McGuigan v Cruz - Brave Barry’s night in hell!

20.06.06 - By James Slater: The following article looks back on an epic fight, from the 126 pound division, that took place almost exactly twenty years ago to this very day. This astonishing bout, fought at the legendary Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, was both thrilling and excruciating..

Ireland’s Barry McGuigan was a genuine hero. Not only to the people of Ireland, but to boxing fans (and non boxing fans when it comes down to it) from all over. Now he was being groomed for stardom in America. His first top of the bill appearance ( Barry had fought once previously in the States, very early in his career) was to be held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, against one Steve Cruz. What followed, on June the 23rd 1986, is a fight that is still talked about amongst British fight fans to this very day!

Talk about the result, and most everybody will tell you that the heat of the Vegas desert, and this alone, caused Barry’s loss. There is no doubt that the burning heat and high temperature were huge factors in the outcome of the fight - between a guy who was used to such weather conditions and one who in no way was - but the boxing skills of the little known Texan Stevie Cruz played a role too. More than likely Barry would have won had the fight been held in his native Ireland, but going in to the fight with the nine to one underdog no-one was at all concerned with the thought of him losing his featherweight title. A huge boxing upset was about to be witnessed!

Making his third defence after winning the title in a fine fight with Eusebio Pedroza, McGuigan was in desperate trouble in the last third of the bout. He was very close to being in tears and it was alarming to watch. Never would the thought of quitting ever enter McGuigan’s mind, however. He was one of the toughest and bravest fighters Ireland had ever produced. Barry had a ferociously strong fighting heart. This heart, and this alone, carried him through the most desperate fatigue and pain as Cruz opened up and landed his best shots. Barry was thoroughly exhausted and was sent to the canvas on three occasions - once in round ten and twice in the very last round. He somehow survived to hear the final bell, but after fifteen gruelling rounds his title was gone. The heat certainly did prove to be a massive hindrance to McGuigan, as his being put on an IV drip afterwards more than showed, and in hindsight he should not have fought in such conditions in an outdoor arena.

The new champion would lose the title in his very first defence - against Antonio Esparragoza in March of the following year. But all concern, at least from a British fan’s perspective, was focused on the well being of the ex-champ. He had been in a very bad way during the action-packed fight. How had he gotten through the hell he had been in? Heart can only carry you so
far after all!

Many never expected Barry to fight again after the June fight but he did come back - two years later- and managed to chalk up three wins as a super featherweight. One of his victims was the very strong , and only once beaten, Julio Cesar Miranda. So it was clear that Barry did have more that just a little left to offer the fight game.

His retirement wasn’t too long in coming though. He quit the sport for good after his loss to Jim McDonnell, only his third as a pro, in 1989. But it is that awfully hard fight in Las Vegas for which he is probably best remembered. For although he lost, causing some serious heartache for his many fans in the process, his astonishing courage was something to behold.

No less than the “Bible of Boxing” - Ring magazine - gave the McGuigan v Cruz bout its fight of the year award for 1986.

Such guts and bravery have not been seen too many times in the featherweight division since!

Article posted on 20.06.2006

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