A successful defence over Billy Joe Saunders in this weekend’s unmissable WBO middleweight clash could launch Limerick’s Andy Lee into Irish boxing’s pantheon.

Glynn Evans lists some of the sons and daughters of Erin who already reside there.

9. John ‘Rinty’ Monaghan

Canine loving Monaghan copped his nickname from a 1930s movie about wonder dog Rin Tin Rin and he fought like a Rottweiler.

The Belfast man’s monster right hand took him to the undisputed world flyweight title in the late 1940s and he attracted huge crowds to the city’s hallowed King’s Hall for his championship nights.

Fondly remembered for belting out a few celebratory verses of ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ from mid ring after his victories, the 5ft 3in atom sadly bowed out as undefeated champion in 1950, aged just 29, due to a recurring chest infection.

8. Wayne McCullough

This two-time Olympian from the Shankill Road, Belfast carried the Irish flag at the opening ceremony of the 1988 Seoul Games, then bagged a silver gong in Barcelona four years later to cap off a remarkable 319-11 amateur career.

Known as ‘The Pocket Rocket’, whirlwind Wayne conducted his professional affairs out of the Las Vegas gym of venerable US tutor Eddie Futch.

Renowned for his Duracell punch output, McCullough tore his way to the WBC Super-Bantam title in 1995 by suffocating Yasuei Yakushiji with an avalanche of leather in Nagoya, Japan. He successfully defended the belt twice.

His concrete jaw was fully tested in 12 rounders against hammer fisted Naseem Hamed and Erik Morales. Neither could knock him off his feet.

naseem hamed

7. Barry McGuigan

Perhaps best remembered for uniting warring factions during the height of ‘The Troubles’, this Catholic who married a Protestant was loved by all and attracted fanatical support wherever he fought.

Relentless and renowned for his rib bending body shots, ‘The Clones Cyclone’ toppled Panamanian legend Eusebio Pedroza to usurp the WBA Featherweight strap at Loftus Road Football Stadium in one of British boxing’s greatest ever nights.

But McGuigan never fully realised his immense potential, conceding his crown to Steve Cruz outdoors in the soaring Las Vegas sun, then suffering from cuts in later fights.

Retired at 28, he founded a boxer’s union and thrived as a TV chef and fight pundit.

6. Dave ‘Boy’ McAuley

This Larne chef learned his trade painfully as chief spar hand to the bigger, more experienced McGuigan.

He proved an able student. After twice conceding to Columbia’s Fidel Bassa in WBA sanctioned wars that earned Fight of the Year acclamation in both 1986 and 1987, the super plucky Ulsterman upset Duke McKenzie to lift the IBF flyweight title at Wembley Arena in 1989.

Though no stranger to cuts or the canvas, McAuley successfully defended the belt five times. Several were more gifted, none had a bigger heart or bigger balls.

Dave ‘Boy’ McAuley

5. Nonpareil Jack Dempsey

The pride of Kildare might have preferred the pub to the gym, but it didn’t stop him making history as the inaugural world middleweight champ in 1884.

Formerly a bareknuckle fighter and wrestler, Nonpareil (‘without equal’) then reigned for seven years, despite routinely entering the ring as a welterweight.

Agile and accurate, he lost just three of 64 and delivered one of the most fabled displays of courage in ring history, when lasting into round 13 of a brutal ‘finish fight’ with future world heavyweight champion Bob Fitzsimmons.

4. Jack McAuliffe

Cork born, the fighter dubbed ‘The Napoleon of the Prize Ring’, emigrated to Brooklyn, New York at the age of five.

Active in the era of bare fists and ‘finish’ fights, record keepers debate whether he had 36 or 38 contests. However, all agree that he retired undefeated.

A crafty, piston punching ring general, revered for his straight hard shots, McAuliffe reigned on the world lightweight throne from 1886-93 with one battle lasting 74 rounds!

3. Katie Taylor

The 29 year old lightweight from Bray, Co.Wicklow is unquestionably the best female boxer in the world, pound-for-pound, and the greatest Irish athlete of her generation. She also boasts 19 international soccer caps!

Having featured in Ireland’s first sanctioned female fight in 2001, the proud Gaelic speaker cruised to six European and five world titles.

And the staunch Christian made believers of us all by transforming the Copper Box into an ear-splitting sea of green whilst threshing her way to Olympic gold at London 2012.

katie taylor

2. Steve Collins

‘The Celtic Warrior’ from Cabra, Dublin was one of the hardest men to set foot between the ropes. Period.

Formerly an amateur international heavyweight, concrete Collins apprenticed beneath Marvelous Marvin Hagler in Brockton, Massachussets.

Disturbingly rugged, ferociously competitive and undisputed daddy of fight psychology, this fighting anvil clubbed his way to WBO titles at both middle and super-middle in the 1990s.

Having famously snapped Chris Eubank Snr’s 43 fight unbeaten streak when feigning to be hypnotised on St Patrick’s Day 1995, he repeated the trick in Cork six months later. Subsequently, he twice scalped Nigel Benn inside distance before departing the sport as undefeated champion.

1. Jimmy McLarnin

Born into a Methodist family in Hillsborough, County Down, ‘Baby Faced Jimmy’ sailed for Vancouver, Canada at the age of three and first learned to rumble in defence of his newspaper pitch.

Fabled for his bionic right hand, he was also an underrated and scientific technician who twice reigned on the world welterweight throne during a truly vintage era in the 1930s.

Twenty-seven of the fights on his 55-11-3 ring slate were against rival champions and he won far more gold than silver. Invested wisely, retired wealthy and lived to 96!

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