Michael Francis McTigue was born in Kilnamona, Co. Clare, on November 26th 1892. He worked on the farm with his twelve brothers and one sister until he was 16 when he took a job with a local blacksmith to raise the fare to emigrate to the United States. McTigue got a job working as a beef handler on New York's West Side; and it was in here that his fighting career began. A drunk attacked his foreman and McTigue flattened the assailant with a single punch. The appreciative boss encouraged the young Irishman to take up boxing and Mike was sent to George 'Elbows' McFadden, an old-time New York fighter. McTigue’s first professional fight was a four-round affair at the New York Athletic Club in 1909. It was a winning debut and the Irishman built up a reputation as a dependable if unspectacular performer in the city’s boxing clubs over the next decade. He was billed as the Irish middleweight champion, winning most but losing a few of his bouts, usually as the warm up act before the big name fighters got into the ring.
After thirteen years of plying his trade in the clubs of New York, McTigue decided to return to Ireland. He paid for the trip by taking four fights in England en route: all of which he won by knockout inside four rounds. Sitting at ringside for one of these contests was the Irish promoter Tom Singleton who’d long aspired to stage a world-title fight in Dublin. In 1922 the fates conspired to allow Singleton to realize his ambition. Finding McTigue, an Irishman who he believed could challenge for a championship, was a start. Then in Paris, in front of 40,000 Frenchmen, a Senegalese fighter named Battling Siki sensationally defeated Georges Carpentier for the world light-heavyweight title. Black boxers were not popular at the time and the newspapers called Siki ‘Championzee’. Tom Singleton knew that Siki would find it difficult to get big money fights in the United States so he lured the champion to Dublin to defend his title against McTigue on St. Patrick’s Day 1917, with a purse of £2,000; to be split 75% for the winner and 25% for the loser. Singleton’s only problem was getting Siki to travel by sea, as the world champion was terrified of water. Getting Siki blind drunk before his ship set sail was the solution.
Siki set up training camp at Howth, while the Irish challenger had his quarters just beyond Phoenix Park at Lucan. Many of their training sessions were staged at the Rotunda Cinema in Parnell Street. The contest took place as the Civil War raged on in Dublin’s streets. Just before the fighters stepped into the ring at the La Scala Opera House in Prince's Street, a massive landmine explosion nearby rocked the theatre. It was not a great fight as Siki used his strength and aggression against the Clareman's more polished boxing skills. It looked pretty grim for the Irishman in the fourth round when he caught Siki on the head and broke his right thumb. McTigue managed to fight well enough with one hand until the eleventh round when a barrage of punches left him with a badly gashed left eyebrow. McTigue was rocked by a right in the sixteenth round and nearly knocked out in the last. But despite these brief successes for the champion McTigue had generally looked much the more accomplished boxer and the referee had no hesitation in raising the Irishman's hand at the end. Mike McTigue had become the first Irishman to win a world title on Irish soil and the cheers were heard throughout the city, temporarily drowning out the gunfire that raged on throughout the night.
McTigue enjoyed being world champion. He returned to the United States and used his new status to make money by boxing a succession of ‘no decision’ contests – ten round fights in which the only way he could lose his title was by being knocked out. McTigue managed to hold on to the championship for two years until he agreed to a fifteen round contest in which the referee could render a decision against Paul Berlenbach, an Olympic wrestling gold medallist with an impressive record of knockout wins. McTigue was given a relentless beating and his world championship was gone. He took the loss of his precious title badly. He had made very little money after fifteen years of fighting. But it was the only 'trade' he knew. The former champion began to drink heavily. He planned to take his family back to Ireland and settle there but a chance meeting with well-known boxing manager Jimmy Johnston convinced him to return to the ring. He boxed on with varying degrees of success for another five years until the boxing authorities withdrew his licence in 1930 after he won only one of his last six contests. He was now 38 years old and had been fighting for 21 years. After his enforced retirement Mike ran a successful bar on Long Island until the late 1940s. He then succumbed to poverty and ill health and was confined to various hospitals around New York for the last ten years of his life, unable to even recall that he’d been a world champion. He died at the age of 74on August 12th 1966. Thousands of people turned out in Queen’s, New York to pay their respects.