By David Martinez / Boxing Historian / dmboxing.com
At the turn of the 20th century, Brooklyn was becoming a thriving suburb of its own in the New York Metropolitan area.
It was the home of the Brooklyn Bridge, Coney Island, the Trolley Dodgers National League baseball team, and was also the home of “Terrible” Terry McGovern who had migrated there from Johnstown, Pennsylvania at the age of six.
The first fight for the Irish-American kid was at Brooklyn’s Jackson Club in early 1897, an amateur bout that ended in a first round victory over Jack Shea. That event would officially launch a stellar career in boxing for the young McGovern who turned pro that same year.
Here’s a short capsule look at his resume: a ten round draw with undefeated Tommy Sullivan in his sixth pro fight; a fifteenth-round knockout over future bantamweight champion Harry Forbes in 1898; wins the world bantamweight title by first-round knockout over unbeaten (26-0-1) Pedlar Palmer on September 12, 1899; scores eighteen straight knockouts (1899-1900) with eleven bouts being three rounds or less; wins the featherweight title in an eighth-round vicious knockout of legendary, but declining, George “Little Chocolate” Dixon on January 9, 1900 in a bout comparable, racially speaking, to the Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries fight ten years later on July 10, 1910; wins a six round decision over aging George Dixon in June 1900; wins a highly disputed second-round knockout in Chicago on December 13, 1900 over Joe Gans (prior to his death, Gans said he took a dive in the fight); defends his featherweight title successfully six times, all by knockout; loses to Young Corbett on November 28, 1901 by second-round knockout; wins a fifteen round decision over former featherweight champion Dave Sullivan in 1902; loses a rematch with Corbett on March 31, 1903 by eleventh-round knockout; and loses a lightweight bout to Battling Nelson on March 6, 1906, which historians called a fight of the year candidate (the decision was later changed to a no-decision).
McGovern stayed active until 1908. His official ring record is 60 wins (42 by knockout), 4 losses, 4 draws, with 10 no-decisions. Boxing Historian and Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer calls McGovern the greatest featherweight of all time, George Dixon the greatest bantamweight of all time, and Joe Gans the greatest lightweight of all time. (Note: I am truly blessed to have in my personal collection an original 1943 copy of the book The Brooklyn Terror – The Life and Battles of Terry McGovern by Nat Fleischer).
Boxing Historian Bert Sugar ranks McGovern #30, Dixon #25, and Gans #11 of the greatest boxers of all time. My personal ranking is McGovern #30, Dixon #27, and Gans #9.
Terry McGovern was born on March 9, 1880 and passed away on February 22, 1918, just two weeks shy of his 38th birthday. He was inducted into the Ring Magazine Boxing Hall of Fame in 1955, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1980, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, and the New York Boxing Hall of Fame in 2014.