The Toughest Little Tiger
By Mike Casey
Leon, the so-called Sicilian Swordfish from New York by way of Palermo, never
did have a picnic against his great Chicago rival Jimmy Barry, even though the
first of their six-fight series was held at the somewhat inappropriately named
Picnic Grove in Lamont, Illinois.
the swordfish was a clever and fiercely determined little fighter who never
stopped trying to spear Barry. For Leon knew that his place in the record books
would be assured if he could achieve the unprecedented and defeat the
bantamweight terror known as the Little Tiger.
did manage the feat. Nor did any other man. Jimmy Barry would hang ‘em up with
70 official fights on his log and not one defeat. He drew some and he got lucky
in others. There was even an old rumour that he had been knocked out in the dim
and distant days of his early career when scant attention was paid to record
keeping. But good fortune has always blessed undefeated fighters, just as
mischievous and unproven stories have always cursed them.
students will know, it is a tough thing for a fellow of some 110lbs to get his
just dues in terms of recognition. It is something else indeed when his
dominance of his profession is such that he becomes a virtual legend long before
his interview with St Peter at the pearly gates. Jimmy Barry attained such a
status in the ring and continued to be revered long after his retirement as one
of the most erudite commentators on the sport. Everyone loved the Little Tiger.
He was the great unbeatable when he quit the ring in 1899, and even the mighty
Jim Jeffries would eventually sacrifice that great and rare mantle.
Such has been
boxing’s evolution over the years, it is important to note that Jimmy Barry was
actually a natural flyweight in an era when the weight classes were
significantly fewer and differently aligned. Barry, in fact, would have been the
dream opponent of Welsh wonder Jimmy Wilde, and historians have been arguing and
salivating over the outcome of that mythical match for decades.
Well, my dear
reader, it would have been one heck of a fight between the two Jimmys. A pick
‘em fight, I would venture, in which this writer would have to accord the edge
to Mr Wilde for his superior hitting power and his arguable edge in all-round
Not so, says
my esteemed friend and fellow historian, Tracy Callis, who rates Barry as the
greatest flyweight of all, with Wilde a close second. I was eager to get Tracy’s
reasoning and here are his thoughts on the two fabulous titans: “The two Jimmys
– Jimmy Wilde and Jimmy Barry – came from the same mould. Each fought at
flyweight poundage. Each was a willing banger – boy, and how! Each was very good
defensively and each was durable. Each man handled men of his own weight and
somewhat heavier men too. The fighting style of each man was not as polished as
those of later years, but the attacking style and stamina of their generation
ranks among the best. It was a time of much spunk and energy.
frail-looking Wilde, at 5’ 2 ½” and between 94 and 109 1/2lbs, was a dynamite
fighter with a powerful punch. He was awesome on offence – an attacking,
devastating puncher who was strong and relentless in his pursuit. He applied
constant pressure, his defence was good and he was durable. However, his
eagerness on offence was great and this often exposed him to attack. Rarely, but
every now and then, it cost him a bout. He lost only four official verdicts,
being stopped three times.
boxing fans remember Jimmy Wilde. They, and most other boxing historians,
usually rate him as the top flyweight of all time. There is strong data to
support this view. A look at his record on the BoxRec database reveals 139 bouts
in which he had ‘official’ decisions, with 133 wins (99 by knockout). He scored
9-2 in title fights of one kind or another. Three of Wilde’s losses were to men
who were, at one time, champions.
at 5’ 2” (some sources report 5’ 3 ¾”) and between 95-115lbs, was much the same
type of fighter. He was a scrappy, fierce puncher, but one who fought with
cautious aggression, somewhat more careful than Wilde. Always on the alert,
Barry struck hard and for keeps when the opportunity presented itself, with a
sharp, two-handed attack. His defence was good and his chin and durability were
second to none.
his bout with Walter Croot in London (Croot later died), Barry’s record was
56-0-2 with 38 knockouts. Croot’s death bothered the Little Tiger so badly that
he refused to finish off his foes in the next ten fights. He took two by
decision and had draws in the other eight. He confessed that he held back, no
longer having the ambition to punish the other man. Subsequently, Jimmy retired.
at a time when the fight game was becoming an accepted sport but not as popular
as it would be in just a few short years. In comparison, Wilde fought during
those later years when boxing popularity was at a peak and with full acceptance
of the fight game. In addition, various types of communication (radio,
newspapers, magazines etc.) were much better than in previous years and Wilde
received greater publicity that enhanced his reputation.
really knows, but in the reading of articles about Wilde and Barry, it seems to
me that Barry was just a little quicker and, at the same time, carried nearly
the same punch as Wilde. In addition, Barry was more cautious in his aggression
and his chin may have been a little more durable, although he could be put down.
Physically, he was more compact than Wilde and slightly heavier by four to five
fought longer, surely he would have met some defeats – they all do. But likely
he would have beaten all the men that Wilde beat. And remember, Barry was
unbeaten in his career.”
Madden At Maspeth
of superiority for the 105-pound championship of America had to be settled. Jack
Madden, from New York, was the best of his class in the east. Jimmy Barry, from
Chicago, was the king of the west. The twain simply had to meet, and so they did
at the Empire Athletic Club in Maspeth, New York, on October 21, 1895.
between Barry and Madden quickly swelled the little venue. Around 1,100 people
were already in attendance for the preliminary bouts, and that figure had risen
to 2,000 by the time Jimmy and Jack entered the ring.
spectator was the great John L Sullivan, who occupied a box seat and was greatly
cheered by the crowd.
prove himself the best fighter in his division, Barry wasted no time in going to
work on Madden. By the third round, it was clear that Jack was fighting an
uphill battle against the Little Tiger. Jimmy started the session with a right
to the ribs, while Madden fell short when he tried to respond. A right and left
to the head from Jimmy drove Jack to the ropes, and Barry scored with a further
right as Madden tried to stem the tide and set himself.
couldn’t seem to check the relentless Barry, who continued to pursue him and
throw hurtful punches. Madden was knocked into the ropes again by a right hand
dig to the ribs and another quick right to the jaw. Jack managed to rake Jimmy
with a left to the ribs before the sound of the bell, but now Barry was close to
taking the prize. He wasted no time in emphasising his authority in the fourth
round as he started fast and stunned Madden with a right to the stomach and a
right and left to the head.
firing in powerful punches and Jack was forced to clinch in an increasingly
desperate attempt to keep himself in the fight. A right to the jaw sent him
staggering into the ropes with such force that he nearly fell out of the ring.
Bravely, Jack tried to rally but only walked into a hefty smash to the jaw that
sent him to the canvas. Seeing that Jack could offer no further resistance, the
referee stopped the fight after one minute and twenty-three seconds of the
Walter Croot Tragedy
Callis rightly observes, Jimmy Barry was deeply affected by his ultimately
tragic fight with Walter Croot at the National Sporting Club in London on
December 6, 1897.
gamecocks were battling for Jimmy’s world bantamweight championship, and an
earlier tragic event had already resulted in the fight being postponed from
November 15 as a mark of respect to John Fleming, the manager of the National
Sporting Club, who had died suddenly.
The NSC was
virtually a full house when Barry and Croot finally met, with Jimmy coming into
the ring at 107lbs and Walter at 104. It was a terrible irony indeed that
another death would follow, that of the brave and skilful Croot. Walter put up a
spirited battle against the great Barry, although Jimmy did most of the
significant scoring through the first ten rounds of the scheduled 20-rounds
match. It was a fight of great skill, described as ‘thoroughly scientific’ by
engineered an admirable drive in the second half of the battle and had almost
levelled the fight in the eyes of most by the eighteenth. Jimmy, knowing he had
to find an extra boost, stepped up his attack in the nineteenth and looked much
stronger than Croot by the close of the round. Then Barry really upped the pace
in the fateful twentieth round, scoring with heavy punches as he forced Croot
around the ring.
forty seconds remaining in the round, Barry connected with a heavy blow over the
heart, followed by a terrific right to the jaw to send Walter down for the
count. Croot’s fall was a heavy one and he remained unconscious for some time
until medical assistance was called for. Initially he was diagnosed as suffering
from severe concussion, but in fact had suffered fatal brain injuries. He died
at nine o’clock in the morning. Barry was arrested shortly after Croot died and
taken to the Bow Street police station, although no charges were brought.
Harry Grayson wrote of an amusing prelude to this otherwise black event,
regarding Jimmy Barry’s diminutive stature. Much like Jimmy Wilde later on,
Barry had some job convincing people that he was a very dangerous fighting man.
Grayson: “Jimmy was so small that when he arrived in London to fight Walter
Croot in 1897, the British couldn’t believe he was the Barry who held the world
bantamweight championship. They suspected he was a refugee from some troupe of
midgets. So the wee Chicagoan had to make things clear in a private showing.
Watson was the subject of the last fistic trial in this country (America). The
Seaman had more than 200 fights on land and sea and had just repelled Nel
Tarleton, favourably known on this side, when he came to engage Kid Chocolate at
Madison Square Garden in January, 1933, but that didn’t satisfy the august
members of the New York Boxing Commission.
Watson first had to exhibit his wares against three capable preliminary kids
before a jury of his pugilistic peers at the St Nicholas Gymnasium.”
probably no exaggeration to say that Jimmy Barry was a living legend by the time
of his sixth and final meeting with Casper Leon at the Tri-City Athletic Club in
Davenport, Iowa, on December 29, 1898. It was to be Jimmy’s penultimate
By this time,
it seemed that everybody wanted to see the Little Tiger. We are all guilty, to
differing degrees, of recognising greatness too late in the day. We only truly
cherish it when it begins to wane and slip over the horizon.
Such was the
fascination for Barry that special trains were laid on to bring large crowds of
people into Davenport. The Little Tiger had lost a few of his ferocious teeth
since the Walter Croot tragedy, but Jimmy remained the little man that all other
little men had to beat. It quickly became apparent that he and Casper Leon had
lost none of their enthusiasm for fighting each other.
hall of the Tri-City Athletic Club was jammed with spectators to the point of
overflowing. They were to witness a hard and fascinating battle that was closely
fought throughout and ended in a popular draw decision. Some believed that
Casper’s superior boxing had finally earned him a win over Barry, while others
were of the opinion that Jimmy’s greater strength and aggression were the
There was a
long delay waiting for the arrival of the special trains that had been arranged
to bring people into Davenport from different towns and cities. It was almost
midnight before Barry and Leon got underway. Referee Malachy Hogan climbed into
the ring at 11.30, and was quickly followed by Jimmy and Casper who were cheered
loudly by the heaving and enthusiastic crowd.
accompanied by his seconds, Frank Bartley, Tommy White and Patsy Fitzgerald,
while Leon was assisted by Morris Rauch, Kid Manning and Dan Leach.
It was an
intriguing fight in which the scales were balanced evenly throughout. Coming out
for the twentieth and final round, both boys sensed that everything was riding
on the last minutes of action. It was Casper who came out with a rush in that
session, catching Jimmy with a lusty right to the body. Barry returned fire with
a straight blow to the face, and then the boys fell into a clinch where they
mauled each other savagely and without too much attention to the rulebook.
‘Foul!’ filled the little arena, but referee Hogan made no fuss since it was
impossible to determine the greater culprit. Barry and Leon exchanged some
really heavy blows as they raced for the finish line. Jimmy caught Casper with a
big right swing to the body, but Leon was no less determined and ferocious in
his bid to grab the spoils.
a hard and vicious fighter late in his career, hustled Leon to the ropes in a
final charge, but the bell prevented the champion from inflicting any further
Boxing is a
tough old game to give up. Every fighter knows it. Much like drinking, the
passing of tiredness or a major hangover brings a fresh desire to return to the
bar and test the old constitution.
retired briefly after his draw with Casper Leon, but the old pangs brought him
back for one last hurrah on the first day of September in 1899. He squared off
with the skilful Harry Harris, who would go on to become the world bantamweight
champion, in a six-rounder at the Fort Dearborn Club in Chicago.
lost much of his spark and cleverness. The little gem of a fight was described
as one of the fastest and most scientific battles seen in the area for many
was a tall and rangy boxer and an excellent jabber. His punches would often come
fast and carried a cutting edge. He was never an easy man to fight and to this
day still rates a mention among many experts as one of history’s finest
still climbing the ladder when he met the great Barry and learned plenty from
the master who had reigned for so long. But Harris wasn’t found wanting and was
quite obviously a star in the making as he cleverly held his own.
ever, was looking to mix it with his usual blend of toughness, hard punching and
cunning. Harris was obviously wary of Barry, fighting a prudent battle as he
jabbed at the rushing legend and only occasionally fired the right hand. Jimmy’s
aggression and hard hitting gave him a significant edge over the first three
rounds, but then Harry grew in confidence and became more adventurous.
In the fourth
session, he enjoyed some of his best moments of the fight as he rapped Jimmy
with a couple of hard uppercuts and repeatedly found the mark with accurate jabs
to Barry’s mouth. Both men sensed that the decision would depend on who finished
the stronger as they waged a fast and intense battle down the stretch. The
general consensus was that there was nothing to separate them at the finish and
the referee declared the fight a draw.
intelligent man who was always careful with his money, Jimmy Barry became an
articulate spokesman for boxing in his retirement and a fervent supporter of the
controversial boxing trusts of his day. He held some very strong and defined
views on the welfare of fighters, especially the smaller and lighter scrappers
of the sport.
friend of mine were to ask my advice about taking up boxing for a living,” said
Jimmy, “I would advise him to go into the hod carrying business.
money in the ring for big fighters – the world’s heavyweights – but for little
fighters there is nothing more than a living and a precarious one at that in
many instances. Still, if it was not for the men in big cities who have the pull
to bring off weekly shows or exhibitions at frequent intervals during the winter
season, a great many young men who had been attracted to the ring as a place for
earning a living would be found out of the game.
“It does not
seem like a big thing for a fighter to clear up from $50 to $150 a week by his
prowess, but that is much more profitable than spending several months in
preliminary work for a big fight and then getting enough to pay your trainers
“If there can
be a fighting trust in every large boxing center, it will be a great benefit to
the bantams, lightweights and for a few quick, agile and fairly good
heavyweights. The promoters get the most of the money it is true, but the large
class of boxers are given the opportunity to earn a very comfortable living.”
quick to rubbish stories that he had earned great amounts in his own career.
“The patrons of pugilism never did care enough about the little fellows to
enable the bantams and feathers to make much money. It is popularly supposed
that in my career I made thousands of dollars. This is not true. A successful
heavyweight could make as much in one fight as a (lighter) champion could in
several world championship battles.”
Hails Terry McGovern
Always on the
lookout for fresh and vibrant talent, Jimmy Barry quickly became an admirer of
the storming young featherweight hitter from Brooklyn, Terry McGovern. Jimmy had
prided himself on being as complete a fighter as he could be throughout his
career, and recognised that McGovern possessed cunning and cleverness as well as
toughness and exceptional punching power.
“The fighting game has been reduced to such a fine science that the clever man
who hasn’t the bulldog strength to back up his efforts can do little or nothing
these days. Formerly the rough fellows, that is those who depended mainly upon
their strength and roughing abilities to win fights, knew little or nothing of
the finer points. They used to swing away for all they were worth and eventually
fall under the steady clipping and hammering a clever fellow would dole out.
“All that is
changed now. These rough fellows have picked up the scientific part of the game.
Take McGovern, for instance. There never was a rougher or stronger boy than the
Brooklyn lad, yet in his own way, he is as clever or perhaps more clever than
the majority of featherweights.
“He has the
advantage over any man he fights. Every time he hits, the punch carries
sufficient force with it to knock out a man, while the majority of boxers
usually wait until they have shorn an opponent of his strength and
clear-headedness before they take any chance of leaving themselves open by
trying for a knockout.
“And it’s the
same with all other classes of fighters. Take George Lavigne. He was lightweight
champion for years merely because he could outstay and out-slug all other
have come as any great surprise that Jimmy Barry had a soft spot for Terry
McGovern. Little tigers always have a way of recognising each other.
magnificent original, died at the age of seventy-three in 1943, a tough and
astute cookie to the end.
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