Terry McGovern (boxer)

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Terry McGovern
Terry McGovern.jpg
Real nameJohn Terrence McGovern
Nickname(s)Terrible Terry
Height5 ft 3 in (1.60 m)
Reach65 in (165 cm)
NationalityUnited States American
Born(1880-03-09)March 9, 1880
Johnstown, Pennsylvania
DiedFebruary 22, 1918(1918-02-22) (aged 37)
Boxing record
Total fights80
Wins by KO44
No contests1

Terrible Terry McGovern (March 9, 1880 – February 22, 1918) was an American professional boxer who held the World Bantamweight and Featherweight Championships.[1][2] He was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania as John Terrence McGovern.[3][4] Through most of his career he was managed by Sam H. Harris, who remained a lifelong friend. Many boxing historians considered McGovern's greatest attributes his punching ability and signature charges rather than his boxing style or defensive technique. That the majority of his wins were by knockout speaks to the power of his punch.[5]

Early life[edit]

McGovern was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on March 9, 1880, to Irish parents. After the death of his father Joseph, he tried to help support his widowed mother by peddling vegetables after the family moved to South Brooklyn the year after he was born. Starting his professional career in 1897, several of his brothers would also attempt to make a living as boxers.[5]

He began boxing at Brooklyn's Greenwood Athletic Club in preliminary bouts at the age of only 16.[6]

Professional career[edit]

In his impressive career, McGovern took both the World Bantamweight and Featherweight Titles. He defended the World Featherweight Title at least five times against Joe Bernstein, Tommy White, Aurelio Herrera, and twice against Oscar Gardiner. He lost it to Young Corbett II who defeated him in World Featherweight Title fights on two separate occasions. His victory over Frank Erne, World Lightweight Champion, led some to claim he was also heir to the World Lightweight Title, though most sources today believe the bout was not a sanctioned title fight.[3]

In his first 36 better-publicized bouts before taking the World Bantamweight Title, McGovern won an astounding 30, losing only to Johnny Snee and Tim Calahan. His winning streak did not end after taking the Bantamweight Title.

Taking the World Bantamweight Title[edit]

Portrait of McGovern

McGovern won the vacant World Bantamweight Championship on September 12, 1899, in a first-round knockout of British boxer Pedlar Palmer before a crowd of 10,000, using a series of heavy body blows. McGovern was only 19 years old and had been boxing professionally little more than two years. The bout took place at the Westchester Athletic Club in New York. The winner was to receive $7,500, and the loser $2,500, both sizable purses for the period, but far less than boxers would make for a World Title fights a decade later. The referee was George Siler. The fight was billed as the 116 pound championship. McGovern wore green trunks for the bout which he believed gave him luck.[7][8] This was the first world championship bout under Queensberry Rules to end by a one-round knockout. McGovern never defended the title and relinquished it in 1900.[3][9]

On November 18, 1899, he defeated New Yorker Patsy Haley in a first-round knockout in Chicago at Tattersall's in a non-title match. Like many of McGovern's early opponents, Haley was a skilled boxer, yet not a match for McGovern. Haley would become one of the best-known and most-respected New York-area referees in the 1920s and 1930s and referee an impressive array of World Title fights.

Knocking out Frank Erne, reigning World Lightweight Champion[edit]

On July 16, 1900, in an important bout, McGovern defeated World Lightweight Champion Frank Erne in a third-round technical knockout before a crowd of 13,000 in New York's Madison Square Garden. Erne knocked down McGovern with a blow to the head in the very first round, but McGovern took most of the count before landing on his feet and resuming the fight. Grinning and furious, McGovern was fastest in the third round showing his signature aggressive style. Erne, was down at least twice in the third round and had received a telling blow to the face from McGovern before his seconds threw in the sponge. Upon examination after the fight, Erne was found to have the most substantial injuries to his nose and mouth. The betting on the fight remained even for a considerable time, before McGovern took a slight lead before the fight. As Erne was the reigning World Lightweight Champion as a result of just beating Joe Gans, some sources credited McGovern with having taken the World Lightweight Crown as a result of winning the match by a TKO, but very few give him credit for the title today.[10]

On December 22, 1899, McGovern defeated Harry Forbes in what was billed by some sources as a World Featherweight match, but the bout was not widely recognized as one. McGovern knocked out Forbes in the second round at the New Broadway Athletic Club. Forbes went down after a terrific right-handed uppercut to the chin from McGovern, who was the aggressor throughout the short match. McGovern had beaten Forbes earlier in a 15th-round knockout in Brooklyn on October 1, 1898.[3][11]

Capturing the World Featherweight Championship[edit]

George Dixon

He then moved up in weight and captured the World Featherweight Championship from George Dixon on January 9, 1900, by scoring a technical knockout in the eighth round at the Broadway Athletic Club in New York. Dixon was not a favorite in the late betting.[12] McGovern seemed to dominate from the sixth round on, using frequent straight, short-arm punches into Dixon's body and face. He eventually scored a knock down. The bout was ended when Dixon's manager threw in the sponge ending the match. The great lightweight Charlie White was in McGovern's corner for the bout. Some controversy existed among bettors when the officials ruled the fight a knockout when it technically was not, as no ten count was completed against Dixon. A betting controversy was inevitable, as one source wrote that the Dixon fight was "one of the heaviest betting bouts ever staged in America".[13][14]

Defenses of the World Featherweight Title[edit]

On June 12, 1900, defeated Tommy White at the Seaside Sporting Club in a decisive third-round knockout in Brooklyn, New York. After two minutes of fighting in the first round, the electric lighting in the club went out, nearly causing a panic among the crowd. Ten minutes later the lights went on again and the fighting resumed. An attendant fan, Frank Conlin, kept the crowd sedate by whistling a series of tunes.[3][15] White was seriously outclassed in the battle, as he was knocked down once in the first round, twice in the second, and four times in the third. McGovern made no objection to White being 1/2 pound overweight at weigh in. Referee Johnny White did a full ten count against White in the third round to end the bout.[16]

On November 2, 1900, McGovern defeated the great New York Jewish featherweight Joe Bernstein in Louisville, Kentucky, in a World Featherweight Title fight. The bout ended in a seventh-round knockout. Bernstein was said to have "made a poor showing from the beginning." The fight was stopped by the referee George Siler when Bernstein could not rise in the eight round, after more than one knockdown, and a full eight count.[17]

McGovern scored a knockout over the legendary Black boxer Joe Gans in a non-title match on December 13, 1900. Gans claimed that he threw the fight.[3] The issue of whether Gans had quit early and intentionally ended the fight was put to a Chicago District Attorney.[18] Both fighters had warrants issued for their arrest for disturbing the peace which were thrown out the day after the fight.[19]

On April 30, 1901, before a crowd of 8,000, McGovern defeated Oscar Gardiner at the Mechanics Pavilion in San Francisco in a fourth-round knockout. They fought for a purse of $5,000 with the winner taking 75 percent. In the fourth round, Gardiner was knocked down three times before losing to a ten count after a blow to the stomach. Gardiner took a while to recover from the blows of McGovern after the count, and it was feared he was hurt seriously.[20]

In another defense of his World Featherweight Title, McGovern was credited with knocking out Aurelio Herrera in five rounds. Herrera afterwards claimed he had been doped during the fight.[3]

Loss of the World Featherweight Title to Young Corbett II[edit]

Young Corbett II

McGovern lost his World Featheweight Crown when he was stopped by Young Corbett II in two rounds on November 28, 1901. Corbett also won their rematch. Of their March 31, 1903, bout in San Francisco, Young Corbett was said to have the best of the last three rounds of the 11th-round knockout. McGovern had only a slight lead in the first eight rounds, as well as only a slight lead in the early betting.[21]

On March 14, 1906, McGovern lost a lightweight match to Battling Nelson at the National Athletic Club in Philadelphia in a six-round newspaper decision. The fight was described as "one of the fastest and most vicious battles ever seen in the ring." In both the fourth and fifth rounds Nelson staggered McGovern with heavy lefts to the neck and jaw. Although McGovern landed repeatedly on Nelson, his blows did not slow the assault of his opponent. He did not appear to gain an advantage until the sixth round when he became the aggressor. The bout could not have a referee ruling on points, but the Minneapolis Journal and four local Philadelphia newspapers gave Nelson the advantage.[3][22]

McGovern finished his career with a record of 65 wins (42 KOs) 5 losses and 5 draws. As was common in that era, he also engaged in many No Decision bouts. In 2003, McGovern was named to the Ring Magazines list of 100 greatest punchers of all time. Boxing historian Nat Fleischer ranked McGovern as the greatest featherweight of all time. He had an estimated lifetime earnings of $203,000, which included his income as a vaudeville entertainer.[23]

Life after boxing[edit]

Vaudeville poster of McGovern, managed by Sam H. Harris

Like many boxers, McGovern lost some of his fortune betting on horses at the track before his retirement from boxing. He purchased a race horse and attempted to have one of his brothers ride as a jockey. He showed increasingly poor judgement in his betting as he slipped into mental illness.

McGovern spent much of his later life in mental institutions, though he was able to intermittently work odd jobs. He was working as a ticket taker at the Grand Opera House in Brooklyn when his final illness came. He died of pneumonia and kidney ailment in the charity ward of King's County Hospital, Brooklyn, New York, on February 22, 1918, at the tragically young age of 38. He died relatively poor, considering his lifetime earnings, and had been diagnosed with Bright's disease as well as pneumonia. In his final years he lived on a pension given to him by his manager and promoter Sam Harris. Harris had been managing some of McGovern's remaining wealth as a trust fund, and was able to give a complete estate of $10,000 to McGovern's widow as well as the home they had been living in when McGovern died.[24] Harris looked after McGovern in his waning years, as did his friend Joe Humphries. McGovern was married and left one son, Joe, of 19 years, and had two surviving brothers, Philip and Hugh. His final service was at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, and he was subsequently buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn.[23][25][26][27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Lineal Bantamweight Champions". Cyber Boxing Zone.
  2. ^ "The Lineal Featherweight Champions". Cyber Boxing Zone.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Terry McGovern". BoxRec. Retrieved 24 June 2016.
  4. ^ "Terry McGovern". Cyber Boxing Zone. Retrieved 24 June 2016.
  5. ^ a b "The Terry McGovern We All Knew and Loved", Pittsburgh Daily Post, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, p. 10, 25 February 1918
  6. ^ "Last Gong is Sounded for Terry McGovern, Former Idol of the Ring", Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Arizona, pg. 7, 23 February 1918
  7. ^ "Sporting News", The Topeka State Journal, Topeka, Kansas, page 2, 11 September 1899
  8. ^ "Lucky punch that switches titles". The Day. February 6, 1917. p. 10. Retrieved June 30, 2012.
  9. ^ "Fighers Rival Ball Players in their Adherence to the Mascot", El Paso Herald, El Paso, Texas, pg. 20, 9 March 1912
  10. ^ "Terry McGovern the Champion", The Scranton Tribune, Scranton, Pennsylvania, pg. 1, 17 July 1900
  11. ^ "Forbes Knocked Out", The Topeka State Journal, Topeka, Kansas, pg. 2, 23 December 1899
  12. ^ "McGovern-Dixon Fight", Evening Star, Washington, DC, p.7, 9 January 1900
  13. ^ "Sure Thing Pugilism", The Wichita Daily Eagle, Wichita, Kansas, p. 8, 18 January 1900
  14. ^ "Sport World as Seen with James J. Corbett", The Fort Wayne Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, p. 13, 23 April 1918
  15. ^ "Prevented a Panic", The Leon Reporter, Leon, Iowa, p. 4, 9 August 1900
  16. ^ "Another Win for Terry", Evening Star, Washington, D. C., p. 9, 13 June 1900
  17. ^ "Out in the Seventh", Topeka State Journal, Topeka, Kansas, p.2, 3 November 1900
  18. ^ "The Ring", Daily Inter-Mountain, Butte, Montanna, p. 10, 29 December 1900
  19. ^ "Cases Dismissed", Marietta Daily Leader, Marietta, Georgia, p. 8, 15 December 1900
  20. ^ "McGovern in Four Rounds", Akron Daily Democrat, Akron, Ohio, p. 6, 1 May 1901
  21. ^ "Corbett the Winner", Bismarck Daily Tribune, Bismarck, South Dakota, p. 2, 1 April 1903
  22. ^ "Nelson Had Best of the Battle", Minneapolis Journal, Minneapolis, Minnesota, p. 10, 15 March 1906
  23. ^ a b "The Terry McGovern We All Knew and Loved", Pittsburgh Daily Post, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, p. 10, 25 February 1918
  24. ^ "Terry McGovern Didn't Die Broke!", Pittsburgh Daily Post, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, p. 10, 2 March 1918
  25. ^ "Terrible Terry of Prize Ring Fame Died Today", Santa Ana Register, Santa Ana, California, pg. 2, 22 February 1918
  26. ^ "McGovern was a Great Battler", The Houston Post, Houston, Texas, p. 17, 3 March 1918
  27. ^ "Terry Takes Final Count", The Washington Herald, Washington, D.C., p. 10, 23 February 1918

External links[edit]

Title last held by
Jimmy Barry
World Bantamweight Champion
September 12, 1899 – 1900
Succeeded by
Harry Harris
Preceded by
George Dixon
World Featherweight Champion
January 9, 1900 – November 28, 1901
Succeeded by
Young Corbett II