On this day in 1934, and again in 1935, Barney Ross and Jimmy McLarnin went to war over the welterweight championship of the world. These were the book-end fights on one of boxing’s greatest Trilogies.
McLarnin and Ross were two of the greatest boxing stars of the 1930s. Ross is easily top-five all time at welterweight and McLarnin is arguably top five and definitely top 10. Their three-fight, 365-day rivalry created huge box office during the height of the Great Depression.
This is an era when boxing was was the top professional sport in the Western world and New York City was the Capital. Ross and McLarnin were revered champions to diehard ethnic bases, along with Tony Canzoneri, who represented a third king to stand alongside McLarnin and Ross at welterweight during their era.
Known as “Baby Face” and “The Belfast Spider,” McLarnin had started his career as a 4’11” flyweight, before growing to 5’6” and a 145 pounds. He came up in the sport the hard way, like everybody did in those days. In 1932 he stopped a paunchy and far-past his prime Benny Leonard in 10 rounds, when the legendary lightweight was forced to make a come back after losing much of his wealth in the stock market crash of 1929.
McLarnin had claimed the welterweight championship by defeating Young Corbett III. Ross was his first defense, taking his fresh belt by split decision.
Ross was the world champion at light welterweight, a title he had won and defended against Canzoneri.
McLarnin won his title back by split decision later in the year. The rubber match, a year to the day following the first bout, went to Ross by unanimous decision, giving him back the title, which he would lose in 1938 to the amazing force of nature known as Henry Armstrong. McLarnin would split two fights with Canzoneri and beat Lou Ambers before hanging up his gloves in 1936.
Neither McLarnin nor Ross were big knockout punchers, but they could both hang in the pocket and trade shots. Their 45 rounds together produced dramatic swings in momentum and strong rallies for both men. There was widespread debate over who should have won each of their three fights together.
In his 100 Greatest Boxers of All Time, published in 1984, Burt Sugar ranks Ross No. 14 pound-for-pound, all time. He has McLarnin at 22.