Irishman Packey won over the fans with his fighting style but met his match against Bombardier Billy Wells

BY ANY stretch of the imagination Packey Mahoney of Cork was a fearsome-looking heavyweight.   He boxed in an era where the majority of heavyweights looked like someone to be avoided at all costs. Jim Jeffries is another good example. The Irish have always had a reputation for fighting, and that came about largely because so many of them had to leave their country during the great famine of the 1840s and they ended up in Great Britain doing all the tough work. Without them, most of the railways couldn’t have been built, for example.

According to Matt Donnellon, in his book The Irish Heavyweight Book Part 1, Packey’s family emigrated to Wales, where Packey was born in Cardiff, in 1883. Shortly thereafter they returned to Cork, and this is where the young lad learnt to fight. Matt describes Mahoney as “one of the bravest fighters ever to come out of Ireland and a retrospective look at his career shows him to have been a top-class heavyweight.” He served in the British army during the Boer War, and he will have been introduced to the noble art while a soldier, I am sure.

By 1910, at the age of 26, he had his first professional contest, beating Sid Barber in a scheduled 15-rounder advertised as being for the heavyweight championship of Munster, with victory coming in the eighth round. The following year Packey picked up the heavyweight championship of his native Cork, beating Bombardier Coates in a 20-round contest at the Cork Opera House, a venue where Packey became a great favourite.  According to BN, “the cheers that greeted the local man’s victory were deafening.” Packey poleaxed his man in the sixth.

He then went on an unbeaten run of 12 contests. He drew in a bout for the Irish heavyweight title in 1912 against Private Delaney of the Leinster Regiment, again at the Opera House, and then he won two contests in England, including one against the American, Young Johnson, and another by knockout in Paris. In October 1912 he was rematched with Johnson, this time back at the Opera House in Cork. Johnson had been around a bit, having fought that great American, Joe Jeannette, in Glasgow just five months previously. In a dull fight, Mahoney again prevailed.

His reward was a 15-rounder against future British heavyweight champion, Joe Beckett, at the National Sporting Club, and Packey grabbed this chance with both hands. According to BN, “Mahoney was always on top until, seeing that he had his man at his mercy, Packey walked in, and, without even troubling to feint, smashed a right to the jaw and Beckett dropped like a log to be counted out.”

After twice defending his Irish heavyweight title in 1913, scoring excellent victories over Private Dan Voyles and Seaman Brown, he was matched against Britain’s leading man at the weight, Bombardier Billy Wells, in a contest for the British title. Inevitably, the bout took place, as it had to, at the National Sporting Club. Wells had lost his last two bouts, both by knockout to world-rated opposition in Gunboat Smith and Georges Carpentier, and he could not afford to lose this one. In our preview, BN described Mahoney’s style as “a fighter, pure and simple, whose one idea is to go right in to his opponent, stick close to him, and batter him down.”

Unfortunately, Packey’s singular lack of boxing skill led to his downfall against Wells. He caught the champion with booming shots quite a few times in the first two rounds but by the third “he was hammered with every variety of punch.  Hooks, jabs, right crosses, uppercuts found his face, his nose and his mouth,” and Mahoney was finally despatched with a volley of hooks. This was his first and only defeat.

Packey never boxed again. He retired to Cork where he became a revered and much-loved figure. He passed away aged 85, in 1968.  

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