Boxing has been an integral part of the Commonwealth Games since its inclusion in the inaugural British Empire Games in 1930. Producing some of boxing’s future stars and announcing their presence on the world stage, the competition at the Games has been fierce at all levels, as Irish boxer Barry McGuigan can attest.
Finbar “Barry” McGuigan would find that the challenges and competitors at the 1978 Commonwealth Games would become the hardest of his young career. Even so, he overcame larger and more experienced opponents to become one of the youngest Gold medallists in Commonwealth Games history.
The man from Clones in the Republic of Ireland qualified through his grandparents to represent the Northern Irish boxing team. With the spotlight thrust upon him from both the Republic and Northern Irish media, huge expectations were placed upon McGuigan’s relatively young shoulders at a difficult time in the relationship between both countries.
Size of the Cyclone
McGuigan, who stood at 5ft 6, had an unusual 70 inch reach and large hand size for his physique. He was known for his body punching and the force his blows could generate, whilst manoeuvring around the ring at pace. Though the young man was a slither of the fighter he would become, he was still a formidable and well established name on the Irish boxing circuit at his age.
From the juvenile’s straight through to the bantamweight, McGuigan would eventually dominate the youth boxing scene in Ireland, attaining the Ulster Seniors, Irish Seniors and the Irish under 19s titles before moving on to the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton in 1978.
Fight to the Final
Edmonton 1978 would provide a stern test for the young Irishman as eventual Bronze medal winners Douglas Mainia of Kenya and Canadian Bill Rannelli were also tipped for success. On his journey to the final the Clones man would see off George Lowe of Scotland, Michael Anthony of Guyana and Rannelli, putting the Canadian down twice in one round.
McGuigan would battle through to the final, managing to keep his composure ahead of the biggest test of his career so far, Tumat Sogolik of Papa New Guinea.
The 23 year old Sogolik’s frame was that of a much more developed fighter. At just over 8 stone, his physique was incredible for a bantamweight. Sogolik had ripped through John Turner of England and Welshman David George en route to the final.
Weathering the storm
Throughout the opening rounds McGuigan’s legs wavered slightly as Sogolik's punches rattled his frame, with the favoured right uppercut giving the Northern Irishman pause as it broke through his guard on several occasions.
The young man who would one day become known as the “Cyclone” endured this hurricane of punches, standing his ground firmly as the onslaught continued.
Sogolik hunted McGuigan around the ring, but the Irishman's defence stayed firm, ducking and weaving underneath powerful right hooks. On one occasion Sogolik swung a haymaker of a right hook, only for his Irish opponent to dodge nimbly out of the way, sending Sogolik careening through the middle ropes of his own volition.
McGuigan then lost his footing with the crowd shocked that the steely resolve had finally been broken, but the referee ruled that Sogolik had pushed instead of knocked the younger man to the canvas.
Fitness, strength and footing were the key to McGuigan’s battle, with referee John Davis giving a standing count halfway through the second round after another of Sogolik’s punches found their mark, but were unable to end his Commonwealth debut.
The closing minute of the final round seen the Irishman pin Sogolik in the corner, using the last reserves of his strength to let loose a salvo of punches across the midsection and head to the fervent chants of the crowd.
With less than twenty seconds to go, McGuigan and Sogolik stood head to head in the ring, exchanging punches as the clock ticked down. The referee signalled the end of the fight with both men poised to carry on despite the Bantamweight contest coming to a close.
In front of a rapturous crowd that included Prince Phillip, his maturity was shown to be beyond his years as he claimed not only the Gold medal, but the respect of the Commonwealth in this final fight with the man from Papa New Guinea.
The Gold medal signalled his arrival onto the international stage and the beginning of a momentous career that would see him hold the British, European and world titles.
A rallying symbol for the Republic and Northern Ireland, he would opt to wear the United Nations peace flag upon his shorts as a symbol of unity, declaring that “people should leave the fighting to McGuigan”.
The Commonwealth’s best boxers will be arriving in Glasgow soon to make their own history. Witness strength, speed, reflexes and endurance as they battle for gold. You can purchase you tickets here.