Boxer Barry McGuigan shows his softer side, 1986 | Life and style

On the cover of the Observer Magazine of 15 June 1986, the boxer Barry McGuigan is holding a baby, in the style of the then recent Athena poster, L’Enfant (Man and Baby), showing the family man’s softer side (‘The champ with kid gloves’). There is a poignancy to this image because the baby was his daughter Danika, who became an accomplished actor, and who died in 2019.

McGuigan was defending his world featherweight title against the Texan fighter Steve Cruz in Las Vegas the following week, and Stuart Cosgrove and Sean O’Hagan met him at home in the ‘rural tranquillity’ of County Monaghan. This ‘man of warring opposites’, they wrote, was ‘an aggressive boxer who fights under the flag of peace, a fierce competitor whose life outside the ring revolves around the traditional family values, an Irish hero with a British passport…’

Given the ‘relatively comfortable’ border upbringing of the ‘Clones Cyclone’, the traditional poverty theory of boxing was given short shrift. ‘Poverty and all that shite, living in rough times, it all means absolutely nothing if you haven’t got that killer instinct,’ he said.

This didn’t quite fit with him listening to the ‘compact disc accompaniment of Elton John’ at home, and at his gym there were ‘the more percussive rhythms of the Pointer Sisters and UB40’. Music mattered to McGuigan. His father, Pat, represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest and added to ‘the charged emotionalism of his son’s fights by leading the crowd in rousing renditions of Danny Boy.’

McGuigan said he was reluctant about having to fight Cruz in the ‘hostile atmosphere’ of Las Vegas without the bigger Irish support he would have got in New York. He did indeed lose the fight – and never regained his title. But what might have been were there more voices belting out Danny Boy…

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