HE WAS centre stage for four world title fights at Madison Square Garden, shared a ring with ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard and was close friends with Ernest Hemingway – but few boxing fans in Donegal will be aware of the tale of Jimmy Devlin.
A native of Clonmany, Devlin, like many of his era, headed for London as a 17-year-old before moving to New York in 1937.
Picture: Referee Jimmy Devlin counting over Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, who had just been knocked out by lightweight champion Carlos Ortiz at Madison Square Garden in 1966
He arrived in the Big Apple with Tommy Farr, who made an unsuccessful bid for Joe Louis’ world heavyweight title.
Devlin – who was believed to have a 14-2-1 record in England as a boxer – was well adept in the ways of the sweet science.
At George Brown’s Gym, on New York’s West 57th Street, where Devlin was an instructor, Ernest Hemingway was among those who frequented.
The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 – both for his novel The Old Man and the Sea – Hemingway was known as a ‘robust, bearded 200-pounder’ who boxed barefooted.
Hemingway trained three or four times a week with Devlin from 1939 until the gym’s closure in 1956.
Speaking to New York-based sports writer Lester Bromber, Devlin said of Hemingway: “He loved to hit and kept coming at you out of a bob and a weave.
“His favourite punch was a tight hand to the body, a three-quarters hook. He nailed me under the heart with it every now and then and I tell you it hurt.”
Devlin recalled Hemingway as being ‘as hard as a rock and he had fantastic endurance’.
Hemingway’s exercise routine included 200 leg-ups on a tale and punching a heavy bag.
Bromber wrote: ‘Of all the professional fighters Hemingway felt closest to Rocky Marciano. Because that was the way he saw boxing – a hit-and-get-hit game with guts and condition the thing that counted.’
Hemingway gave Devlin $20 every time they boxed and every Christmas he left a note in an envelope.
His own boxing career came to a close in 1941, but Devlin stayed involved and he became a professional referee in the early 1950s.
His world was only just beginning.
In June 1963, Devlin took charge of his first world title fight. Emile Griffith beat Luis Rodroguez on a split decision after 15 rounds, Devlin scoring the bout 9-6 in Griffith’s favour.
The above is an extract from the new book Donegal Boxing: A History, which is available to order now. Written by Donegal Daily/Donegal Sport Hub Sports Editor, Chris McNulty, Donegal Boxing: A History charts the history of the sport in the county and, for the first time ever, includes a full list of Donegal’s champions. Books cost €20 +p&p and are available to order from www.donegalboxinghistory.comTags: