9. Owen Moran
A Brummie on our list! Owen Moran may have been a thoroughly nasty bit of work, but, boy, could he fight.
Three times he attempted to gain the title, three times he was unjustly denied.
Owen, with a temper to match his mop head of red hair, was born to brawl – and the violence was not confined to the ring.
He was not a nice individual. In drink, he was positively psychotic. Esteemed sports writer James Butler wrote of the 5ft 3ins dynamo: “Nature was pretty generous to Owen Moran, giving him most of the treasured gifts a man can have… everything barring one important asset – a sense of humour.
“To pull his leg was risking a challenge to a duel, for the little man from Birmingham would just as soon hit you on the chin as look at you if he thought you were trying to crack a joke at his expense.
“And he wasn’t interested whether you stood eye-to-eye or whether you were 6ft 3ins and 14 stone.”
Moran’s five years in America – from 1908 to 1913 – were littered with street altercations and he took particular pride in picking on New York cops. In fact, he decked a porter minutes after arriving in America.
While weighing in for one bout, he spied a rival on the street and – naked except for a bathrobe round his waist – stormed outside to swap blows.
His brawl with fight manager Jimmy Johnson, a rough, tough product of New York’s East Side, has become part of the sport’s folklore through its sheer violence.
The pair butted, bit and gouged each other in a Los Angeles’ hotel lobby until Johnson was pulled off the prone Brit. Moran was treated in hospital for a broken jaw, concussion, fractured hand, lacerated eyes and ripped ears.
On that occasion, Moran had seen red after being labelled a ‘Limey’.
That was Moran: a man weighed down by grudges, but a magnificent fighting machine. Ask him to play Buttons in a panto and you’d feel the might of his left hook.
During a brutal era, Moran was one of boxing’s most brutal exponents.
His record is littered with disqualification defeats. Tommy McCarthy died of injuries sustained during his 16th round San Francisco defeat to the frenzied fighter.
He was a product of Harry Cullis’ boxing booth and was fighting 20 rounders by the age of 16.
Moran was desperately unlucky not to lift the world featherweight title from Abe Attell, drawing both bouts – over 23 and 25 rounds – in 1908.
His greatest moment came on November 26, 1910, when he ground down former lightweight champ Battling Nelson, dubbed the Durable Dane because of his iron chin, in San Francisco. Nelson dropped like a log from a mighty right swing in the 11th round.
Seven months later he faced current champ Ad Wolgast, who shared Moran’s taste for violence, for the title.
In an X rated affair, Moran was felled by a body shot in the 13th round. He claimed until his dying day that the shot was ‘low’ and probably had a point.
Wolgast was a notoriously dirty fighter and pictures still exist of the Birmingham lad clutching his groin in agony as the American stands threateningly over him.
Moran was never the same after that blood-spattered contest. He continued to ply his trade until 1916, but the menace had long gone. He hung-up his gloves for good after being slung out for foul tactics against Billy Marchant.
He died, with little to show for the numerous ring wars, in March 1949, in Whitechapel.