Boxing

Extraordinary Extract Reveals How Vince McMahon Helped An Irish Boxer Get His Big Chance

Extraordinary Extract Reveals How Vince McMahon Helped An Irish Boxer Get His Big Chance

One of the nation's most gifted boxers in history is the subject of an extraordinary new biography, The Man Who Was Never Knocked Down; The Life Of Sean Mannion, by Rónán Mac Con Iomaire.

The book is the astonishing story of an Irish boxer from Connemara who took Boston by storm and ended up challenging Mike ‘The Bodysnatcher’ McCallum for the vacant world light middleweight title at Madison Square Garden in 1984.

It is a gripping and articulate deep dive into Mannion's career which encapsulates the considerable standing he commanded within boxing circles. Mannion's list of fans is truly remarkable; Angelo Dundee, Micky Ward, Marvin Hagler. Just some of the key names to praise the Irishman over the course of the book.

However, Mannion's title shot may not have come at had he not beaten Danny "Thunderhand" Chapman in controversial circumstances. Having just missed out on a fight against renowned middleweight Roberto Duran, Mannion fought at Cape Cod Coliseum on the same card as Dicky Eklund, brother of Micky Ward.

Mannion was dominant until he got caught by a huge body shot. Promoting the fight was Titan Sports founder, Vince McMahon Jr. He would later rename his company WWE.

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Mac Con Iomaire's account of what happened next is truly incredible.

Suddenly, in the tenth round, Danny Chapman caught Seán with a punch to the ribs. Bang. The legs almost buckled under Mannion. Thunderhand had just struck.

Chapman’s fist broke two of Mannion’s ribs and left him with a 60% collapsed lung.
“I’d never been in pain like that in the ring before,” Seán said.

Mannion was in trouble. He couldn’t breathe. He dropped his left arm to protect the ribs and lung, leaving the rest of his body open to attack. Chapman kept up the attack and Mannion could barely stand, let alone fend him off. The dream was as good as over. His shot at the world title blown away by a stray punch from a New York boxer no one had ever heard of. In the audience, fearing for her son, tears rolled down Teresa Mannion’s cheeks.

That’s when the Cape Cod Coliseum dropped into darkness.

“Whoa, the lights have gone out, folks,” said the ESPN’s Al Bernstein. “Well fans, in the tenth round somebody pulled the plug.”

Across America, fight fans stared at a black screen. The referee steered the boxers to their corners, Seán stumbling back, still barely able to draw a breath. The doctor came to his corner, fixing him up temporarily with a painkiller. After 20 minutes of darkness and recuperation for Mannion, the lights came back on.

What was behind “The Night The Lights Went Out” as renowned boxing writer, George Kimball, called it? After the fight, the rumour started that Paddy Mannion had turned off the lights in order to save his brother.

“It wasn’t Paddy,” said Peter Kerr. “He was beside me all night in the corner.”
George Kimball wrote that it was Mannion’s Irish fans that cut the power in order to give their hero an opportunity to recover.

“Definitely not,” insisted Seán. “I used to spar regularly down at the Cape Cod Coliseum and I didn’t know where the plug was, let alone the guys who had just arrived down for the night.”
Mannion himself was of the view that lightning saved him from Thunderhand Chapman.
“There was definitely thunder in the air that night,” he said.

ESPN’s Al Bernstein disputed this theory in his memoir, Al Bernstein: 30 Years, 30 Undeniable Truths About Boxing, Sports, and TV.

“Chapman’s manager/trainer Bob Miller smelled a rat. The timing of the blackout was, well, let’s say too perfect. The conflicting answer about the blackout suggested that it might have been caused by ingenuity, not electrical failure. Wouldn’t you know, we found out days later that there was no power outage reported in that area that night, so somehow the lights had gone out only in the arena. Curious.”

Seán’s lawyer, Tony Cardinale, had the closest thing to a plausible explanation. Cardinale had spent the night sitting beside Vince McMahon Jr., the owner of the Cape Cod Coliseum.

“Vince and I were sitting there and Seán was winning the fight early on,” said Cardinale. “All of a sudden, this kid hits Seán a body punch from a very weird angle and from where we were sitting, it looked like he broke a rib or pinched a lung because all of a sudden, Seán couldn’t breathe. It really looked bad.”

Cardinale knew that if the referee stopped the fight that Seán’s shot at the world title would vanish. “I’m watching what’s going on and it’s getting scary. I’m afraid that the referee might jump in and stop the fight because he can’t breathe when all of a sudden, the lights go out. I look to my right and Vince wasn’t there. I’m not saying anything happened but he wasn’t there anymore!

“When the lights came back, Vince came walking back over and resumed his seat. The fight restarted and Seán got through.”

Despite the pain, Seán continued to box after the lights came back on and was awarded a split decision win by the judges. Some of the audience, convinced of a Chapman win, received the decision by whistling and throwing cups of beer into the ring.

Mannion didn’t agree with any perception of injustice. “I won it, if just about.”

Seán Mannion was once ranked the #1 US light middleweight boxer and in 1984 he fought Mike McCallum for the world title, only to fall just short of his dreams. Featuring exclusive interviews with Mannion, this book provides an inside perspective on his boxing career, 1980s Boston, and his present search for purpose outside the ring.

The Man Who Was Never Knocked Down: The Life of Boxer Seán Mannion is available here or in all good bookstores. 

SEE ALSO: 'The Whole Province Is Very Supportive' - Leinster's Reardon Continues Boxing Rise

Maurice Brosnan

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