James Archibald McLarnin, Irish Canadian professional boxer who became a two-time welterweight world champion and an International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, is born on December 19, 1907, in Hillsborough, County Down. He has been referred to as the greatest Irish boxer of all time. BoxRec ranks him as the 11th best pound-for-pound fighter of all-time, the second best Canadian boxer of all time after Sam Langford, and the third greatest welterweight of all time.
When McLarnin is three years old the family emigrates to Saskatchewan, Canada via Liverpool. The McLarnins start out as a wheat farmers, but years later, following a particularly harsh winter, the family moves to Vancouver where they open a second-hand clothing store in Vancouver’s east end.
McLarnin is prodigious athlete, his main sports are football, baseball and boxing. He takes up boxing at the age of 10 after getting into a fight defending his newspaper-selling pitch. Former professional boxer Charles “Pop” Foster recognizes McLarnin’s talent at the age of 13. He constructs a makeshift gym for McLarnin to train in, sure that he will one day be the champion of the world. The two of them remain close, and when Foster dies, he leaves everything he has to McLarnin.
Following a successful start to his career in Vancouver, McLarnin grows aggrieved at the low pay he is receiving for bouts and decides to move to San Francisco. There his youthful appearance makes it difficult to get a fight until he lies about his age. It is for this reason that McLarnin is known as the “Baby-faced Assassin.” Despite his youthful appearance, McLarnin has incredible power with both fists, his right being particularly feared. Towards the end of his career he is forced to become more of a scientific boxer to reduce further injuries to his hands.
McLarnin loses his first title shot on May 21, 1928 in New York City against world lightweight champion Sammy Mandell. However, he does go on to beat him twice in the following two years. It is five years before McLarnin gets another title shot, during which time he knocks out gifted Jewish contenders Al Singer, Ruby Goldstein, and Sid Terris.
McLarnin’s second title shot comes against welterweight champion Young Corbett III. McLarnin wins by knockout after only 2 minutes 37 seconds. Following his title success, he fights an epic three-fight series with Barney Ross. The first fight, on May 28, 1934, is won by Ross, but McLarnin regains his title in their next match four months later. In the deciding fight on May 28, 1935, McLarnin loses his title for the final time in a narrow decision.
McLarnin retires in November 1936 still at the top of his game, having won his last two fights against all-time greats Tony Canzoneri and Lou Ambers. His record is 54 wins, 11 losses, and 3 draws in 68 contests. He never returns to the ring despite large incentives for him to do so. Unlike many boxers, he invested his money wisely and retires a wealthy man. He opens an electrical goods store, and also does some acting, golfing, and lecturing.
In 1996 The Ring votes McLarnin the fifth-greatest welterweight of all time.