Other boxers have won more, Muhammad Ali is a cultural icon who transcends the sport, but what Barry McGuigan did in 1980s Northern Ireland is perhaps the ultimate example of a regular lad made good.
As the Troubles raged, McGuigan did what no politician could – stop the fighting between Protestants and Catholics. At a time when bombings from both sides were commonplace across the United Kingdom, the Catholic McGuigan married Sandra Mealiff, from a Protestant family, and by not wearing the trappings of either side – particularly the green and gold a Catholic fighter from Northern Ireland may traditionally wear – the featherweight earned respect and an enormous fanbase from both sides. His heady nights a King’s Hall, Belfast brought solace and escapism.
“The shadows ran deep,” he later recalled. “And my fights felt a little like sunshine. Both sides would say: ‘Leave the fighting to McGuigan. You see, it was also entertainment – people loved to forget the Troubles a while.’”
After winning the WBA world featherweight title in June 1985, his BBC Sports Personality of the Year award was inevitable. Uniting a divided country, even if for 12 brief rounds, far less so.