By Tracy Callis

Jimmy Barry was a scrappy, natural-born boxer who was clever, quick, and agile. He was an explosive, two-handed puncher and an excellent workman who usually fought men heavier than himself.

Barry utilized a fighting style that was careful but aggressive. Afraid of no man, he was quick to attack openings with fast hands and sharp firepower. He was also a clever ring general like the "Nonpareil" Jack Dempsey. It was said that as an infant “the only time he stopped swinging his tiny fists was when he was asleep” (Mastro 1943).

Rather frail looking in appearance, Jimmy could deliver pile-driving smashes with either hand despite his lack of heft. Those who saw Barry in action called him a "Wonder." He was also an outstanding handball player and a brother of Bill Barry, who reportedly once fought the “Nonpareil”. Haldane (1967 p 198) records that Barry “must have been a first-class little craftsman.”

Jimmy was never beaten, never knocked out. Barry, Jack McAuliffe, Young Mitchell, and Rocky Marciano were the only fighters to ever retire with an “official” unbeaten professional record.

Barry learned his boxing in Chicago from Harry Gilmore, former Lightweight Champion of Canada, who was known for his sensational fight against Lightweight great, Jack McAuliffe. Harry often said, “Teaching Barry to box was like teaching a duck to swim” (Mastro, 1943).

Incidentally, ring notables Frank Neil, Tommy White, Billy Stift, and Frank Garrard were also mentored by the clever Gilmore. Said the teacher about Barry, “Of the little fellows who made Chicago their home, I think little Jimmy Barry was the greatest. Although he weighed about 105 pounds, he would fight anyone” (see The Ring, Mar 1925 p 29).

Haldane (1967 p 198) wrote that Barry was “scarcely more than what today would be called a Fly-weight.” McCallum (1975 p 289) wrote that Barry “looked as if he belonged in a horse race, not in a prize ring. If he’d been any tinier, he been invisible.” He went on to say, “Despite his cut-rate size, he never lost a fight in a career stretching from 1891 to 1900. Packing a trip-hammer punch, 39 of his 59 pro wins ended in a knockout.”

Like Terry McGovern and Henry Armstrong in later years, Barry, the “Little Tiger”, came to fight. Jimmy was a “rusher par excellence, wielding two fists liberally loaded with dynamite, he was also a boxer and ring general of proven skill and intelligence, that all too rare combination of slugger and scientist” (The Ring, Sep 1943 p 6). Clarence Gillespie, writing about defensive skills, named Barry as the #2 Bantam ever in the ability to protect himself, behind only George Dixon (The Ring, Jun 1932 p 6).

Barry was steady and persistent in applying pressure and was quick to seize the opportunity to attack. When he got the “baby in the cradle”, he could “rock” it !!! He readily fired away with a two-handed barrage of stiff punches but was not a “wide-open” attacker who flailed away carelessly with both fists.

Billy McCarney, veteran of forty years in boxing and manager of Luther McCarty, often cited the “extreme cleverness” of Barry (The Ring, Mar 1926 p 4). Tom McArdle, former matchmaker for New York’s Madison Square Garden, rated Jimmy as the #3 All-Time hardest, most effective hitter among Flyweights behind only Jimmy Wilde and Johnny Buff (The Ring, Oct 1928 p 21). Jack Kofoed, early day writer for The Ring magazine, rated Barry as the best “finisher” among the Flyweights along with Jimmy Wilde and Johnny Coulon (The Ring, Aug 1927 p 17).

According to reports from the old Philadelphia Item newspaper, he tracked down Pete Shea and smashed him flat 4 times in round 4 before the bout was stopped. He cornered Joe McGrath in round three and dropped him three times in the first minute of the round before the fight was terminated to save McGrath from a slaughter. He “punched holes” in Jimmy Gorman at New Orleans and made a “chopping block” out of Joe Bertrand, causing the referee to stop the contest and spare Joe excessive punishment.

He knocked Casper Leon down in round two and battered him around the rest of the fight before police intervened to save Casper. The Chicago Tribune called Barry “a master boxer, literally a ball of fire” who gave Johnny Connors, the outstanding “future” Bantamweight Champion of America, an “artistic beating.” It also reported that Jimmy “made a monkey” out of Jimmy Anthony, the Australian titleholder (Mastro 1943).

Barry claimed the 100-Pound Championship of America following his knockout win over Jack Levy in 1893. He then claimed the World Bantamweight Championship in 1894 after knocking out Caper Leon for the 105-Pound Championship of America.

However, his claim as the World Bantamweight Champion was disputed by the boxing people in England. So, in 1898, Barry went over looking for fights to solidify his “title.” He was matched with Walter Croot, a pretty good fighter in his own right.

Two nights before the Barry-Croot bout, John Fleming, stalwart member of the National Sporting Club of London died. Club members were in a subdued mood when fight time rolled around so they postponed the contest. This was a gruesome omen of what was to come when Barry and Croot collided in the ring two months later.

The Englishman boxed cleverly and gave a good account of himself for a long while but Jimmy finally solved the puzzle and in round twenty sailed in and fired several hard lows to the body and head. His foe tumbled to the floor and struck his head harshly. He was carried from the ring and eventually died (see Deghy, 1956, pp 147-148).

Johnston (1936 p 351) wrote, “one of Barry’s swings dropped Croot with such force that he suffered a broken skull and died from the effects of the blow.”

In his bouts following the Croot fight, Jimmy pulled his punches and was never the fighter he was before. His sharp, combination of a paralyzing right to the heart and vicious left-hook was not to be seen again. Seven of his nine draws came after the unfortunate death of Croot.

Johnston (1936 p 351) said, “The tragedy almost ruined Jimmy Barry, who was a decent little fellow.” Bromberg (1958 p 234) wrote, “It could hardly be called a coincidence that, in his last nine fights, he never again scored a knockout.” McCallum (1975 p 289) stated, “Barry was haunted by the tragedy for the rest of his life.” Haldane (1967 p 198) wrote “Barry was so affected by it that he never quite got over it.”

Barry, himself, said “While it was no fault of mine legally, and I took the same chances that poor Croot did in the ring, it’s an awful thing to feel that you killed a man, even if not intentionally. It bothers me a lot when I’m boxing. I can never lose sight of Croot’s face as he lay there getting counted out. And, you know, these days, when I get a man going, I can’t pile in and try to finish him off like I used to. There’s always that fear that something fatal might happen, pulling me back” (The Ring, Sep 1943 p 42).

A number of boxing people contend that Harry Harris decisively whipped Barry in 1899 but was robbed of the win when the bout was called a draw. But, one must take into account that (1) Barry was late into his career and (2) he was not the fighter he was before the tragic contest with Walter Croot. Incidentally, Harris never complained of the decision because of his great respect for Barry as a fighter.

After retiring from the ring, Jimmy worked in the county clerk’s office for twenty-five years until his retirement due to bad health. He offered his services to the war department during World War I and was assigned to the physical and bayonet training school at Camp Gordon, near Atlanta.

Charles Mathison, veteran newspaper writer and New York state boxing judge for many years wrote, “Barry at his best would have been a match for any bantams of the period following his retirement or of the 118 pounders of the present” (The Ring, May 1928 p 6). On the “All-Time” scale, Mathison ranked Barry as the #3 Bantamweight below only George Dixon and Terry McGovern.

DeWitt Van Court, boxing instructor of the Los Angeles AC, ranked Barry as the #2 All-Time Bantamweight just below George Dixon and just above Terry McGovern (1926 pp 107 108). According to Van Court, “It is guesswork to rate these three in order, there is so little to choose. All three were great. Dixon was perhaps the better boxer of the three, he also had a hard knockout punch, was perhaps more shifty on his feet than the others. But Barry and McGovern were aggressive fighters, each carrying a knockout punch in either hand.“

The Ring (Sep 1943 p 6) reported “there are many fistic experts of the past who saw Jimmy Barry in action and have followed the lads of recent years, who vouch for the statement that Barry had it over everybody in the bantam division.” Haldane (1967 p 198) stated “it is possible that at his peak Barry was the best of the little men.”

Spider Kelly, old-time trainer extraordinaire, called Jimmy the All-Time greatest Bantamweight (The Ring, Oct 1924 p 14). Biddy Bishop, fighter, manager, and promoter for 30 years, rated Barry as the All-Time greatest Flyweight (The Ring, Mar 1927 p 29).

George Pardy, boxing writer, who saw all of the bantams up to the time of his article (1934) called Jimmy one of the greatest bantams of all-time (The Ring, Dec 1934 p 18).

Billy Roche, popular referee during the 1890s and teens rated Barry as the #1 All-Time Bantamweight. According to Roche, “Jimmy Barry, in my opinion, was the world’s greatest bantam. He weighed 105 pounds. For his size and weight, he had a habit of knocking off feathers and lightweights” (The Ring Sep 1926 p 10).

Jack Curley, boxing and wrestling promoter for forty years, rated Barry as the All-Time greatest Bantamweight (The Ring, Jun 1926 p 13; Apr 1932 p 30). At other times, he called Barry, “the greatest champion, pound-for-pound” (see The Ring, Jul 1934 p 25). Speaking of Barry, Jack said, “He was the greatest puncher and greatest fighter of his weight that anybody ever saw, was absolutely game and had no superior as a `money fighter.’ By which I mean that he was always at his best in his most important fights, when thousands of dollars were wagered on him” (The Ring, Apr 1932 p 31).

Jimmy Coffroth, old-time promoter for years, called Barry the All-Time greatest Flyweight and, later, wrote that Jimmy must have been a “Joe Gans, Joe Walcott, and Frankie Neil all thrown into one” (The Ring, Dec 1926 p 9).

R.A. Cunes, writer and leading boxing critic for Australia for over twenty years, tended to name many non-Americans to his list of the All-Time best – such as Peter Jackson, Bob Fitzsimmons, Les Darcy, Jem Driscoll, and Jimmy Wilde. However, he selected Jimmy Barry as the All-Time greatest Bantamweight (The Ring, Sep 1926 p 12). According to Cunes, “ [Packey] McFarland, Driscoll, Barry, and Wilde were four wonderful little fellows and it would be hard to improve on their standard.”

Jimmy Johnston, President of the National Sports Alliance, named Barry as the greatest bantamweight of all-time and wrote, “Jimmy Barry was a great little fighting machine. He whipped the best. He never was defeated in either limited or finish fights, with bare knuckles or the gloves and deserves first call among the bantams” (The Ring, May 1926 p 13).

Barry was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2000. In the opinion of this writer, Barry was the #1 All-Time Flyweight - yes, even better than Jimmy Wilde, the “Mighty Atom”, who carried a super-human punch. Barry was a better boxer, hit with stiff, sharp, fast punches, was not as “open” to getting hit as was Wilde, and possessed a tougher chin. This writer also rates Jimmy as the #3 All-Time Bantamweight behind only Terry McGovern and Eder Jofre.


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