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Night we left fighting to Barry McGuigan

Streets were deserted as public tuned in to see Barry claim world title

By Christopher Woodhouse

Published 09/06/2015

Barry McGuigan beats Eusebio Pedroza in 1985
Barry McGuigan beats Eusebio Pedroza in 1985
Barry McGuigan after his second title defence in Dublin in 1986

On the evening of Saturday, June 8, 1985, people across Northern Ireland held their breath as they watched Barry McGuigan step into the ring at London's Loftus Road stadium.

The 24-year-old, known as the Clones Cyclone and boxing's Mr Nice Guy, was set to hammer it out with Panamanian Eusebio Pedroza (32) for the world featherweight title.

With the sharp ding of the bell, what would become one of the greatest events in Ulster's sporting history got under way. More than 27,000 people crammed into Queen's Park Rangers' ground with millions more watching around the world.

"I knew I would never be able to beat him technically so I had to make him fight at an uncomfortable pace so his technical advantage would subside, I just terrorised him with pressure," Barry told the Belfast Telegraph.

"When the three judges gave it to me unanimously, you couldn't hear anything, I was tripping myself with tears because I remembered the young boxer I had killed in London in 1983."

He added: "When I came home, 70,000 or so had gathered in Royal Avenue, it was amazing because those were dark days but I took a neutral stance and, for me, it was important that we didn't create an atmosphere where one side or the other felt uncomfortable."

Belfast-born national television star Eamonn Holmes remembers that the significance of what was about to happen hit him only when he was out that evening.

"I was returning a video to the shop and as I was driving towards the Shore Road, there wasn't a single car between the Cliftonville and the Shore Roads," he said.

"I realised I shouldn't be out doing this, so I got back home quickly and, though the sun was shining, Belfast was empty - if there was anyone on the streets, I didn't see them. Television was more of an event then, people don't gather like they used to gather for those sort of things."

He added: "People forget how it unified people, however temporary, that was one of the things we have to thank Barry McGuigan for."

Renowned sports commentator Jackie Fullerton was watching the fight at home and recalls the class and confidence Barry displayed that night.

"The way he dismantled Pedroza was just amazing," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Barry went out against this great champion at Loftus Road, carrying the hopes of a nation and this little province of ours, but he wasn't overawed.

"He knew he could take most of what a champion could throw at him, so he wasn't frightened of that but, also, had great confidence in his own ability."

"Barry was a great beacon of hope for both sides of the community, which boxing always has been," recalled Jackie.

He added: "Northern Ireland sport was on a high at that time, punching way above our weight, and Barry certainly did that to give us all a distraction away from the Troubles that were going on around us."

However, the famous fight was almost over before it started due to a dispute over the weigh-in.

Barney Eastwood, Barry's long-time promoter, threatened to call off the fight unless Pedroza went through the weigh-in.

Luckily, the row was defused by officials. Barry went 15 rounds with Pedroza, winning on a unanimous judges' decision.

More than 75,000 people crammed into Belfast city centre upon the champion's return, and he was honoured with a parade from the Belfast Telegraph offices to City Hall. Last night, it was announced McGuigan's protege, Carl Frampton (left), will head to the US for his next title defence when he faces Alejandro Gonzalez in El Paso, Texas, on July 18.

Belfast Telegraph

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