22 February 2009 – By Jonny Stapleton
Former light-middleweight contender Sean’s Mannion and in particular his title fight with the now legendary Mike McCallum will be remembered and honoured in Madison Square Garden during the Irish Ropes Erin Go Brawl show on March 16.
A quarter of a century after the Rosmuc gaelgoir fought the Bodysnatcher, Eddie McLoughlin and Irish Ropes are going to honour the somewhat forgotten fighter’s achievements.
Mannion, whose boxing story makes for gripping reading, didn’t emerge victorious from the WBA world title shot, but put in a brave performance against a man whose name is now generally mentioned with a reverence reserved for true pugilist greats. Jamaica’s first world champion went on to be three time three weight champion and was a boxer who ensured greatness in an era when the middleweight divisions were packed full of some of the sports biggest stars.
The fighters careers took diverse paths after that fight; with McCallum going on to become a boxing legend and Mannion having to work on building sites to make ends meet.
“It is a big honour to have the fight remembered in the Garden. It’s a great honour to be in the ring at the Garden anytime. I really appreciate Eddie McLoughlin and Irish Ropes for honouring the fight 25 years later,” Mannion explained.
“I know a lot of people don’t know much about that fight, but then again there are a lot who still talk to me about it. But it will be great to step into the ring in front of a packed Madison Square Garden once more. I haven’t been there since I fought McCallum. I am really looking forward to it and there are already a few coming to see me.” he added.
Legend has it before the fight in 1984 the famous stadium had to open five hours early to let in a partisan Irish crowd in.
“Other than the fight the one thing I remember was the crowd. There was a huge Irish support in the Garden that night. They had to put on five extra trains from Boston there was that much interest from there. There was also people from all over the States turning up and some from Rosmuc and Connemara. It really was an amazing crowd,” Mannion added before reflecting on how the famous fight came about.
“I got the title shot after I beat the number one contender, a Korean, E-Choi-Back who was 26-0 with all his wins coming by knock out. He was a rising star and I beat him well. He went on to be a world champion and had 43 knockouts in his 47 fights but he wouldn’t fight me down the line. That win made me the number one contender and I got my shot. I got a nasty cut in training though, and I had to get seven stitches over my eye. So before that fight I couldn’t spar. In hindsight I should have postponed but my manager didn’t want to know. My brother, who was my trainer at the time, wanted me to pull out but I was afraid my chance at a title would be gone. In fairness to McCallum he had a more horrific build up his girlfriend and mother of his young child died three months before the fight while he was in training camp. I don’t know how he climbed in the ring after that. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to.”
In spite of McCallum’s tragedy and Mannion’s lack of sparring the bout went ahead.
“McCallum is regularly ranked as one of the top ten fighters of all time and I knew he was good after I fought him. He was the most skilful fighter I every fought. He was crafty and so hard to box. People always say I was a brawler and a hard nut, but I could box too, and honestly he out-boxed me that night. He deserved to win. I did catch him in the ninth and his legs buckled but that’s as close as I got. He stopped the likes of Julian Jackson and Don Curry in his career. I know Haggler and Durran sparred him and as a result they wouldn’t fight him after that. Emanuel Steward, who worked with near on 30 world champions, also said McCallum was the best he ever worked with. In one way I feel proud to have fought and lasted the distance with such a great fighter and in another way it’s a pity my shot at a world title was against such a great fighter.”
After the fight the pair’s careers took very diverse paths. McCallum discovered riches and achieved icon status while the only belts Mannion donned were the one’s to hold up his building trousers.
“Directly after the fight I was depressed I really wanted to win not just for me but for Ireland. Talks did immediately begin with Roberto Duran. I would have loved that fight, but it didn’t come off. After that I had to work on the building sites to get money and I never made the money I should have from the game. I was getting 2000-3000 per fight and I was screwed left, right and centre, and despite fighting three more one time world champions I never got a shot at a title.”
After retiring Mannion eventually made his way back to Ireland and is now back in the game hoping create world champions. The Connemara man is currently working with ‘Irish Mike’ Sweeney, a fighter that is under the guidance of Banner Promotions and Tommy Egan Promotions, and he claims he is delighted to be back involved in boxing.
“I am back in the game now, and I am delighted to be so. I love boxing and hopefully this time I can make a bit of money out of it. But I will only work with people who are serious I don’t like anyone who isn’t serious. Boxing is a hard game and it takes a special breed to be successful at it. Michael is great to work with and he has talent. With a bit of luck he can make it to the top.”