Black and white photo of shirtless Jack McAuliffe, lightweight world boxing champion in boxing tights with white sash, in right profile boxing pose.; McAuliffe was an American World Lightweight Boxing Champion in the late 1800s and completed his professional boxing career prior to 1915. Credit: Wikimedia

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The Irish immigrants who poured into the U.S. in the 19th century seeking a better life certainly made their impact on the nation, and on cities such as Bangor, which saw thousands of Irish people move to town between the 1840s and 1870s.

While names like Geaghan and McLaughlin are well-known today in Bangor, and people like Bangor native John McKernan made their mark in politics, there’s a lesser-known Irish name from Bangor that made a huge impact on the sports world in the late 19th century: Jack McAuliffe, who in 1886 became the first-ever World Lightweight Boxing champion.

He held onto that title for 10 years before retiring from the ring without a single loss, a feat that only 14 other male boxers, including Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Rocky Marciano, have accomplished, according to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

McAuliffe was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1866. In 1871, his family immigrated to the U.S., landing in Bangor, where he would spend his childhood and early teens before moving to New York as a teenager.

According to a profile of McAuliffe published in the Bangor Daily News in 1944, McAuliffe and his family lived in a “rough, tough neighborhood along the waterfront,” likely the Hancock Street area where many of Bangor’s Irish immigrants settled. The article noted that McAuliffe, who lived in Bangor between the ages of 5 and 14, may have picked up some of his early fighting chops in the brawling, boozing streets of boomtown Bangor, where sailors and lumbermen alike would get drunk and fight.

Sometime around 1880, McAuliffe and his family moved from Bangor to Brooklyn, New York, settling in Williamsburg. It was there McAuliffe fell under the tutelage of Jack “Nonpareil” Dempsey, a fellow Irish immigrant who was also the first-ever World Middleweight Champion. In fact, McAuliffe, Dempsey and fellow Irishman John L. Sullivan were known in the 1880s and 90s as boxing’s “three Jacks,” as all three were Irish and were close friends.

McAuliffe fought his first professional bout in 1884, fighting Jem Carney in 78 rounds to a draw in Revere Beach, Massachusetts. According to an obituary published by the New York Times, two years after making his pro debut, McAuliffe in 1886 knocked out Jack Hopper and won the title of World Lightweight Champion. Over the next 10 years, he fought a total of 38 professional fights without a single loss — 19 knockouts, seven decisions, 11 draws and one disqualification.

In 1894, to get away from the New York City boxing world, he and his then-wife, actress Catherine Rowe, moved back to Bangor for a year to train for a big fight against Young Griffo, one of the most acclaimed boxers of the late 19th century.

McAuliffe’s last pro fight was in 1896, against Kid Lavigne, after which he retired. In his retirement, McAuliffe devoted his time to two things: gambling, and a second career delivering humorous monologues about his sporting life.

According to a 1908 BDN article, he was devoted to his mother, Jane, who lived in Bath and whom he doted on. He was also apparently known all over the country as a flashy dresser, and was referred to in the BDN as a “Beau Brummell” — a dandy. He came back to Maine regularly, to visit family and to perform his stage show, including a 1923 appearance at the Bijou Theatre on Exchange Street in Bangor. The BDN called him a “celebrated boxer, wit, philosopher, turfman and delightful storyteller.”

McAuliffe lived the rest of his years in Queens, New York, where he once ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the New York State Assembly. During World War I, he joined the Knights of Columbus as a secretary, working with American expeditionary troops on the battlefront. He died on Nov. 5, 1937, at his home in Queens.

McAuliffe wasn’t the only notable fighter from Bangor, though he was certainly the most decorated. Michael Daley was also from Bangor, and vied for the Lightweight championship with McAuliffe in 1893, though he clearly lost. Daley’s career ended in 1903 when he and another boxer robbed a man in a Bangor hotel, and he went to prison for two years.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Bangor native Marcus Davis — another Irishman, dubbed the “Irish Hand Grenade” by the press — started his career as a boxer before entering the cage in 2003 as a professional mixed martial artist. He had 17 boxing wins and 22 MMA wins over the course of his more than 20-year career, before retiring in 2014.

And, of course, Dana White, a 1987 Hermon High School graduate, is now the president of Ultimate Fighting Championship, the largest mixed martial arts organization in the world.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.