By Tracy Callis

Who was he – Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? For sure, he was both! He was fun loving, friendly, and kind but he was also deceitful, spiteful, and cruel. He was gentle, polite, and unassuming but he was also violent, ruthless, and dangerous. He would change from “Mr. Nice Guy” to “Mr. Villain” in a flash and there was no telling when the transition would take place.

 McCoy always carried a roll of money with him and he was likely to show up any place at any time. He liked good times, jokes, and women. They liked him too. Playwright Maurice Maeterlinck wrote that he was the “Handsomest human on earth”. He married eight times, three times to the same woman (see McCallum, 1975, p 192).

Every so often a boxer comes along who seems to anticipate his opponents’ every move – Nonpareil Jack Dempsey, Jim Corbett, Jack Johnson, Gene Tunney, and Muhammad Ali were such men. They handled men easily – regardless of size or skill. Kid McCoy belongs with this group.

Tall and skinny, pale and sickly-looking, he hardly looked like a fighter. That is, before the fight started. But, once it began, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind - the man could handle himself. The New York World newspaper once described his movements as “quiet and cat-like” and wrote that “He does not look the prizefighter, nor is he built like one.”

Stillman (1920, p 44) wrote “He had a wonderfully quick left hand and a powerful straight right.” He later added that McCoy’s form was the “height of science, and his left hand the best the ring has ever seen.”

Andre and Fleischer (1975, p 207) described McCoy as “the wily corkscrew artist, a cagey,  clever battler." Odd (1983, pp 83 84) called McCoy a “cunning and skillful boxer”.  Jim Corbett said he was “a marvel, a genius of scientific fighting” (see McCallum, 1975, p 190).


Fast hands, fast feet, shifty, slippery, crafty, and clever - that was the Kid. It didn’t matter much what the other man’s style or ability was. Any advantage seemed to melt away once McCoy began to pepper him with jabs and come home with brisk, snappy shots – with either fist.

His first fight took place in 1891 and his last in 1916. Some sources report he had 200 fights during his career and lost only six. He once knocked out a 250 pound black in one round at Bullawayo, South Africa. He gave Gus Ruhlin, top heavyweight contender, a terrible drubbing.

Philadelphia Jack O’Brien said McCoy was “vicious, fast, and almost impossible to beat” (see McCallum, 1975, p 190). When his cruel streak surfaced (which was often), he would butcher his opponents excessively with his ripping, slicing type of punches. In many a fight, when he had his man staggering around and nearly out on his feet, instead of finishing him off, the Kid would suddenly change tactics and dance around his man cutting him up with his “corkscrew” punches.


According to McCallum (1975, p 191) “The Kid had marvelous speed and elusiveness, besides his tricks and the cruel, cutting power of his punches.” Cantwell (1971, p 42) reported that after fighting McCoy, Jack Wilkes’ face “resembled a raw beefsteak.”  He added (p 46), against Tommy West, McCoy cut loose and had West bleeding and groggy as he floored him six times.

McCoy began his career with a series of victories. His first loss occurred when he fought the scrappy Billy Steffers. Young and cocky, the Kid thought so little of Steffers that he walked to the center of the ring at the opening bell and stuck out his chin at his opponent - big mistake. Billy caught McCoy on the point of the chin and ended it right then.

McCoy met Steffers again, nearly four months later. This time he was more cautious and sliced his man to shreds with cutting jabs and stiff punches on the way to a 10-0 shutout win.

McCoy held a grudge against Tommy Ryan, the great champion, for battering him around in a practice session as a young sparring partner. He swore to get even some day – and he did.


In 1896, he convinced Tommy he was sick and dying and needed money. Ryan agreed to a fight and trained sparingly. McCoy battered him cruelly. He bested the great Ryan again in 1897 and 1900.

One of McCoy’s best-known fights was his victory against the terrific light-heavyweight, Joe Choynski. It was a red-hot contest with plenty of knockdowns between two crafty, sharp-hitting fighters. McCoy knocked Choynski down 16 times and was floored 12 times himself. Following this bout, the Kid picked up the moniker the “Real McCoy.”

An interesting story surrounds McCoy’s fight with Tom Sharkey. In the old days, when no films of an opponent were available for study, fighters often hired men who had sparred with or fought against their upcoming foe. McCoy and his entourage kidnapped big Bob Armstrong, who was a frequent sparring partner of “Sailor Tom”, and took him prisoner to McCoy’s camp to find out about Sharkey’s strengths and weaknesses. Armstrong was so angered by this act that he fed McCoy incorrect information. The result was that McCoy lost his bout against Sharkey.

After the Kid retired from boxing in 1916, he served in the U.S. Army during World War I. Following that, he went to Hollywood and acted in a few movies. In 1924, he was convicted of murdering Theresa Mors, a divorcee who was living with him. He was paroled in 1932 and, afterwards, worked for Ford Motor Company. McCoy committed suicide in Detroit on April 18, 1940.



McCallum writes (1975, p 190) “It’s possible that for his weight, which ranged from 145 pounds to 170, McCoy was the finest fighter in the world, when he was at his best.”

Johnston (1949) wrote “McCoy was one of the most skillful boxers that ever climbed through the ropes. Barring Corbett, he was probably the most artistic fighter we have ever produced.”

McCoy was elected to the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1957 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. Nat Fleischer ranked him as the #1 Light-Heavyweight of all-time.

In the opinion of this writer, McCoy was the among the greatest fighters of all time in three divisions – the #3 Welterweight, the #7 Middleweight, the #7 Light-Heavyweight. He was also one of the all-time best “Pound-for-Pound” boxers who ever entered the ring.



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

Cantwell, R. 1971. The Real McCoy. Princeton, NJ: Auerbach Publishers, Inc.

Johnston, A. 1949. Ten – And Out! New York: Washburn, Ives

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

Odd, G. 1983. The Encyclopedia of Boxing. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited

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

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