On this day in 1986, Steve Cruz won the WBA featherweight belt from Barry McGuigan in a 15-round thriller. The fight took place outdoors in Las Vegas, during the day-light hours, with ringside temperatures at 110 degrees when the first round began. Despite the brutal conditions, they fought at an astonishing pace, with both men nearly running from their stools to start each round.
Coming less than four years after Duk Koo Kim’s tragic death against Ray Mancini in November of 1982, the McGuigan-Cruz fight was among the last of the 15-round title fights. That final, 15th round proved to be decisive for Cruz, as he dropped McGuigan twice in the frame to secure a narrow points victory, 143-142, 143-139 and 142-141. Without the two knockdown round, Cruz would have dropped a split decision. McGuigan was also docked a point by referee Richard Steele, for a low blow, in Round 12. Without the deduction, the fight would have been a majority draw.
Known as the Clones Cyclone, McGuigan represented both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland during his amateur career. He was an extremely popular fighter in both Britain and Ireland, as well as the United States. He captured the belt from Eusebio Pedroza in June 1985. McGuigan’s father, Pat, was a professional singer and often performed the Irish standard “Danny Boy” before his son’s fight. The week of the Cruz fight, he was booked for a week in Caesar’s Palace.
McGuigan was awarded the MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) and remains a popular television commentator and boxing columnist in the United Kingdom.
The fight with Cruz was McGuigan’s third defense. Cruz was a late replacement for Fernando Sosa and was relatively unknown heading into the bout. At the time, he was ranked No. 9 by the WBA and was a 5-1 underdog.
Cruz’s win over McGuigan was named Fight of the Year for 1986 by Ring Magazine.
Cruz would drop the title in his first defense, by Round 12 TKO to hard-hitting Antonio Esparragoza. In 1989, Cruz beat future world champion Tracy Patterson, the adopted son of heavyweight legend Floyd Patterson. Cruz would make a last bid to earn a world title in November of 1989, losing to IBF champion Jorge Paez.