Terry McGovern: The Terror of Brooklyn
By Emmanuel Rivera, RRT
Sat, 25 Sep 2021
He was small but terrible. In the boxing world, that is a good thing.
He packed 118-126-130 pounds of power in his 5’4” frame and possessed dynamite knuckles that propelled him into fistic greatness. In his day, he was Iron Mike Tyson, Rocky Marciano, and Manny Pacquiao, all rolled into one.
Terry McGovern, in sum, was a ball of fire and fury who overwhelmed his opponents from bell to bell.
He terrorized his ring adversaries into submission and, at times, put most of them to sleep.
John Terrence McGovern was born on March 9, 1880, to Irish parents, in Johnstown Pennsylvania.
He took up fighting at an early age, honed his skills in the streets of Brooklyn as a newsboy fighting for his turf. He worked at a lumber yard, got into tussles, and turned professional in 1897 at age seventeen upon the prodding of his boss.
From 1897 to the early part of the 20th century, rabid fight fans on either side of the Brooklyn Bridge cheered him on as he captured the bantamweight and featherweight crowns of the world.
His power and style influenced great hitters like Joe Louis, George Foreman, Arturo Gatti, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler and now Deontay Wilder.
McGovern operated from a crouch ala Jack Dempsey and Joe Frazier, dished out a nasty left hook and a right straight resulting 42 knockouts in his 60 wins. His final record in 78 Bouts: 60 Wins, Loss 4, Draw 4, ND 10.
In his autobiography, 50 Years at Ringside, Mr. Nathaniel Fleischer listed Terry McGovern as the top featherweight of all time---followed by Jem Driscoll, Abe Attell, Johnny Dundee, Johnny Kilbane, Kid Chocolate, Willie Pep, Young Griffo, George “K.O.” Chaney and louis Kid Kaplan, respectively.
On September 12,1899, less than two years after turning pro, McGovern was fighting for the bantamweight championship of the world. His meteoric rise was capped by his one-round demolition of the favorite British titlist and world’s bantamweight champion Thomas “Pedlar” Palmer. The fight was the first championship bout under the Queensberry Rules.
Watching from the stands at the Westchester American Center in Tuckahoe, New York was a 12-year-old Nathaniel “Nat” Fleischer, who described the McGovern-Palmer title tiff as the first professional match he saw and inspired him in his journeys in and out of the roped square.
Mr. Fleischer said it like this in his autobiography 50 Years at Ringside, ”My experiences during adolescence paved the way for my future career. In 1899, for example, I saw my first professional fight, a contest in which Terry McGovern was pitted against Pedlar Palmer, British champion. I’ve lived that fight over and over again. For me, that was the thrill of thrills: to be twelve years old and present at one of the most talked-about bouts in American pugilism.”
Nat Fleischer is still inspiring latter-day reporters at ringside to talk about the exploits “Terrible Terry”.
Said William Detloff (The Ring, 2000 p 141): "He was crude and wild, but he could hit like hell, and he reveled in his reputation as a bully and a streetfighter."
Wrote fight historian Mike Casey (CyberBoxingZone.com): “There is really no overly fancy way of describing McGovern’s relentless and intimidating style of fighting.”
This according to fight historian Mr. Tracy Callis (CyberBoxingZone.com): “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.”
Of note, McGovern would not defend the bantamweight crown and opted to rise to the featherweight ranks.
On January 9, 1900, Terry McGovern captured the world featherweight title from George Dixon (61W-5L-27D) by 8th-round knockout at Madison Square Garden. In a non-title rematch six months later, McGovern bested Dixon again, this time by points in 6 rounds. In 1900, McGovern successfully defended his featherweight crown against Eddie Santry (KO5), Oscar Gardner (KO3), Tommy White (KO3), Joe Bernstein (KO7).
Said Steve Farhood and publisher Stanley Weston wrote (The Ring BOXING IN THE 20th Century): “He won the world featherweight title at age 19, and in doing so, dethroned a legendary champion (George Dixon), who had reigned for 10 years. He scored eight knockdowns against a fighter who hadn’t previously been down over the course of a 14-year career. He joined Bob Fitzsimmons and Tommy Ryan as the only fighters (back then) to have won world titles in two weight classes.”
On December 13, 1900, McGovern knocked out ’The Old Master’ Joe Gans, in 2 rounds. Depending on the sources, the results were either legitimate or controversial. Joe Gans admitted later that he threw the fight. The resulting investigation and judgment got boxing banned for thirty years in the Windy City of Chicago, Illinois.
Young Corbett II dethroned Terry McGovern by knockout in 2 rounds on November 28, 1901, in Hartford, Connecticut. In a rematch, Corbett II again bested by knockout McGovern who lasted till the 11th round on March 31, 1903, at the Mechanic’s Pavilion in San Francisco, California.
There were reports that Corbett showed no fear and intimidated McGovern. Young Corbett was heard shouting towards McGovern in his dressing room, "Come on out, you Irish rat, and take the licking of your life." Both fighters each scored a knockdown in the first round, but in the second, Corbett handed McGovern the first knockout of his career. The two would meet one last time on October 17, 1906, for a ND 6 (No Decision), as reported by Nat Fleischer for The Ring Record Book 1941.
Photo from the archives of the Library of Congress, United States of America (Public Domain).
Terrible Terry McGovern, also known as the Terror of Brooklyn, is one of only seven fighters in the history of boxing since 1892 to have won and lost the bantamweight and featherweight crowns of the world. He was inducted into inaugural The Ring Boxing Hall of Fame, the old Madison Square Garden and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York in 1990.
He took ill and was brought to the Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York where he died on February 22, 1918.
He was 37 years old.
****A Gallery on the Life and Times of Terry McGovern***
(L-R) Terry McGovern and Battling Nelson (Public Domain).
• Nat Fleischer’s ALL -TIME RING RECORD BOOK: Souvenir Boxing Writers’ Association of N.Y. (©The Ring. 1941. The O’Brien Suburban Press. Norwalk, Conn.)
• Nathaniel “Nat” Fleischer, Publisher of The Ring (©The Ring. 50 Years at Ringside. Fleet Publishing Corporation. 70 East 45th Street, New York 17, New York)
• Steven Farhood, Editor-in-Chief and Stanley Weston, Publisher (©The Ring: BOXING. THE 20th Century. 1993.BDD Illustrated Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, N.Y., 10036)
• William Dettloff (©The Ring. The 20 Greatest Fighters of the 20th Century. The 2000 Boxing Almanac and Book of Facts. 2000. Fort Washington, Pa: London Publishing Company).
• Quote excerpted from Mr. Tracy Callis: Terry McGovern…Dynamite in a small package (CyberboxingZone.com)
• Quote excerpted from Mr. Mike Casey: Brooklyn’s Finest: Terrible Terry McGovern (CyberboxingZone.com)
Notes and Disclaimers:
The top photo of Terry McGovern and the collage with George Dixon is from the collection of the writer. The rest of the photographs and illustrations in this article are all deemed public domain and is excerpted from various sources. Credit to the owners.
Click here to view a list of other articles written by Emmanuel Rivera, RRT.
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