cuba.
In the end, the small purses were no compensation for the punishment he was taking and eventually the commission would withdraw his licence. McTigue had lost all his money, his home, his family, his boxing licence and eventually began to lose his mind.
McTigue would eventually move into a small apartment in the Bronx where he began to drink heavily and became prone to accidents which would result in a spell in hospital on Welfare Island (now known as Roosevelt Island since 1973) where he remained for some time.
After finally addressing his personal issues, McTigue found work as a floor manager at the Tuxedo Ballroom, until one night when he was set upon by some youths on the elevated train on his way home from work. The attack left McTigue with missing teeth and a fractured skull.
McTigue was committed to the Creedmore Psychiatric Hospital to rest and check his sanity. He would end up in various New York State hospitals for the remainder of his life until his death on 12th August 1966 at the age of 73.
A High Requiem Mass was held at the Roman Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd on Broadway & 21st Street which was attended by boxing luminaires such as Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, and Mike’s former opponents, Tommy Loughran and Paul Berlenbach.
Even though Mike McTigue had been out of the public eye and conscience for many years, the remaining survivors from the Golden Age of boxing never forgot him, and they turned out to pay their last respects to Ireland’s second ever World Champion.
McTigue would never return to his homeland; however, he was never forgotten for his achievements, and in 2001 the Kilnamona Community Centre was named after McTigue.Useful resources
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