The Sporting Goods | Chicago's forgotten boxing champ
Despite a chill in the September darkness nearing midnight, two fighters and excited boxing fans gathered under a tent erected in a picnic grove in suburban Lemont. Kerosene lamps offered dim lighting. The crowd was warned against being too loud, because the event was not officially lawful and could be stopped if police were drawn to the noise. Instead of padded gloves, Chicagoan Jimmy “Little Tiger” Barry and Casper “The Sicilian Swordfish” Leon from Sicily by way of New York wore skintight mitts. The contest raged beyond 27 rounds and, according to one report, Barry was carried to his corner at the end of each round and wrapped in a blanket against the cold before the gong sounded for the bout to resume. The year was 1894.
History enlarges some reputations and swallows up others. Jimmy Barry’s falls into that second category but deserves to be in the first. Here’s why. A boxer never losing a fight is as hard to believe as a ballplayer batting .400 for his entire career. But while a lifetime .400 hitter is the stuff of fiction, Barry the “Little Tiger” retired unbeaten after 70 fights. He is a rarity among inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Among the hundreds of world champions in history, only nine made it through their careers without a loss. And Barry fought more often than any of them, Ricardo Lopez being the closest with 51 victories and one draw. Some records show Barry fighting more than 70 bouts. None show him ever losing.
For more of this story and other Chicago sports essays, visit chicagosidesports.com.