Packey McFarland may well be the greatest boxer never to contest a world title fight.
The Chicago man fought as a lightweight and welterweight between 1904 and 1915. Over the course of his career, he compiled an official record of 70 wins and five draws.
He fought during a period that judging was not used for many bouts and if they went the distance, no outcome was announced. ‘Newspaper decisions’ were unofficially used to decide outcomes. Based on this, McFarland compiled a record of 106 wins, 6 draws and one solitary defeat.
The defeat was in his ninth bout and he was never beaten again over the course of an 11-year career. Despite this dominant record, he never once challenged for world honours.
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Born on November 1 1888, McFarland gained experience scrapping in Chicago stockyards. After knocking out a work colleague in an arranged fight during a lunchbreak, he decided it could be a good way to make money.
He turned professional at 16 and initially fought on handball courts in the Irish areas of Chicago. It was on these courts in his first year as a pro that he suffered his sole defeat. His opponent was the relatively unknown boxer, Dusty Miller. While it is officially listed as a newspaper decision loss, it is rumoured that the young American was knocked out. Miller never tasted victory again, McFarland never tasted defeat.
McFarland was considered to be a crowd-pleasing brawler in his early days, stopping 36 of his first 37 opponents before adopting a more skilful approach. Speed was his forte and he allegedly grew a disliking for knocking people out, far preferring to use his ring craft to win by decision. He also made this decision based on the belief it would extend his career. However, he was no saint, he once punched a referee and a cornerman when disagreeing with a draw announcement.
Despite building a stellar record, McFarland was often ignored for title shots. He had targeted a fight with the lightweight champion of the time, Battling Nelson. They nearly came to blows outside a hotel in New York in 1908, Nelson’s lack of interest in fighting McFarland leaving the man from Illinois seething.
His repeated failure to receive title shots was also not helped by the fact that his natural weight limit was between lightweight and welterweight. When attempting to make weight at lightweight he often found it beyond him, three fights with Ad Wolgast fell through for this reason. He instead spent his career beating the best talent from both divisions. How he would have loved to have fought at light-welterweight, a weight division introduced 50 years too late for McFarland.
He compiled a 104-fight unbeaten streak following his sole defeat, including victories over various leading contenders and future world champions. He shot to fame with an incredibly one-sided pounding of former lightweight champion, Jimmy Britt. Another of his many notable opponents was Britain’s Freddie Welsh.
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McFarland beat Welsh in 1908 before drawing with the Welshman over 25 rounds that same year. They also fought to a draw in London two years later. The second fight with Welsh was considered by one reporter as ‘one of the fastest lightweight scraps ever witnessed’. Presumably, this was a testament to the skills displayed by the boxers as opposed to the fact that the fight lasted over an hour and a half. It is widely regarded that McFarland deserved the nod in all three fights.
Despite never winning that illustrious world title, McFarland’s life was an extremely successful one. He invested his relatively modest ring earnings into oil and real estate. As a result, on his retirement in 1915, he was worth $300,000. This is reportedly worth close to $8,000,000 today. He then went on to become a director of two banks.
On his death in 1936, he was described in the United Press as the ‘uncrowned lightweight champion’ and was subsequently elected into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. His boxing skills were of a level that meant he received minimal damage in the ring. In fact, when he finally received his first black eye due to a punch, he was eight years into his professional career. It caused an absolute sensation among onlookers; McFarland was that good.
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