To become a bonafide sporting legend, an athlete must transcend their sport through who they are and what they do.
Perhaps no boxer in recent times has epitomised this quite as much as Barry McGuigan.
Barry McGuigan is an inspiration to millions around the world
The ‘Clones Cyclone’ inspired millions around the world through his courageous fighting style and his determination to help bring peace to Ireland during the height of ‘The Troubles’.
In talkSPORT’s new ‘Fight Of My Life’ series (Sundays 9pm), McGuigan looked back on his career-defining fight – against Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road just over 35 years ago – and what it meant to himself and his country.
In front of 26,000 fans at Queens Park Rangers’ stadium and with almost 20 million people watching on the BBC, McGuigan wrenched the WBA feathweight strap away from the champion in stunning fashion.
Having not lost for seven years and with 18 defences of his belt, Pedroza was a huge favourite, yet was soundly beaten on a night which will live long in the hearts and minds of boxing fans all over the world.
McGuigan battered the defending WBA featherweight champion around the Loftus Park ring
McGuigan had beaten the best in the world, yet it was not until he returned to the Emerald Isle after his escapades in Shepherd’s Bush that he realised just what it meant to his adoring fans.
“We came home on the Monday and there was 75,000 people in Royal Avenue in Belfast,” he told talkSPORT.
“We drove down Royal Avenue and it was like scenes from the end of the Second World War; just thousands of people screaming and shouting, hanging out of their windows and it was amazing.
“We went down to the King’s Hall and I stood out on the balcony and addressed the people with the Lord Mayor.
The ‘Clones Cyclone’ celebrates with his son Blair and wife Sandra
“Later that day, we went down to Clones, which is just a small town with a population of 2,000 people, but there was about 35,000 people there in the town – it was crazy.
“There was that celebration and then, believe it or not, I went and did 15 rounds on the pads that night in my little gym at the back of the house with my brother Dermot just to get away from it all!
“On the Thursday of that week, we went to Dublin and there was 350,000 people in Dublin to see me.
“And it was at that point that I realised how much that meant to Ireland and what I meant to the Irish people; north and south.
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“It was such a hugely important part of our struggle to get to the top; to bring the people together, to fight with the United Nations Flag of Peace on our shorts and to not alienate Catholic or Protestant people.
“We wanted to send a message that we were trying to do something good and I would like to think that we were doing what the Anglo-Irish Agreement did several years later.
“We showed them the way to go and we were very proud of that; both myself and Barney [Eastwood, his manager].”
McGuigan explained how his brave stance on politics and insistence on peace made him a target for a far more sinister enemies outside of the ring.
Barry’s father sang ‘Danny Boy’ as opposed to a national anthem as a way of uniting people
He recalled: “It wasn’t until 1985, after I became world champion, that I did get a genuine threat. Someone contacted the News of the World and whichever Republican organisation it was told the newspaper that they were going to kidnap me.
“I think it was genuine enough because they were keeping an eye on me, the security forces on both sides. Remember that I lived right on the border.
“By this point, I lived along an unapproved road outside Clones: I lived in the North but it was effectively the suburbs of Clones.
“Because of that, there was always the potential I could be nabbed. So the security forces on both sides of the border looked out for me. When I had to travel to certain places I would get an escort, following in the distance.
“I was issued with a gun as well as that time and was taught how to shoot.
“I couldn’t hit a barn door, but I was taught how to handle the gun properly. I kept it for a couple of years, I think, and then I had to give it back when I moved to England.”
The Catholic who married a Protestant and an Irishman who fought for the British title, McGuigan never wore colours and always let his father sing ‘Danny Boy’ before his fights to unite people.
As Bono wrote: “At a dark hour in Ireland Barry McGuigan’s spirit shone a light towards peace.”
Hear the story of his famous fight with Pedroza on talkSPORT this Sunday, at 9pm