Table of Contents

Terry McGovern . . . Dynamite in a Small package
By Tracy Callis

Terry McGovern was an aggressive, relentless, hard-hitting human dynamo who went after his man like a savage animal from the opening bell until the last second of each round. There was no fooling around. More often than not, he smashed his man into submission.

McGovern fought from a moderate crouch and applied constant pressure. He was a terrific head and body puncher. His left hook was hard and his right hand was fast and explosive and often found his opponent's chin or heart area.

If a man tried to trade punches with him, it ended quickly. Tom McArdle, former Madison Square Garden matchmaker, said "he fought with a tigerish ferocity that swept his opponents off their feet." (The Ring, Nov 1928 p 8)

Even the slickest of fighters such as Joe Gans, Harry Forbes, and Tim Callahan, who chose to box him and not "fight" him, wilted under the tremendous pressure he exerted. Mathison wrote, "clever boxers were his special delight." (The Ring, May 1928 p 6)

Old-timers often compared him to the great Heavyweight Champion, Jack Dempsey. McCallum (1975 p 266) wrote "He loved to fight, was a tremendous hitter, especially with his right, and was as feared in his time as Dempsey was later. In fact, Dempsey was a king-sized [version of] McGovern, to reverse the usual comparison."

Robert Edgren, columnist, once said "Terrible Terry" really was as good as people said. According to Edgren, "I know that had I never seen McGovern fight I couldn't possibly picture him being as great as he was" (see McCallum 1975 p 267).

Terry belonged to that special group of fighters - like Bob Fitzsimmons, Joe Choynski, Joe Walcott, and Stanley Ketchel - whose explosive punching power far exceeded their size.

Fleischer and Andre (1975 p 361) wrote, "Terry was compactly built, fast, and packed a middleweight punch." Joe Humphreys, manager and famous ring announcer for years, called McGovern "that little chunk of Irish dynamite" (see The Ring, May 1932 p 29).

Patsy Haley, a tough little fighter around the turn of the century and referee for many years later, said "McGovern was a wonderful fighter - that goes without saying. But, I never realized what a hitter he was until I faced him that night" (see The Ring, Mar 1926 p 18).

Myler recorded, "One of the hardest hitters in the lower weight divisions, Irish-American Terry McGovern had no time for fancy boxing. He just wanted to get in there and finish off his opponents as quickly as possible." (1997 p 259)

He began fighting as a youth and turned professional at seventeen. Within two years, he was a top contender for the Bantamweight title and a year later, he won it by destroying the previously unbeaten champion, Pedlar Palmer, in less than one round. During one stretch, he knocked out ten men in a total of seventeen rounds. So ferocious was he as champion that his tenure could be called a "Reign of Terror."

Johnston (1936 pp 351 352) wrote that McGovern was "one of the great fighters of all-time" and added that "Terry wasted little time in feeling his man out." Detloff wrote , "He was crude and wild, but he could hit like hell, and he reveled in his reputation as a bully and a streetfighter." (The Ring, 2000 p 141)

Stillman recorded (1920 p 69), "This Irishman was evidently the boiled down essence of Irish battling. When the gong sounded, McGovern recognized it as the signal for hitting, and he never ceased firing his fists from every angle until the gong sounded for retreat. Terry wore down his opponent by pure aggressiveness, and the blows he received didn't seem to affect him."

In a career that spanned 11 years, Terry McGovern recorded 66 victories, many by knockout. He is one of a few men in the history of boxing to hold titles in two divisions - Bantamweight and Featherweight - and he held these at a time when there were only seven weight classes in all of organized boxing. Further, many historians and boxing people feel he earned a strong claim to the Lightweight Championship when he knocked out the reigning Champion, Frank Erne, in three rounds in 1900.

Haldane (1967 p 209) wrote, "... he was not a particular stylist. But he was a tremendous combination of speed and hitting power and it is doubtful if any other Bantam-weight has been able to hit as hard. Nor should we underestimate his speed ..."

DeWitt Van Court (1926 pp 107 108), boxing instructor of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, ranked Terry, George Dixon and Jimmy Barry as the three greatest bantamweights of all time. He also rated McGovern among the three best ever featherweights along with George Dixon and Abe Attell.

Charles Mathison, New York state boxing judge and veteran sportswriter, called McGovern the most effective hitter he ever saw among the bantamweight and featherweight fighters (The Ring, Jun 1932 p 43) and rated Terry, George Dixon and Jimmy Barry as the greatest bantamweights of all time (see The Ring, May 1928 p 6).

Mathison also rated Terry, along with George Dixon, Abe Attell, and Jem Driscoll as the four greatest featherweights of all time (see The Ring, Feb 1928 p 14). He especially favored Dixon and McGovern.

Biddy Bishop, oldtime fighter, manager, and boxing promoter rated McGovern (The Ring, Mar 1927 p 29) as the greatest featherweight of all time. Bill Duffy, oldtime fight manager, also rated Terry as the greatest featherweight of all time (see The Ring, Oct 1926 p 24).

Haldane (1967 p 209) reports on the ratings by some well-known boxing historians, "Jack Hare and Alexander Johnston both picked McGovern as the greatest of the Bantam-weights. The view of Thomas S. Rice was very similar."

Francis Albertanti, writer for "The Ring" magazine and witness of hundreds of fights, wrote (The Ring, Apr 1928 p 7), "We may never live to see a duplicate of the famous 'Terrible Terry'. Fighters like McGovern come once in a lifetime."

In a survey of a number of old-timers, conducted by John McCallum, McGovern was ranked as the #1 All-Time Featherweight (see McCallum 1975 p 323). Nat Fleischer rated Terry as the #1 All-Time Featherweight. Charley Rose rated him as the #1 All-Time Bantamweight. The Ring (2000, p 141) ranked McGovern as the #18 All-Time greatest fighter of the twentieth century (among all weight classes).

In the opinion of this writer, McGovern was the #1 Bantamweight of All-Time and the #3 All-Time Featherweight.


Albertanti, F. Apr 1928 Jimmy McLarnin, the Fighting Irishman, A Second Terry McGovern - Enters Charmed Circle ad Takes Fandom by Storm (contained in The Ring, April 1928 pp 6-8 24). New York: The Ring Publishing Corp.

Bishop, B. Mar 1927. Peter Jackson, Giant Negro, Greatest Heavyweight of All Time, Says Veteran (contained in The Ring, March 1927 p 29). New York: The Ring Publishing Corp.

Duffy, B. Oct 1926. Joe Gans Greatest Lightweight - Would Have Beaten Leonard, Says Veteran (contained in The Ring, October 1926 p 24). New York: The Ring Publishing Corp.

Fleischer, N. and Andre, S. 1975. A Pictorial History of Boxing. Secaucus, NJ: Castle Books.

Haldane, R.A. 1967. Champions and Challengers. London: Stanley Paul and Co.

Haley, P. Mar 1926. Patsy Haley's Hardest Fight (contained in The Ring, March 1926 pp 18-19). New York: The Ring Publishing Corp.

Humphreys, J. May 1932. Costly 'Kidding' (contained in The Ring, May 1932 p 29). New York: The Ring Publishing Corp.

Johnston, A. 1936. Ten - And Out! New York: Ives Washburn, Publisher

Mathison, C. Feb 1928. Old Time Stars Stand Out Over Modern in Veteran's Ranking For the Glove Fight Era (contained in The Ring, Feb 1928 pp 13-14). New York: The Ring Publishing Corp.

Mathison, C. May 1928. Great Bantamweights of the Past (contained in The Ring, May 1928 pp 6 8). New York: The Ring Publishing Corp.

Mathison, C. Jun 1932. The Clouting Brigade (contained in The Ring, June 1932 pp 16-17 43). New York: The Ring Publishing Corp.

McArdle, T. Nov 1928. Dixon and McGovern Greatest Featherweights (contained in The Ring, November 1928, pp 8 13). New York: The Ring Publishing Corp.

McCallum, J. 1975. The Encyclopedia of World Boxing Champions. Radnor, Pa: Chilton Book Company.

Myler, P. 1997. A Century of Boxing Greats. New York: Robson/Parkwest Publications

The Ring. 2000. The 20 Greatest Fighters of the 20th Century by William Detloff (contained in The 2000 Boxing Almanac and Book of Facts). Fort Washington, Pa: London Publishing Co.

Stillman, M. 1920. Great Fighters and Boxers. New York: Marshall Stillman Association.

Van Court, D. 1926 The Making of Champions in California. Los Angeles: Premier Printing Company

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