SI Vault
Robert Cantwell
March 19, 1979
Did Mike McTigue really beat Battling Siki for the world title on that fateful St. Patrick's Day? Here, after 56 years, is the true story of what happened
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March 19, 1979

The Great Dublin Robbery

Did Mike McTigue really beat Battling Siki for the world title on that fateful St. Patrick's Day? Here, after 56 years, is the true story of what happened

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Siki now returned to his headlong rushes, with McTigue concentrating on keeping out of the way. In the 14th, Siki clinched for the first time. In the next round, Siki reopened the cut over McTigue's eye with a long left, but he also took a right to the jaw that stopped him in his tracks.

Though it is tricky to judge from the edited film, three of the last five rounds appear to be McTigue's. Siki's desperate attempts for a knockout, given his scythelike swings, left him open to counter-punches. In the combined 17th and 18th rounds, McTigue, no longer backing away, ducked several swings and landed solid rights and lefts to the head, apparently astonished that Siki remained upright. Several times he shoved Siki into the ropes. In the 19th, Siki landed a powerful right to the jaw as McTigue twisted away and ran.

Reports of the fight said the crowd fell silent before the 20th round. The seconds ticked away in a hush of expectancy. Siki was unmarked; McTigue had a bloody forehead, a swollen mouth and bruised cheeks. At the bell, Siki typically launched himself into action. Dodging another roundhouse swing, McTigue hammered in a short right. The crowd was yelling, "McTigue! McTigue! McTigue!" The men were trading punches in the center of the ring when the bell sounded.

MCTIGUE BEATS SIKI ON POINTS. A DISAPPOINTING FIGHT. So ran the headline across The Irish Times. It was the same old story with McTigue, who was never so disappointing as when he won. When the referee raised his arm, McTigue's father, pushing his way through the crowd, lifted up his son, spun him around in the air, and kissed him. Back in the dressing room, Siki kept repeating in French, "I beat him! I beat him."

Outside, the Republicans and Free Staters cheered, until the familiar sound of gunfire in the Dublin streets led them to disperse. But it was only the government soldiers firing into the air to clear a passage so that the crowd in the theater could leave.

All night long bonfires blazed on the hills around Kilnamona. "The scenes that followed can scarcely be described," said the Clare Champion, which then went on to describe them. "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 up here and there on the distant hills, until the whole country seemed ablaze."

But had McTigue really won? By all accounts—and the old film confirms them—the fight was Siki's through the first six rounds, and he was the aggressor through most of the remainder. After-the-fight discussions were tributes to McTigue's skill: "He was the personification of coolness and his footwork and ring-craft were superb," for example, or "McTigue's wonderful defense and dexterity in avoiding punishment were object lessons in themselves." But no contemporary observer, looking at McTigue on the screen, could agree with that. He was awkward and woefully inept in the one thing that counted: he could not damage Siki despite innumerable opportunities to do so. He had fractured the thumb on his right hand in the fourth round and that may have contributed to his ineffectiveness.

"McTigue gave one of the greatest demonstrations of ring generalship that I have ever seen," the referee said. "If he had tried to fight Siki he would have lost. Boxing him, he won." Even The Sporting Times' rather skeptical reporter said, "Any man less resourceful would have been brought down by Silo's whipping, slashing blows."

Indeed, there was a kind of heroism in McTigue's humiliating retreat and his acceptance of indignity, especially before his countrymen, in the midst of a civil war, on St. Patrick's Day. McTigue's dignity was almost as much a part of his fighting life as his fists, and its sacrifice was harrowing to observe.

The film may not end arguments about the fight, but it plainly establishes one important matter: it was a real fight. The legends—including the referee's urging of the recumbent McTigue to get up and fight—are ridiculous in the face of its painful truth. As Carpentier said, there was something uncanny about the fight. In the eye of the camera, McTigue and Siki were fighting invisible opponents rather than each other, Siki forever swinging at someone who wasn't there and McTigue defending himself against a menacing figure which transcended the opponent he actually faced.

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