FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPION OF COLORADO (1895-98)
Billy Irwin’s featherweight years were from 1894 to 1898. Prior to these years he had been known as a prize fighter only locally and quite often clandestinely in the Leadville area. However between the years 1894 and 1900 his notoriety as a featherweight, bantamweight and a lightweight prize fighter had expanded not only beyond Leadville and the state of Colorado but also even nationally via such publications as the National Police Gazette. The National Police Gazette was published weekly in New York. It was the leading sports journal in America and it served to keep all of America’s boxing enthusiasts informed on all matters pertaining to the sport of boxing.
Billy Irwin claimed the Featherweight Championship of Colorado successfully against all “willing” comers between the years 1895 and 1898. The story of his featherweight years begins early in 1894 following his return to Leadville after working in the copper mines of Butte, Montana. Following here is the full account of Billy Irwin’s featherweight championship years.
Billy’s return from the Butte copper mines to Leadville’s mines was with less enthusiasm than before and now he was determined to pick himself up out of the mines by his “other profession”…prize fighting! By February of 1894 a prize fighting opportunity presented itself to Billy in the person of “The Montana Kid” who was also known as Dave Reese. Dave Reese was not only well known throughout the west but he was also well known nationally. According to BoxRec.com (see Author’s Note in paragraph below) in 1890 he was rated as the 15th best lightweight in the United States. Between 1890 and 1891 Reese had fought four matches with Bobby Dobbs who, according to BoxRec.com, was rated as the fourth best lightweight in the United States in 1892. In these four matches
Reese fought two draws and two wins against Dobbs. Another nationally known boxer Dave Reese fought was Tommy Hogan. According to BoxRec.com Tommy Hogan, in 1895, was the tenth best lightweight in the United States and Dave Reese knocked him out in round twenty seven in Rock Springs, Wyoming in 1892. So now Dave Reese was in Leadville and he was challenging Billy Irwin to fight and Billy accepted.
Author’s Note: All BoxRec.com data cited in this Featherweight essay was retrieved from the BoxRec.com website as it was displayed in 2014. Also to be more specific (2014 website) collected data was Googled from:
Box Rec’s Annual Ratings - Featherweight Annuals-Box Rec (1890s)
“ “ “ “ - Bantamweight “ “ “ (1890s)
“ “ “ “ - Lightweight “ “ “ (1890s)
Additional data Googled:
Scrapbook section of this booklet listing top 15 boxers in U.S.A. during 1890’s
It seemed that Billy Irwin may have had his hands full when he accepted the Montana Kid’s challenge. But hands full or not the match was booked to take place on April 7th. The Leadville Daily Chronicle dated March 7, 1894 reported the unfolding events as follows: “Leadville people are promised a glove contest in the near future. This match was arranged yesterday between Dave Reese, better known as the “Montana Kid” and William Irwin. Both the parties are well known in sporting circles and, as they are very evenly matched a good contest is looked for. The fight is booked for Saturday night, April 7 and is to be to a finish for a purse of $300 and the gate receipts, the latter to be divided at 75 and 25 per cent. Irwin is 23 years of age and Reese is 27, and a forfeit of $25 has been deposited to weigh in on the day of the fight at 122 pounds, give or take two pounds. Both men have the reputation of being very clever, and, while Irwin has not been seen in the ring here, it is stated that he has a very good record. Dave Reese is known for his clever all-around work and his staying qualities, and nearly everyone will remember his last fight here with Kellogg, when he remained in the ring forty-three rounds, despite the fact that his wrist was broken and he was unable to land any blows in the latter part of the fight. Both the men have gone into active training. Reese is being looked after by Joe Showers, while Dell Copeland is training Irwin.”
In addition to the above quoted financial arrangements Reese desired a substantial side bet, hoping to increase his winnings, if victorious, to which Billy complied in order to ensure that the match would take place. To put things into perspective it must be noted that a miner’s wages per month at this time (six-day work week and ten hours per day was $3.00 per day) which totaled to $75.00 per month. It must also be noted that a $300.00 purse plus 75% of the gate receipts (estimated to be about $375.00) plus a side bet of a couple of hundred dollars plus a forfeit of $25.00 totaled $900.00. For Billy Irwin $900.00 represented about one year of hard toil in the bowels of Leadville’s silver mines. Nevertheless, Billy quit his mining job and went full time into training.
Regarding the article of March 7, 1894 just quoted it was stated that “they are equally matched” …both men have the reputation of being very clever…and it is stated he (Billy Irwin) has a very good record.” Unfortunately, to date, this “very good record” of Billy Irwin’s has yet to be found causing his boxing record sketch to only begin in 1892. By March 14th Billy had already completed one week of training when he was told that Sheriff Leslie of Leadville had, according to the Leadville Daily Chronicle dated March 14, 1894: “Put his foot down on the proposed fight between Reese and Irwin.” He further stated: “on no condition whatsoever will I allow the fight to take place in Lake county…I have notified the parties concerned in the affair to that effect and I don’t intend to change my mind. I am a believer in manly and legitimate sport and will always do all I can to help it along. However, when it comes to prize fighting I draw the line. It is strictly against the law to engage in prize fighting and I intend to allow none of it under my administration.” So there Billy was in the same old situation that had managed to stifle his to-date boxing career.
Just when all seemed lost however the Irwin-Reese match was revived as per the following quote from the Leadville Daily Chronicle dated March 14, 1894: “Joe Showers who is training the Montana Kid stated to a reporter that considerable money has already been expended in preparing for the fight and although it would be very inconvenient to go out of the county to pull off the contest, such was the present intention.” And “both men will continue in training and while the fight will probably be postponed until later in April than first announced, it is very likely to occur during the month either in Eagle or Chaffee counties.”
Thus as of March 14th the match, though delayed and to be relocated, was to come off outside of Leadville and Lake County. But soon thereafter, to Billy’s disappointment again, the rescheduled match was abruptly terminated!
In an undated article (mid-March 1894) from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook an explanation of the abrupt termination of this match can be gleaned from the following article titled “Unfortunate Pug” and written here in its entirety: “The Montana Kid, a journeyman pug who blew into Leadville a few weeks ago has gone away suddenly, leaving his benefactors in no pleasant frame of mind. The ‘Kid’ came here to arrange a fight with some of the street corner element, but found, before the fighting papers were signed up that the wrong kind of material was pitted against him. The lad expected to match him was Billy Irwin, son of Mr. John Irwin of this city. Billy is not very well known here but he has been in the prize ring often enough to be well acquainted with it and responded readily to the challenge made by the ‘Kid’. When Sheriff Leslie put a damper on the fight coming off in this county, arrangements were made to have it come off in Red Cliff. The ‘Kid’ went into training for the event, and his backers became interested. Billy Irwin wanted to bet $100.00 more on the fight and that same suggestion was given to the rambler (Reese). The money, $100.00 taken down after Sheriff Leslie’s veto, had not been put up again for the Red Cliff date, but was to have been deposited last Friday. Before that time arrived, however it seems the backers of the ‘Kid’ lost confidence in him and when Friday came around he did not come up. He is now in Cripple Creek. He took nothing with him from this city but a week’s training and the bad wishes of his backers.”
A year later Billy Irwin was negotiating a match with the “Denver Iron Boy” (Fred Ross) and the Leadville Daily Chronicle, in its March 8, 1895 issue, had this to say about the Irwin-Montana Kid aborted match of 1894: “Irwin will be remembered as the local boy who was matched with Dave Reese, the ‘Montana Kid’ a year ago. Irwin quit his job and went to considerable expense of training in order to be in condition to meet the ‘Kid.’ He gave away weight and experience and made the side bet to suit Reese so that he would be sure of the match. After training assiduously for three weeks the sheriff issued his ultimatum that there would be no prize fighting in Lake County. After a lull of a few days arrangements were perfected to go outside of the county. Then the ‘Kid’ (Reese) becoming scared either of the job before him or else because of his dislike to the rigorous course of training, concluded to skip the town leaving no explanation whatever for Irwin. Not liking the turn of affairs, Billy journeyed to Cripple Creek and made a match with Bill Pool, an eastern light-weight.”
So, ended Billy Irwin’s near encounter with Dave Reese…” The Montana Kid” in 1894. It was a terrible disappointment to Billy as a win or even draw over such a nationally known boxer as the Montana Kid would have been a big boost to his fledgling career. To be more specific about Montana Kid’s national notoriety, according to the Salt Lake City Herald newspaper article dated August 16, 1890 Reese was stated to be the “champion on Colorado.” The same article stated that Reese had fought an 8-round draw with Bobby Dobbs and on January 13, 1891 in a rematch with Dobbs, Reese was the winner. To get an idea of Bobby Dobbs’ fistic merits see BoxRec.com and the 208 matches that Dobbs fought. More on Bobby Dobbs can be gleaned/googled from Cyber Boxing Zone (Robert “Bobbie” Dobbs).
Although the Montana Kid match literally “blew up in his face” Billy Irwin was nevertheless undaunted and vowed not to let his three weeks of training go for naught. So he continued to train and planned to journey to Cripple Creek in order to match with any boxer game enough to accept his challenge. After all Cripple Creek was a booming but rather lawless town which condoned prize fighting unlike Leadville and many other municipalities and counties throughout Colorado. Whether Billy left for Cripple Creek immediately (late March 1894) or whether he went in April or even May is not known. It seems probable that he made several trips there between March, April or even early May in order to seek out, negotiate and make all of the arrangements necessary for any anticipated match. This took considerable determination on Billy’s part since Cripple Creek had no through train service so he had to go from Leadville to train tracks end and thereafter complete his journey by stagecoach as follows:
Getting to and from Cripple Creek in the early 1890s was a matter of great determination. Many quite simply spent the last leg of their journey there on horseback, mules or just walked. As mining activity grew however stagecoach routes were developed which transported goods, ore and passengers up the winding canyons that led to Cripple Creek’s gold fields. By early 1894 there were three railroads vying to service the area but progress was slow and indefinite as a result of gravel slides, cave-ins and winter blizzards howling through the passes and canyons piling up high drifts where rails were to be laid. Thus track’s end and the stagecoach transfer point were in a constant state of flux. No attempt was made to put up stations along the way so boxcars on side tracks served as ticket offices instead. Such was the situation of travel to and from Cripple Creek in early 1894.
When Billy Irwin left Leadville in search of a boxing match in Cripple Creek he probably took the Colorado Midland and went as far as track’s end at Florissant or Divide or someplace in between. From the stage transfer point at track’s end the stagecoach journey to Cripple Creek was about twenty or twenty three miles via the old stagecoach route going by or through Midland and Gillett. For Billy what a ride those twenty or so miles by stagecoach must have been! The route afforded breathtaking scenery through canyons and its serpentine course around so many mountain peaks and through so many canyons and gulches and finally into the gold camp must have been a terror for the passengers.
An eyewitness account by a stage passenger journeying to Cripple Creek paints a vivid picture of Billy Irwin’s own journey(s) there: “It was great amusement to listen to the lively yelps and curses of the drivers standing up in their seats, yelling like savages and cracking their whips with many passengers inside and on top yelling at the top of their voices as the big coaches were swinging down Bennett Avenue with the sixes (horses) a gallopin and sweatin while folks in the street were a cheerin and waving their hats while scramblin fit to kill to get out of the way.”Thus having completed his arduous journey from Leadville to Cripple Creek Billy was now ready to look for and negotiate a match with any worthy adversary(s) in Cripple Creek which at the time was literally a “war zone.” A thumbnail chronology (March-June 1894) describing the “war zone” that Billy Irwin experienced in his quest to make a boxing match in Cripple Creek follows here:
March 1st: Every smelter in Colorado closed or running part time.
March 14th: Strike breakers brought in.
March 16th: Armed miners captured six sheriff deputies in route to Victor mines…shots fired…sheriff wired governor requesting militia intervention.
March 18th: Three hundred state troops dispatched to area.
March 20th: State militia leaves…sheriff arrests miners…outburst of violence (stone throwing, fights between union workers and scabs)…stores broken into with guns and ammo stolen.
May 1st: Attempts made to end strike…negotiations break down…mine owners ask sheriff to protect scabs…sheriff refused…mine owners begin to recruit their own scab protectors from ex-police and firemen from Denver…Thereafter miners arm themselves and hire a former U. S. Army officer ( J .J. Johnson) to take over on top of Bull Hill…builds fortifications there…begins to put miners through military style drills.
May 24th: Miners seized mine on Battle Mountain which overlooks Cripple Creek suburb (Victor).
May 25th: 125 deputies arrive and set up camp at base of union stronghold atop Bull Hill…deputies march on union camp…miners blow up shaft house and steam boilers showering deputies with shrapnel…deputies flee to train station…miners celebrate…miners load a flatcar with dynamite and attempt to roll it to deputies camp…miners steal a steam train and steam into Cripple Creek suburb (Victor) and gun battle breaks out between miners and deputies…men on each side captured, wounded, died…later a formal prisoner exchange…saloons closed.
May 26th: Mine owners agree with sheriff to hire 1,200 additional deputies and establish a camp for them in town of Divide (12 miles from Cripple Creek.)
May 27th: Colorado Governor Waite orders miners stronghold on Bull Hill and mine owners para-militaries to disband…Governor Waite declares 1200 deputy force to be illegal and orders his state militia to be on alert for possible deputies move on Cripple Creek.
May 28th: Governor Waite visits miners and union leaders and they authorize him to negotiate on their behalf.
May 30th: Union leader (Calderwood) and Governor Waite almost lynched by anti-union mob and they escape into Governor Waite’s train.
June 2nd: Union and mine owners reach agreement ($3.00 per day for a 8 hour day as was the workday before the mine owners demanded $3.00 per day for 10 hour day).
June 5th: 1300 mine owner deputies still in Cripple Creek move to storm miners encampment atop Bull Hill…they proceed to cut telephone and telegraph wires and imprison a number of news reporters…Colorado Governor Waite redeploys state militia to scene.
June 6th: Colorado state troops arrive back in Cripple Creek…mine owners deputies exchange gun fire with miners…miners sound whistle at Victor mine…miners allow Colorado state troops to occupy their encampment atop Bull Hill…mine owner deputies turn on town of Cripple Creek and arrest and imprison hundreds of pro-union citizens by seizing them in the streets and pulling them from their homes while clubbing, kicking and beating them…mine owner deputies form a gauntlet and force townspeople to pass through while spitting, slapping and kicking them…General Brooks of Colorado militia threatens to declare martial law in Cripple Creek.
June 11, 1894: Mine owners deputies disperse and miners went back to work.
Whether or not Billy Irwin was roughed up by the mine owner thugs is not known. Whether or not he participated in any of the just mentioned encounters is also not known. But suffice it to say that as a pro-union miner himself he definitely was on the side of the miners union with their cause against the mine owners. So Billy was in a perilous position being there while trying to negotiate a prize fight. Such was the plight of a “mining camp” prize fighter in Colorado of 1894.
Ultimately Billy Irwin was successful in arranging a match in Cripple Creek. Although the exact date is not presently known it undoubtedly took place during Cripple Creek’s “labor war” of March-June 1894. The name of his opponent was Billy Poole who, according to a newspaper clip from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook: “had the advantage of Irwin in weight, reach and ring experience.” To Billy, at this time, this made no difference as he was on a “mission” to get his professional prize fighting career started. Billy knew he would have his hands full with Poole. He had heard that Poole had, just a year and several months earlier, fought a 60 round draw match with Joe Drew, champion featherweight of Arkansas, as confirmed by an article in the St. Louis Post – Dispatch dated December 25, 1892 (See Author’s Note at bottom of paragraph). The Irwin-Poole match was scheduled to be for 10 rounds and was reported in the newspapers (undated clip from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook) as follows: “Kid” Irwin has returned to Leadville yesterday after his Cripple Creek fight with Billy Poole. In Leadville he has never been seen in the ring here as the town was so down upon boxing matches. The fight between the ‘Kid’ and Billy Poole, of Manitou Springs went for ten rounds and after the ten round go the fight was declared a draw. The Journal says of the fight: Poole had the advantage of Irwin in weight, (according to the Leadville Daily Chronicle dated March 8, 1895 Poole was fifteen pounds heavier than Irwin) reach and ring experience, but was short on wind. The ‘Kid’ was quick and steady at his staying aggressive which surprised everybody, and it was from the very first round that Billy Poole knew he had the fight that he expected! The ‘Kid’ gave him a surprise by knocking him down in the next round, and drew blood in the head. Irwin was saving himself for the finish, but to no avail, as the ‘Kid’ was the freshest of the two when time was called at the end of the tenth round, when the referee called the contest a draw. Had the ‘kid’ forced the fighting in either the second or the third round he could have won the fight, as Poole was badly bruised and spent most of the time in keeping out of the ‘Kid’s’ way. Poole attempted to win by his vicious rushes and swinging for the ‘Kid’s’ head but he failed to land effectively with either.” (Author’s Note: All of the newspaper articles not from Colorado newspapers were retrieved from Ancestry.com and click newspapers.com-Historical Newspapers).
Although this match ended officially in a draw it was nevertheless unofficially a victory for Billy. To be more specific it would be considered a “newspaper decision” in which Billy was the winner. In this era of prize fighting when fights were often times halted prematurely because of police interference, fouls, mayhem and so forth a favorable narrative by an on-scene news reporter came to be called a “newspaper decision” and was, according to boxing sportsmen, the determining factor as to who actually won the match. The news reporter of the Irwin-Poole match clearly portrayed Billy to be the “winner” by reason of such a “newspaper decision”.
In looking at the website, BoxRec.com, the significance of Billy Irwin’s “draw/win” over Poole can be gleaned from the Billy Poole vs. Joe Drew rematch at Hot Springs, Arkansas on June 27, 1895. In this match, a year after the Irwin-Poole match, Billy Poole fought a 25 round draw against Joe Drew. And this Joe Drew would go on, eight months later on February 20, 1896, to knockout Kid Ryan in the third round. Kid Ryan, according to BoxRec.com, was said to be the “Pacific Champion” in 1892 when he scored a technical knockout against Peter Shea in the fourth round and Peter Shea in the same newspaper article was listed as the Wyoming Champion. So in this first “professional” match of Billy Irwin’s career it can be seen that already he was fighting on a “state championship” and “Pacific Coast Championship” level.
Billy returned to Leadville and went back to work in the mines while waiting in earnest for his next match. If he had learned any lesson from his encounter with Billy Poole it was not to be too overly conservative in his next match. He had proven to himself and to many of his admirers that he could overcome such disadvantages as weight, reach and ring experience. The next match he would fight on the aggressive!
It would be the better part of a year before Billy could arrange his next match. Leadville and Lake County were still very much opposed to boxing matches within their jurisdiction. Besides this, adverse winter and travel conditions still remained a problem. Billy’s second professional match would have to wait until after the long winter’s “spring thaw.”
By March of 1895 Billy was ready once again to venture forth to Cripple Creek and negotiate another match. Fortunately this time he had through train travel from Leadville to Cripple Creek and there was no “labor war” to worry about. The name of his next opponent was Fred Ross alias the “Denver Iron Boy.” In an article from the Leadville Daily Chronicle dated March 8, 1895 Billy Irwin’s boxing career and upcoming match with the “Denver Iron Boy” were reported as follows: “The match will take place next Monday night between Billy Irwin and Fred Ross. The event carded is attracting considerable interest as both men are well known. Irwin is from Leadville where he has lived for several years. He is a quiet, unassuming young fellow and would never be taken for a pugilist. His parents are adverse to his following a ‘profession’ of this kind but as he is of age and his inclinations lean that way, he’s at perfect liberty to do as he wishes. Billy has never figured in the ring to any great extent, preferring to follow in the more even roads of life. He has always been very fond of sports of all kinds particularly boxing and has always been regarded by his chums as being too handy with the mitts to take any liberties with. He is one of the best bag punchers in the western country, in fact he has made a specialty of it, and consequently he is remarkably quick for a man of so little experience.” This same newspaper article continues to discuss the upcoming match as follows: "In this match Irwin will have to give away eight pounds in weight, not to speak of the other man’s experience. Irwin’s opponent is an unbeaten man, and as he has considerable to loose if he is defeated, he will no doubt do his best to finish the Leadvillite in short order. He will have to be careful, for Irwin is one of the kind not to be denied and as he knows the prestige to be gained by beating this man Ross, he will endeavor to accomplish the feat that so many have failed in. Irwin is the favorite in the betting. Quite a number of his friends are leaving Leadville to see the fight and many more who are unable to get away are sending their best wishes to encourage the lad.”
In the preceding newspaper article it states that Fred Ross was an “unbeaten man.” An article from the Galveston Daily News dated May 18, 1895, though it does not mention Ross’ loss to Billy Irwin two months earlier, does give more details of Ross’ to-date record as follows: “Fred Ross, the champion featherweight pugilist of Colorado, known as the “Denver Iron Boy” … has met and defeated the “Spitz” of Denver in 6 rounds, Paddy Congan (Reddy Coogan… see author’s note below) of the same place in ten rounds, beat Tony Hollis in eighteen rounds, Jerry Haley in twenty seven rounds and fought a six round draw with Kid Robinson, who after- ward killed the Sailor Kid in the ring. Besides all these he has fought and won a fifty round glove fight with Curly McCole (McHale), the champion featherweight of Chicago. During his two year experience in the prize ring Ross has never been defeated by any man in his class, although he had fought several drawn battles …” (Author’s note: The “Paddy Congan” mentioned above is undoubtedly “Reddy Coogan” and I will refer to him as such. Denver Directories do not list a “Paddy Congan” at this time nor do Federal Census Schedules of 1900. I have never come across such a name as “Paddy Congan” in any newspaper articles about boxing nor has this name come up in BoxRec.com. It seems that Fred Ross, at this time, had beaten all of the “favorite boxing sons” of Denver. Reddy Coogan was one of Denver’s “favorite boxing sons” whereas “Paddy Congan” was not! Therefore the conclusion that “Paddy Congan” was in fact “Reddy Coogan”).
This Galveston Daily News article of May 18, 1895 sheds a lot of light on the man that Billy Irwin beat so handily. Billy Irwin had beat the “champion featherweight pugilist of Colorado.” You will notice that Ross’ loss to Billy Irwin just two months prior to this article was not mentioned. You will also notice that Spitz, Coogan and Haley, who failed to follow up on their challenges to Irwin, were all beaten by Ross. Besides the preceding there are two other Fred Ross matches worth mentioning: Kid Robinson and Tony Hollis. Kid Robinson, who had fought a 6 round draw with Fred Ross, had (1893) beaten Eugene Turner in 17 rounds when he (Turner) was the Featherweight Champion of Illinois (Junction City Weekly Union newspaper dated April 14, 1894). Tony Hollis, whom Ross beat in 18 rounds, was scheduled to fight Denny Gallagher of New York on August 10, 1895 (outcome unknown) for the “featherweight championship of the south” (Galveston Daily News dated July 21, 1895). Thus from information gleaned from the Fred Ross record as of mid-1895 Billy Irwin’s claim to the Colorado Featherweight Championship, and I might add much beyond that championship, was the most valid.
So the Irwin-Ross match did take place as scheduled on Monday night March 11, 1895. According to an undated newspaper article in Billy Irwin’s scrapbook: “Irwin had no trouble of disposing of Ross who either greatly under-rated the “Kid” or else the first blow he received from Billy took all the fire out of him.” The article continued with this account of the match: “The men shaped up in excellent condition at 10:30 p.m. After shaking hands the men came to the middle of the ring, and dodged a bit, Ross swinging at the ‘Kid’, hitting him on the temple, at the same time the ‘Kid’ swung his right on Ross’s ribs and Ross went to the floor groaning heavily there for a few seconds, and got up claiming that the ‘Kid’ had fouled him but the referee would not allow it. The men came together like two pit bulls, then Irwin worked his man to the ropes and hitting on his jaw sent Ross to the floor apparently all but pronounced out when he was counted out by the referee. The decision was given to Irwin. The purse which only amounted to $139.50 was turned over to the Miner’s Union. There was such dissatisfaction on the part of several of the people present, this owing to the quickness of the affair and they were under the impression that there might be a fix. However this was not the case: Some of the gang did really approach the ‘Kid’ (Irwin) asking him to go out for the sum of $350.00 but this the ‘Kid’ positively refused to do, as he is not made of such material. Consequently the ‘sure shot’ element were disappointed.”
Billy Irwin’s stunning knock down and then knockout of Fred Ross in round one was a huge boost for his boxing career. First of all Billy was a featherweight and Ross was, at fight time, a lightweight. Ross was eight pounds heavier than Billy…a disadvantage that Billy easily overcame! Ross had been undefeated prior to his encounter with Billy and was well known nationally. In fact, according to BoxRec.com, in 1895, Ross had been rated as the 15th ranked lightweight in the United States. Just the year before Ross had fought a 15 round draw with Jerry Haley. And Jerry Haley was the one (1894) who fought Reddy Coogan to a 30 round draw for the Bantamweight Championship of Colorado. In addition to the preceding, according to BoxRec.com in 1895 Ross won a ten round match on points against Johnny Van Heest and Johnny Van Heest (BoxRec.com) was rated in 1899 as the 7th ranked featherweight in the United States. Billy’s confidence soared!
Above is data retrieve from BoxRec from their website in May of 2018. Notice that before the fight Billy Irwin was not rated with any points. Fred Ross at this time was given a score of 3 points. After the fight Billy Irwin was given a score of 5 points and Fred Ross 1 point.
Above is data from BoxRec retrieved from their website in May of 2018. One month after Billy Irwin knocked out Fred Ross in one round Ross went on to fight Johnny Van Heest. Johnny Van Heest lost the match on points in ten rounds. Before the fight Fred Ross was given a score of one point whereas Johnny Van Heest was given a score of 47 points. After the match Fred Ross jump to a score of 32 points and Johnny Van Heest was reduced to 22 points. Given the fact that Billy Irwin beat Fred Ross only a month earlier it is logical to conclude that Billy Irwin, like Fred Ross after this match, should have a score of at least 32 points.
So Billy had successfully completed his second professional fight. It was a very big victory for him and according to the same article just quoted: “The ‘Kid’ will remain here a few days when he will depart for Aspen to stay a short time. Irwin’s sure he has the talent and as boxing is opening again in New Orleans he is thinking seriously of journeying there and to Denver to take a try at the best boxers they have to offer.”
Immediately after the Irwin-Ross match Billy and some of his friends went to a popular Cripple Creek Saloon in order to celebrate and it was there that Billy had and won his “second match of the day.”
Billy’s third professional fight took place in a Cripple Creek saloon immediately after his one round knockout of the “Denver Iron Boy.” His adversary in this “fight” was the “Montana Kid” who had already agreed to fight Billy the year before in Leadville and then skipped town without explanation. According to an undated newspaper article in Billy Irwin’s scrapbook: “After the fight the ‘Kid’ with a few friends went into a saloon, where they met the ‘Montana Kid.’ As soon as Irwin saw the ‘Kid”, he went directly up to him and asked him ‘if it were true that he had come to Cripple Creek for the purpose of challenging the winner?’ Reese answering in the affirmative, Irwin said: Well, I am the winner, and I have you just where I want you and as it is not likely that we will never be any nearer to coming together than we are at present we had better settle it at once.’ And at it they went: It did not last long Irwin claims that anyone he can hit he can finish absolutely. The battle was over, the ‘Kid’ (Irwin) having defeated both his antagonists’ (Denver Iron Boy and Montana Kid) and it was said by those present that the ‘Kid’ was the best prize fighter ever seen in the Cripple Creek district since the first discovery of gold.”
Regarding this “Impromptu” bare knuckle saloon fight between Billy Irwin and Montana Kid the Leadville Daily Chronicle dated March 16, 1895 stated: “The battle was short and sweet and unless appearances are deceitful the ‘Montana Kid’ was the most badly used up prize fighter ever seen in the Cripple Creek district since the first discovery of gold.”
Billy Irwin’s bare knuckle, bar room victory over the Montana Kid was important in “cementing” his claim to the Colorado Featherweight Championship in 1895. After all the Montana Kid, according to the Salt Lake Herald dated August 16, 1890, was at that time the “champion of Colorado” when he fought a draw match with Bobby Dobbs. Plus, according to the Salt Lake Tribune dated November 14, 1895 the Montana Kid was scheduled to fight Harry Jones of California for the “Lightweight Championship of Colorado” at Denver’s Central Theater (outcome unknown).
Leadville sports writer Jimmy Lorraine had this to say (Leadville Daily Chronicle-March 16, 1895) about Billy Irwin: “The ‘Kid’s’ easy victory ought to disconcert the minds of the Leadville Knowalls and wise-acres, who are constantly predicting ill luck for the home product. When Billy was matched with the Montana Kid they had Reese picked for a sure winner in four rounds. It is too bad that the fight was not permitted to come off. Probably some of the Knowalls may have dropped the munificent sum of 65 cents between them.”
Jimmy Lorraine was not the only sports writer and boxing enthusiast who took notice of Billy Irwin after his two easy victories over Fred Ross (Denver Iron Boy) and Dave Reese (Montana Kid) in March 1895. Others (trainers, promoters, fans and boxers themselves) scrutinized the boxing records of both Fred Ross and Dave Reese in order to make an assessment of Billy Irwin’s pugilistic merits. It was also at this time that Billy reiterated his claim to the Featherweight Championship of Colorado and his willingness to defend his title against all comers! Soon after Irwin’s boast a flurry of championship challenges did indeed take place by Irwin and to Irwin…to and from the Colorado champion claimants (Haley, Coogan, Hall and Spitz) and Arizona/New Mexico champion claimant (Kid Dovey).
Billy’s confidence and prospects soared after his recent victories over the Denver Iron Boy and the Montana Kid coupled with his 1894 newspaper win over Billy Poole. Almost immediately, following these recent victories, he went to Denver (several times and unsuccessfully) in order to make matches with the best lightweights that Denver had to offer.
According to the Leadville Daily Chronicle dated April 19, 1895: Billy stated that he was: “Planning a match with Kid Dovey, the champion of New Mexico at 118 pounds or Charles Rochette (a Pacific Coast Champion) of San Francisco at 122 pounds for a purse of $500.00. Mr. Irwin has sent a letter to the ‘Kid’ in Aspen and is daily expecting an answer. There is no doubt but that the ‘Kid’ will accept as he says he never saw or heard of the man of his inches that he was afraid to meet.” The same article continues to state: “George Hall, the artist pugilist of Denver, and Jerry Haley, the Californian, were both thinking seriously of coming to Leadville after the ‘Kid’s’ scalp. But apparently upon second consideration of the matter it seems most probable they have changed their minds.” Finally the same article concludes by saying: “Irwin has been to Denver several times but has never been able to match with either of the men (Hall and Haley). However unless they make another change quickly they are apt to lose their game, for if the New Mexico offer (Kid Dovey) is bona fide, ‘Billy’ will be away soon.”
In an article from The Coconino Sun newspaper (Flagstaff, Arizona) dated September 12, 1895 it listed Kid Dovey as the “champion bantamweight of New Mexico and Arizona.” Unfortunately this match failed to materialize but it demonstrated that a champion of two states (New Mexico and Arizona) considered Billy Irwin to be a worthy opponent.
So even though both Hall and Haley were thinking of going up to Leadville “after Irwin’s scalp” apparently the newspaper was correct in stating that “it seems most probable they have changed their minds.” It must be emphasized, according to the April 19th article that “Irwin has been to Denver several times, but has never been able to make a match with either of the men (Hall and Haley).” It must also be emphasized that a purported champion’s refusal to match with a bona fide contender could lead to that champion’s loss of title, not only officially but also unofficially in the eyes of his fans and backers.
Billy’s next prospective match came a month later in May. According to the Leadville Daily Chronicle dated May 24, 1895 Billy Irwin’s next prospective antagonist was Young Spitz of Denver and according to this article: “Dave Mosconi of Denver, was up here a few days last week, looking after ‘Young’ Spitz’s interest in the match with ‘Kid’ Irwin. Dave was still satisfied with his trip to Leadville. Jimmy Lorraine (Leadville Sports column writer) said in case a match is consummated between these two well-known featherweights, he proposes to train Spitz here, as he fancied Spitz wind would be better. Dave held a meeting with the ‘Kid’s’ backer and was pleased to find that he could get as large a side bet as he wished. He says: Spitz will have no trouble in backing, as the boys friends in Denver think him invincible. Irwin is working in Aspen and sent me word the other day that he was perfectly willing to go on with the match, in case the Denver people would put up a substantial side bet, but he would not quit a good job and train three or four weeks to fight for gate receipts, which possibly would add up from $14 to $19. I (Jimmy Lorraine Sports Columnist) hope the boys are successful in their endeavor to come to terms, for barring accidents, I predict a rattling good mill from the call of time, till the finishing blow is landed…If the articles are signed the early part of next week, it is likely the match will be set for June 16.”
So as of March 24th the match between Irwin and Spitz was tentatively scheduled for June 16th. But by June 5, 1895 the Leadville Daily Chronicle reported as follows: “Well it’s off. I mean the prospective fight between Young Spitz of Denver, and ‘Kid’ Irwin, the local featherweight. The Denver people made a great attempt to lead the unsophisticated mountaineers to think that they really wanted to fight, to conform with their speech. When I (Jimmy Lorraine) wrote to Denver to Young Spitz that there was an excellent chance for him to come up here and fight Irwin, I mentioned the fact that there was no organized club, but that he could depend upon a good attendance, if the fight was pulled off in Aspen or Glenwood. He answered me that the only way he would match with Irwin, was his expenses advanced and a good side bet guaranteed. I told him there would be no expense money advanced, but that the ‘Kid’ had a backer here who would find all the money to back him that he (Spitz) required. Apparently this seemed to suit Spitz excellently and from prospects I imagined that a match was assumed until a couple of days ago when I received a letter from Denver stating that Spitz had a good job which he refused to sacrifice for a fight with Irwin; however, possibly in the future he might consent to make a trip to Leadville and meet the ‘Kid’. But it looks extremely doubtful to say the least. Irwin has told me repeatedly that none of the Denver featherweights were desirous of tackling his game. But on account of the ‘Kid’s’ experience at the game and knowing the advantage that Jerry Haley, Young Spitz, Reddy Coogan and George Hall possessed over Irwin, I was inclined to think different. However, from the evidence produced in this match, I believe the ‘Kid’ is about right.”
So at first sportswriter Jimmy Lorraine was doubtful of Billy Irwin’s statement that “none of the Denver featherweights were desirous of tackling his (Irwin’s) game.” But soon Lorraine recanted his statement saying: “from the evidence produced in this match I believe the ‘Kid’ is about right.” The article concludes by stating: “In order to be sure that what I had written then was bona fide, Spitz’s backers sent Dave Mosconi to Leadville to look up the prospect. Dave seemed to be perfectly satisfied, and left for Denver to see that the backing was immediately forthcoming. But I guess from present indications the sporting element there was a little chary (careful/cautious) about coming up, especially when they found that they would have no trouble in getting their money covered. I am sorry the affair has terminated in a failure, for I had figured that in case the match was made, there would be a splendid turnout. Still because this has fallen through, that is no sign that any of the other aspiring 122 pounders cannot be accomodated. Irwin has informed me that he makes no distinction: first come, first served, only they must put up a substantial side-bet, and then the rest will soon be settled.”
The “evidence” to which Jimmy Lorraine was most likely referring to in the above article can be found in Fred Ross’ record, mentioned earlier, in which Ross had already beaten Haley, Ross and Spitz…and Billy Irwin had knocked out Ross, Champion Featherweight of Colorado, in one round.
So it seems that as of June 1895 Billy Irwin’s repeated offers to fight Kid Dovey…George Hall…Jerry Haley…and Young Spitz were in vain. In the meantime it was necessary for Billy to leave Leadville and relocate to Aspen since Leadville was so down on fights and it was rumored that Aspen was starting to allow prize fights. According to the Leadville Daily Chronicle dated May 24, 1895: “Fighting is allowed in Aspen.”
If Billy wanted to advance his boxing career he would therefore have to relocate from Leadville to Aspen and this he did in May of 1895. As in Leadville he worked as a full time miner while spending his spare time in search of worthy boxing opponents. Unfortunately, as in Leadville, it seemed that Billy continued to have some difficulty in advancing his boxing career and thus his first appearance in an Aspen boxing ring was delayed until September of 1895 at which time he was only allowed to participate in a “friendly glove contest” as can be gleaned from the following three articles written in the Aspen Tribune: “It was stated yesterday by one of the principal movers in the project that the much talked of glove contest would take place at the Tivoli Theater next Thursday. It will be remembered that some time ago the exhibition had been arranged and on the night set for the event Captain Williamson interfered and ordered the contest not to proceed. Nothing further was done regarding the matter until yesterday, when it was decided that a series of friendly glove contests would be arranged of a character such as the officers would probably allow. Bouts between Lute Kellogg and Tom Coffee, Charles Boetcher and Billy Irwin and Jack (Jerry) Haley and the Unknown will comprise in part the evening’s program (Aspen Tribune-September 24, 1895).” Billy Irwin made a large number of friends at the Tivoli Thursday evening in his four round go with Boetcher. Billy is a clever boxer and will some day occupy a position with the leading light weight boxers in the state (Aspen Tribune-September 28, 1895).” The next day : “It was stated yesterday that the management of the last sparring exhibition given at the Tivoli Theater, would make arrangements for a similar entertainment in the near future. Messrs. Kellogg, Irwin , Boetcher and Coffey will again be the leading attractions (Aspen Tribune-September 29, 1895).”
The Irwin-Boetcher four round boxing exhibition was only a “friendly glove contest” but at least Billy considered it to be a good start for his recently launched boxing career in Aspen. He would have to wait until another three months before another boxing opportunity would present itself! According to the Aspen Daily Times ( September 26, 1895) Charles Boetcher was the champion of Cleveland, Ohio.
In December of 1895 Billy weighed 122 pounds and for some time he had made a public statewide challenge that he was anxious to fight any 122 pound man in the state (Undated article from Billy Irwin scrapbook). By mid-December of 1895 Jerry Haley was ready to accept Billy Irwin’s challenge. On December 19th the Aspen Tribune featured an article titled: “Hunting For A Fight” and subtitled: “Jerry Haley Looking For Trouble With An Aspen Man.” This same article continues to state: “A man signing himself Jerry Haley and writing from Victor under date of December 19, wants to scrap with William, otherwise Billy Irwin. The letter which is addressed to William Monaghan reads, and the story is best told by publishing the letter in full: ” Victor, Colorado, December 19, 1895 William Monaghan; Dear Sir: I seen a gentleman from Aspen last evening and he told me that Billy Irwin was in your town and wished to get a match. He told me by writing to you that you might get the match up. This gentleman (I forgot his name) claims to be president of some club in Aspen. I weigh at the present time 118 pounds, but will fight Irwin at any weight for a purse or gate receipts. Hoping that you will endeavor to arrange a match. I remain yours very truly, Jerry Haley. P. S. Please answer this letter as soon as possible as I am expecting to leave here in a short time.”
It didn’t take long for Billy to respond to Jerry Haley’s challenge. The Aspen Tribune printed in its newspaper Billy Irwin’s acceptance as follows: “Ready To Fight” (Title) “Billy Irwin Says He Will Meet Jerry Haley In the Ring (subtitle): “Saturday morning The Tribune published exclusively information to the extent that Jerry Haley the well known lightweight, who is now a resident of Victor, desired to meet Billy Irwin of this city in a glove contest, Aspen preferred. Here is Irwin’s letter in answer to the challenge, and the chances are the battle will be held in this city.” “Aspen, Colorado, December 21, 1895”: “Dear Sir, Seeing a letter in this morning’s Tribune from one Jerry Haley of Victor, Colorado, seeing that he would like to make a match to fight me for a purse or for gate receipts. I am perfectly willing to fight him any time for a reasonable purse. If one is offered we cannot fight for gate receipts, as fighting is not allowed in Aspen. If he can put up a side bet of $150 or upwards to $500, I will fight him any time within three or four weeks after signing articles at Leadville or any place where it can be arranged, or if there is a club in Aspen that will give a purse I will accommodate him any time for it. I remain yours respectfully, Billy Irwin, Aspen, Colorado.”
So the stage was set for the Irwin-Haley match to take place (probably) in Aspen…maybe Leadville in three or four weeks following the signing of the Articles of Agreement. Once again Billy would be disappointed as the Irwin-Haley match failed to materialize. What happened? Did Aspen’s Captain of Police, Williamson, intervene and interfere again? Did Leadville’s Sheriff Leslie Gavin refuse to allow any such match within his jurisdiction? Did Billy Irwin’s challenge to Haley to put up a “side bet of $150 or upwards of $500 scare off Haley? Or did Haley leave the state for “greener pastures?” Maybe…possibly all of the preceding was the ultimate reason that this match did not take place. It may be suggested that evidence seems to indicate that one possible reason for the abortion of this match is that Haley left the state at this time and newspaper accounts would seem to reinforce this conclusion: According to Haley’s letter of challenge to Billy Irwin on December 19, 1895: “P. S. Please answer this letter as soon as possible as I am expecting to leave here in a short time.” According to the Rock Springs Wyoming Miner dated December 2, 1897, an article detailing Dave Reese’s (Montana Kid) 5th round knockout of Jerry Haley it stated after the fight Haley went to Butte (Montana).
According to the Denver Rocky Mountain News dated July 28, 1899 and edited and paraphrased as follows: “Billy Lewis and Jerry Haley, two Denver scrappers who have been on the Pacific Coast for over three years arrived home yesterday (July 27, 1899)…Haley at 118 to 120 lbs…Haley was the old Denver Central Theater attraction some years ago who met all comers and fought some of the best men of his weight in the West…spent this past summer at Banff Springs in British Columbia…returns home (Denver).
So it appears from evidence that the Irwin-Haley match did not come off possibly due to Haley’s departure from Colorado. Haley’s departure from the Colorado scene was not the “end of the world” for Billy. After all Haley lost to Kid Ross, the then Featherweight Champion of Colorado, in the 27th round whereas Billy Irwin knocked out Ross for the Colorado Featherweight Championship in the first round. But Colorado State Champion hopeful Jerry Haley was not the only Colorado champion hopeful looking for a fight with Billy Irwin. There were others and as 1895 ended and 1896 began Billy Irwin would continue to be challenged by purported claimants to the Colorado and other state championships.
Simultaneous with Jerry Haley’s challenge to Billy Irwin in the Aspen newspapers there were other challenges from Featherweight Champion claimants for Billy Irwin in the Leadville newspapers. According to the Leadville Daily Chronicle dated December 24, 1895: “A local Athletic Club promises its members and friends some rare sport in the near future, as soon as the holiday season is past. It is understood that several affairs are under consideration, but the one that is meeting with the greatest favor is a set-to between Will Irwin and Spitz or Hall of Denver. The men are in the lightweight class, and are about as clever as any that can be found. Irwin and Hall would make a particularly good match. They fight at about the same weight, say 122, and in general makeup are much alike. Hall might have a little the best of it in the matter of training and experience, but Irwin balances this with a superior science and pluck. A fight between these men would settle the state championship claimed by Hall. Spitz is a good man in his class, but it is doubtful if he could get the backing that Hall can command, who is the special favorite of the D.A.C. It is understood that a purse of $500 will be hung up for this or some other fight. Members of the club are very reticent, giving out only that a fight is contemplated and that probably it will be between two of the three men named.”
At the beginning of this article it mentions “a local athletic club” (Leadville presumably) and towards the end of the article it mentions “D.A.C.” The D.A.C. was the Denver Athletic Club. At this time Colorado had a number of these “athletic clubs.” By definition, at this time, an athletic club was a privately owned and operated men’s club (women excluded) and its purpose, ostensibly, was to develop organized athletics. In reality however through secrecy…the guise of boxing “sparring exhibitions”…and the umbrella of “benevolent” athletics these “clubs” would stage private prize fights for members only. And thus prize fighting, though sporadic, was able to continue on during this period of history when it was deemed to be illegal.
According to the writer of this article: “Irwin and Hall would make a particularly good match” and “a fight between these men (Irwin, Spitz, Hall) would settle the state championship claimed by Hall.” Unfortunately it appears, for whatever reasons, that neither Irwin, nor Spitz, nor Hall, were ever matched against each other at this time (BoxRec.com). Hall, originally from Chicago, seems to have left the Colorado scene at this time.
For Billy Irwin this was surly a disappointment as the year 1895 came to a close. Perhaps 1896 would be the year in which the strict laws against prize fighting would be relaxed? Perhaps 1896 would bring more championship challenges for Billy Irwin?
For Billy Irwin 1896 initially brought bad news. It will be remembered that previously, in April of 1895, Billy had already attempted to make a match with Kid Dovey who claimed the championship of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. At that time Billy had sent Dovey a letter challenging him to a match. Although Billy had waited patiently and for a time the match seemed promising, he nevertheless waited for Dovey’s reply in vain. Now by February of 1896, because of newly passed legislation, any possibility in the future for Billy to fight Dovey in Arizona or New Mexico territory was out of the question. More specifically on February 4, 1896 New Mexico’s Governor Thornton published a letter in two New Mexico newspapers: “encouraging authorities to arrest any pugilists for assault and battery.” On February 7, 1896 Congress passed a law banning prize fighting in New Mexico Territory. During this same time frame a proposed match between Bob Fitzsimmons of Australia and Peter Maher of Ireland was being planned to take place in Arizona Territory. In response to this proposed match, Arizona’s Governor L. C. Hughes mobilized Arizona Militia units and requested that U. S. Marshals be dispatched in an effort to thwart the Fitzsimmons-Maher match from taking place in Arizona Territory. Now if Billy Irwin wanted to re-challenge Kid Dovey, or vice versa, again it could only…and tenuously take place in Colorado.
Following the passage of such adverse anti-boxing legislation it appears that Kid Dovey relocated to Trinidad, Colorado. In mid-March he (Dovey) sent a letter of challenge to the Leadville Herald Democrat newspaper which apparently was published in the March 22nd Sunday paper. Then on March 23, 1896 Reddy Coogan composed a letter accepting Dovey’s challenge. Both Kid Dovey’s challenge and Reddy Coogan’s acceptance and challenge to Billy Irwin were published in the Leadville Daily Chronicle on March 28th as follows: “Now this begins to look like business. The bantamweight championship of Colorado has long been in dispute. There are as many claimants to the honor as there are aspirants to fame in the lightweight fistic rink. Kid Dovey of Trinidad has probably been the boldest in his claims to the title, when in a recent letter to the Herald Democrat he not only declared the ‘Kid Dovey’ who with Reddy Coogan gave sparring exhibitions at the Ice Palace a bogus, but plainly announced himself captain of the field and in support of his claim challenged any man of 115 pounds. But the ‘Kids’ declaration far from settles the disputed championship. No sooner was his letter made public than Reddy Coogan, a local claimant, replies to it in these words: “Leadville, Colorado, March 23, 1896
Sporting Editor Herald Democrat… Dear Sir - Seeing in your paper Sunday morning that Kid Dovey of Trinidad and the Southwest would like to box any 115 pound man in the state, in reply will say I am willing to accommodate him, or any 110 or 115 pound man in the state, or in the West, for any sums they want, or I will box Mr. Irwin a limited number of rounds, as he is a great deal heavier than I am. I would not go to a finish unless he gets down to 120 pounds. I can be found at Skidmore Bros., No. 106 West Second Street. Yours respectfully, Reddy Coogan, Champion Bantam of Colorado”
Reading both of these challenges Billy Irwin remembered that his challenge to Kid Dovey (April 1895) went unanswered. Billy was also now aware that Coogan refused to fight him to a finish but only to a limited number of rounds because Billy was heavier than Coogan (Coogan weight 118 pounds and Irwin 122 pounds). Nevertheless he accepted Coogan’s challenge and arrangements for an Irwin-Coogan Championship match went forward in Leadville. Unfortunately, once again, Leadville would not allow the match as per the following undated (undoubtedly March 1896) article from Billy Irwin’s faded scrapbook: “But for the unfortunate state of affairs existing at present, the sport-loving element of Leadville would have been treated to an exhibition of boxing which would have eclipsed anything ever seen during Leadville’s hey-days. For a few days quite a number of people watched and patiently wanted to see what would be the outcome of a prospective meeting between a couple of as good featherweights as ever donned a mit. A large room had been secured which would have afforded excellent accommodations and when Reddy Coogan and Kid Irwin were introduced there would have been but little doubt but what the crowd who were on the (illegible) would have left the house knowing that they had received a run for their money. The boys are really featherweights but in this instance they would have met at catch weights, on account of the notice being so short. However if things right themselves shortly, it is not improbable but that a meeting can be arranged. The boys possess no great fondness for each other, consequently they are extremely anxious to come together. Coogan is yet in town awaiting the outcome of the present trouble. However Reddy isn’t aversed to meeting any of the alleged featherweight champions at present sojourning in Colorado, especially Kid Dovey who claims the championship of Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico and who is at present holding forth at Trinidad. Still it is directed to any of the Denver champions. Of course Coogan is in reality a featherweight, as his best weight is 118 pounds! Still if any of the heavier weights are at all anxious for a meeting they need not imagine that they’ll have to go away begging. Coogan is not as well known in Leadville as he might be, this is due to the fact that he is somewhat distant (illegible) hard to approach. Reddy believes in leaving out (illegible) alone, preferring to win them over when he gets within the squared circle. He does not lay any claim to being a (illegible) but as an exponent of the ‘manly art’ he is recognized as one of the greatest ring generals in the country. Billy ‘Kid’ Irwin, who is at present at Aspen is better known in Leadville. The ‘Kid’ hasn’t been seen very often in fighting (illegible). However he has (from here the last few lines are largely illegible but from every other illegible word the gist of the article states Billy will meet any 122 pounder who will venture here…He is working hard in training and he would be willing to step in the ring at a moments notice).”
Having the Irwin-Coogan match fall through was not the “end of the world” for Billy. After all Coogan lost to Fred Ross in 10 rounds whereas Billy Irwin knocked out Ross in the first round. For Billy and his followers his three stunning victories over Billy Poole, Fred Ross and Dave Reese were adequate proof of his claim to the featherweight championship. Poole, Ross and Reese were known nationally to be some of the best boxers in the nation at this time. According to BoxRec.com Dave Reese, for the year 1890, was ranked to be number 15 in the United States (Lightweight). Also according to BoxRec.com Fred Ross, for the year 1895, was also ranked number 15 in the United States (Lightweight). Conversely Billy’s challengers (Young Spitz, George Hall, Jerry Haley and Reddy Coogan) were not nationally rated at all.
By mid-1896, after having a number of matches terminate unsuccessfully, Billy decided to go to Denver again and hopefully make a match… Jimmy Ryan preferred. Jimmy Ryan was a nationally well known boxer who fought at this time as a welterweight. Billy was between 122 and 124 pounds and to give away 20 plus pounds in weight was no problem given Billy’s to-date record of successfully challenging and beating heavier opponents. For example in his 1894 match with Billy Poole he gave away 15 pounds (Leadville Daily Chronicle dated March 8, 1895). Also at this time it was not uncommon for boxers in the lighter divisions, especially in the relative new bantam and featherweight divisions, to challenge and fight heavier opponents. A case in point can be gleaned from an article written in the Salt Lake Tribune dated July 13, 1890. It refers to Billy Murphy, Champion Featherweight of Australia and New Zealand, who was 5 feet 6-1/2 inches tall and weighed just 118 lbs. (Virtually identical to Billy Irwin). This article is quoted as follows: “Yet this diminutive pugilist (Billy Murphy) has whipped not only a hundred men of his own class, but beat O’Brien, Guller, Carter, Stewart, Mitchell, Faddes and other middleweights averaging all the way from 145 to 175 lbs. or fully 50 lbs. heavier than himself. So much for the science of little men in the ring.” This same article continues on to say: “There are hundreds of little men of the bantam and featherweight classes pegging their way to glory and dollars and the pugilist kaleidoscope in the course of half a year shows many changes among them. They swarm over the big men as the pygmies swarmed over Gulliver and they outgeneral the older school of boxing at every turn and demonstrate to the athletic world that the coming champion is to be not a slow moving, heavy bodied giant but a compact little man, with the celerity of lightning, the courage of a lion and thews and muscles like steel”.
Most articles state that Jimmy Ryan was from Cincinnati and a number of articles even refer to him as Cincinnati Jim/Jimmy Ryan. BoxRec.com records Ryan’s matches, generally speaking, in the Mid-West (1895-1896) and the West Coast (1896-1900). But newspaper evidence shows Ryan participated considerably in Colorado boxing matches also. According to the Creede Candle (Colorado) newspaper dated January 21st, 1898 Ryan was tentatively scheduled to fight a match in Colorado with Jimmy Flynn for $1,000 a side. In 1900 Ryan fought a six round draw with “The Terrible Swede” (Alex Johnson) in Denver (Denver Evening Post dated September 18, 1900). And in 1904 he was matched to fight Jack Lewis at Victor (Cripple Creek) in December (Denver Rocky Mountain News dated November 29, 1904).
During the summer of 1896 Jimmy Ryan had fought two matches with Leadville’s Paddy Purtell. According to BoxRec.com their most recent match took place “near Kansas City” on 8-30-1896 and it is believed it was some time (September/October) during this time frame that both Leadville’s Paddy Purtell and Jimmy Ryan were in the Denver area. The year 1896 was a pivotal year for Ryan for that is when he left the Mid-West for the West Coast after a brief sojourn in Denver at which time it is believed that he fought Billy Irwin. This match was for ten rounds and Billy won it on points. Unfortunately no newspaper clips of this match have yet to be found. There are however two newspaper records that verify this win for Billy Irwin. The first is from the Aspen Tribune dated June 16, 1898 and the second was reported for the Billy Irwin-Tom Delaney match which took place in Silverton, Colorado (July 4, 1899).
This was an important win for Billy in light of Jimmy Ryan’s records. Ryan had fought a six round match with Jack McAuliffe, one of the greatest lightweights in boxing history, and although he lost on points it was nevertheless a major accomplishment to even be able to stand and fight with a man of such stature. He had also, in 1891, fought a draw with Tommy Ryan (San Francisco Chronicle dated November 19, 1896). In 1891 Tommy Ryan was the World Welterweight Champion. Several months after his ten round loss to Billy Irwin, Jimmy Ryan fought Tom Tracey to a 10 round match which ended in a draw. According to BoxRec.com Tom Tracey was the 7th best lightweight in America in 1890…the 13th best lightweight in America in 1891…and the 5th best lightweight in America in 1898. In his early days, according to Jack Dempsey’s entire record printed in the Denver Times dated September 7, 1900, Jimmy Ryan had fought a 31 round bare knuckle match in St. Louis with Jack Dempsey. Although he lost to Jack Dempsey it was still a legendary feat for Ryan to have lasted for 31 rounds (bare knuckles) in the same ring with Jack Dempsey.
Thus, following Billy’s significant win over Jimmy Ryan he would no longer have to prove his claim to the Colorado Featherweight Championship. Henceforth until his ultimate “show down” with Reddy Coogan he would only have to “defend” his title.
Towards the latter months of 1896 it seems that Leadville was sponsoring boxing tournaments. In those days, in order to avoid putting on an illegal prize fight, local entrepreneurs sponsored “tournaments” instead of “prize fights” under the guise of “athletic carnivals.” But in reality these “tournaments” either matched or surpassed the “real thing.” Unfortunately for Billy Irwin his trips over to Leadville from Aspen put him into another “labor war zone” similar to the one he had experienced in Cripple Creek in 1894 when he fought Billy Poole. This “labor war zone” came to be called the “Leadville Strike of 1896-1897” described as follows:
Billy Irwin fought three matches in Leadville (Young Sullivan, Kid Whalen and Billy Riley) during this tumultuous time known as the Leadville Miner’s Strike of 1896-1897. At the time it was truly a labor “war zone” much like the labor “war zone” at Cripple Creek when Billy went there to fight Billy Poole in 1894.
During this time, given the rapid industrialization and consolidation of the mining industry, mine owners had become more powerful and they resolved not only to defeat any future miner’s strike but also to crush the union once and for all.
The Union Local in the Leadville mining district, at this time, was the Cloud City Miner’s Union (CCMU), Local 33 of the Western Federation of Miner’s (WFM). Billy Irwin, along with his father and uncles, belonged to this union and were staunch supporters of collective bargaining and the right to strike whenever they and other fellow union members were treated unjustly.
The Depression of 1893 had resulted in miner’s wage “roll backs” until “better times.” By early 1896 union members and their leaders were of the opinion that “better times” had finally come and besides that they had other grievances. Some miners had not yet been granted the eight hour work day. Some miners were being paid the previously promised $3.00 per day whereas others were not. Mines were being dug deeper and becoming more dangerous. So in May of 1896 representatives of the CCMU approached the mine owners asking for a wage increase of 50¢ per day for all mine workers not already being paid at that rate. Almost immediately negotiations broke down and the miners voted unanimously to strike all mines still paying at the lower rate. The next day 968 miners walked off the job and over 1300 mine workers were “locked out” by the mine owners.
The strike officially began on May 25, 1896 and it would last for 9-1/2 months until March 9, 1897. One journalist described the standoff as follows: “no surrender, no compromise; no pity. The owners mean to starve the miners to death and the miners mean to blow the owners to atoms.” Thus Leadville and Lake County became embroiled in what could accurately be described as a “civil war.” The mine owners were supported by the Mayor, City Council, Police Force and Leadville’s anti-Populist Citizenry. In addition to the just mentioned “belligerents”, Colorado Republican Governor McIntire, an anti-Populist and the official in charge of the state militia, sided with the mine owners.
Populism versus anti-Populism was a hot political issue in Colorado politics at this time. Populism encouraged western workers to become politically active, more vocal and to organize which made them the mainstay political party of the miners union. Conversely anti-Populists, remembering the Cripple Creek Strike of 1894, did everything in their power to defeat Populists at the polls and crush unionism.
So with the battle lines now being clearly drawn the Leadville City Council escalated the standoff by largely increasing the size of the Leadville police force in order to keep the union in check. These “new recruits” were mostly drawn from ex-police officers from Denver. They became known as the Denver City Troops and the “Denver Thugs” as the strikers preferred to call them. Union strikers had good reason to fear the “Denver Thugs” since they were armed and operated under the rubric of the law. In practice these “thugs” frequently roughed up union men without provocation, arresting them as vagrants, also known as “vags”, or even killing them.
As a reaction to the abuse of Leadville’s union strikers by the “Denver Thugs” and Leadville’s police force the union formed their own paramilitary companies. The unions show of physical force was heightened by the news that the miners union had received a shipment of 100 rifles that were being distributed to some union members and “Regulators”. These “Regulators” were prominent and trusted union members (Populists) tasked with secretly stashing the rifles and distributing them “as needed”. Hearing of this the mine owners hired Pinkerton and Thiel detectives to infiltrate the union and learn its plans…inter-workings…what become of the 100 rifles and the names of the “Regulators.”
The first attempt to negotiate the strike (August) fell through and the mine owners reopened some of their mines with imported strike breakers. In response the armed union paramilitary companies were stationed to intercept trains and stages entering Lake County in order to expel any potential “scabs.” All that was needed now was a spark to ignite a full scale “labor war.”
Tension and suspicion finally exploded into fiery violence in the early morning hours of September 21st at the CORONADO MINE: armed “scabs” and strikers clashed…strikers hurled three dynamite bombs at “scabs” and unleashed a hail of bullets at the “scabs,” in a one hour fire fight…an oil tank burst into flames and blazed out of control causing strikebreakers to flee…three strikers were fatally wounded in the gunfire exchange…Fireman Jerry O’Keefe was shot and killed while trying to extinguish the fires.
As the CORONADO MINE burned strikers stampeded to the ROBERT EMMETT MINE which was another mine manned by strikebreakers: The EMMETT MINE, in anticipation of the impending battle, had surrounded its mine with a metal wall…strikers hurled bombs at the metal wall and breached it but were driven back by a fusillade of rifle fire from strikebreakers…strikers had constructed a cannon and now aimed it at EMMETT’s oil tank but missed and in their retreat strikers lost five men to gunshot fire.
Following the “BATTLE OF CORONADO” and the “BATTLE OF EMMETT” Governor McIntire sent to Leadville two companies of the Colorado State Militia (776 men) and more continued to pour in over the next two days. While Governor McIntire did not publicly declare martial law in Leadville he did wire militia General Brooks secretly stating: “The telegram which I have sent you comes as near giving you all the power that a declaration of martial law could give you as is possible under our Constitution.”
In the wake of the militia’s arrival boxcars full of strikebreakers arrived and a number of CCMU Union leaders were arrested. All of this ushered in the end of the union’s hope of a successful strike. During the remaining months of the strike the conflict evolved into a number of shootings and beatings. Incidents of harassment of union members and prominent Populists became commonplace on the streets of Leadville. Thiel and Pinkerton agents continued trying to infiltrate the union and its meetings (which by now were held in secret). Leadville’s prominent Populists were also under surveillance by Pinkertons hoping to learn what became of the 100 rifles and who the Regulators were who held this cache of weapons.
As far as detective infiltration was concerned it is worth mentioning that the saloon was the political and social center of the Irish miners. As in the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania during the Molly Maguire era the Irish miners learned to follow a strict code of silence regarding such things about their affairs. The Irwin Brother’s Saloon owned by Billy Irwin’s father’s (John) and uncle (Jim), see Essay/Chapter 8, was located in the Irish district of Leadville and would have been a “place of interest” for any Thiel or Pinkerton agents interested in extracting information. For sure if a stranger happened to stray into the Irwin Brother's Saloon at this time about all he would get out of them (Irwin brothers) was the time of day or maybe the weather…if that! It is not known as to what level of harassment the Irwin brothers may have been subjected to during this 9-1/2 month strike. But as “veterans” of the Molly Maguire era in eastern Pennsylvania’s coal mines and as prominent Leadville Populists (Prominent Populist: see Leadville Herald Democrat dated July 27, 1894) and staunch pro-unionists they would have been prime candidates for such surveillance and ill treatment. It is also not known as to what level of harassment Billy Irwin encountered while fighting his 3 matches in Leadville during this strike which officially ended on March 9, 1897.
According to an Aspen Tribune article dated June 16, 1898 Billy Irwin, in one of his trips over to Leadville, had two wins both in the same night at one of these such “tournaments.” It was reported that during this one night of the tournament Billy Irwin knocked out Kid Whalen in eight rounds and Young Sullivan in three rounds. Unfortunately nothing is known of Kid Whalen’s record so no comparisons can be drawn from his records. However there is some data available for Young Sullivan’s record. In Leadville in 1891 he fought in the preliminary match preceding the Paddy Purtell-Holman Main event. It was a four round match with Dave Reese (Montana Kid) and Young Sullivan lost it according to a newspaper (NWS) decision. BoxRec.com also confirmed that he fought a no decision (ND) match with Kid Ryan in Chicago in 1898. This Kid Ryan had beat Peter Shay by a TKO in the fourth round back in 1892. At this time (1892), according to BoxRec.com Peter Shay (AKA Peter Shea) was reported to be the Wyoming Featherweight Champion and Kid Ryan was at this same time (1892) reported to be the Pacific Champion. It was also about this time frame that Billy Irwin, once again, made a subsequent trip from Aspen to Leadville to defend his Colorado Featherweight Championship. This time his opponent was Billy Riley. According to an undated article from Billy Irwin’s Scrapbook, which was probably an article from the Silverton newspaper dated July 5, 1899, he knocked out Billy Riley in nine rounds. Nothing is known of Billy Riley’s record so no evaluations can be drawn from his previous fights. Such was the situation in Leadville when Billy Irwin went there to fight his boxing matches with Kid Whalen, Young Sullivan and Billy Riley.
But now, as 1897 was at hand, Billy Irwin had received news from ”back east”…Boston, Massachusetts, to be more exact that he was being asked to be Martin Flaherty’s trainer for his upcoming match at Carson City, Nevada. It was a tremendous opportunity for Billy that he could not pass up. So now he would refrain from scheduling more matches for the present time. Instead he would devote all of his energies to getting himself into tip-top shape in order to train Martin Flaherty. Martin Flaherty’s choice of Billy Irwin as his trainer was a great boost to Billy’s prestige and his validity as Colorado’s Featherweight Champion. It is not known exactly how an easterner from Lowell (Boston), Massachusetts first came into contact with Billy Irwin of Leadville and more recently of Aspen, Colorado. Probably it was through the National Police Gazette Journal which was printed weekly in New York. The Police Gazette not only kept America’s boxing enthusiasts informed and up to date on all matters pertaining to boxing but it also served as a national means of communication (advertisements, letters, editorials, challenges, ratings, etc.) between boxers, managers, trainers, promoters and such.
So it was that on the night of Sunday February 28th Billy Irwin left Leadville for Carson City and joined Flaherty, probably in Denver, and from there they both proceeded to the “big fight.” Not only was it labeled as the “big fight” but subsequently it came to be labeled the “fight of the century.” This was so because its program consisted of three World Championship matches. “Gentleman” Jim Corbett of San Francisco was matched to fight Bob Fitzsimmons of Australia for the World Heavyweight Championship. Billy Smith of Boston was matched to fight George Green of San Francisco for the World Welterweight Championship and Martin Flaherty of Lowell, Massachusetts was matched to fight Dale Hawkins of San Francisco for the World Featherweight Championship (although it was generally recognized that George Dixon and Frank Erne were fighting for the World Featherweight Championship back in New York during this time frame). The Flaherty-Hawkins match nevertheless was still “billed” as the World Featherweight Championship.
Two articles are presented here reporting Billy Irwin’s departure for Carson City with Martin Flaherty. The first is from the Leadville Herald Democrat newspaper dated March 1, 1897: “Billy Irwin left Sunday night for Carson City to witness the big fight between Corbett and Fitzsimmons. Billy will join Martin Flaherty on the way and will act as Flaherty’s trainer, as Flaherty is matched to fight Dale Hawkins of California. Martin shows his wisdom in choosing Billy as his trainer, as Billy has the advantage of being raised in a high altitude and also having won several battles in his class and at present holds the champion featherweight of Colorado. Billy is a Leadville boy, and Flaherty will have a trainer in whom he will not have to use pneumatic tires as Billy will keep the fires off all right. Irwin was the first to start from Leadville for the big fight”.
The second article is from the Leadville Miner newspaper (found in Billy Irwin’s scrapbook) and is probably also dated March 1st or a day or two later: “Billy Irwin, the champion featherweight pugilist of Colorado, and who has fought and won several hard fought battles to sustain his title, left for Carson City Sunday evening where he will witness the big battle between Corbett and Fitzsimmons on the 17th of the present month. Billy, who is a Leadville boy, will join Martin Flaherty on the way, as he goes to train Martin for his coming fight with Dale Hawkins of California. He is not like Woods of Denver, who is one of Corbett’s trainers, and is forced to use pneumatic tires to protect his face and body, as Billy is not built that way, as he has the experience of several hard fought battles, and being raised in a high altitude, he will keep Martin guessing to hold his own. We expect a good accounting of our little townsman as he was the first to leave the Cloud City for the scene of the big fight and THE MINER extends its best wishes”.
Unfortunately for both Martin Flaherty and Billy Irwin things in Carson City did not go well. Martin was knocked out in one minute and four seconds of round one and any hopes Billy Irwin may have had to tour the U.S. as Martin Flaherty’s sparring partner ended there and then (For more details of this match see Chapter-Essay 11, “Fight of the Century”).
Unfortunate as Martin Flaherty’s knockout here was his ring successes far outweighs his ring defeats. To make an assessment of Martin Flaherty’s fistic merits and how prestigious Flaherty’s choice of Billy Irwin as his trainer was we need only to refer to
BoxRec.com. According to BoxRec.com in 1893 Flaherty was rated to be the #5 Bantamweight in America…in 1896 he was rated #3…in 1897 he was rated #2…in 1898 he was rated #3 and in 1899 he was #5.
It is not known how long Billy Irwin may have stayed on the West Coast following the “Fight of the Century” at Carson City but his next fistic encounter(s) are reported as being with William “Foxy” Tennis in Aspen, Colorado in late 1897. It was a four round (no decision) match. He also fought a match with James Smith. This was a “Smoker” match at the Aspen Union Athletic Club on November 30, 1897 and it was a four round (no decision) exhibition match. According to BoxRec.com Billy Irwin’s encounter with “Foxy” Tennis, mentioned above, took place at the Union Athletic Club in Aspen on December 3, 1897.
The second Irwin-Tennis match took place at the Wheeler Opera House, Aspen on January 17, 1898. According to a pre-fight undated newspaper article from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook the following was reported: “There will be a grand athletic entertainment given at Aspen on the night of the 17th of the present month, at which our well known boxer, Billy Irwin, will put on the gloves with Billy Tennis. Tennis is the man and the only one who fought a draw with Tommy Warren in his palmy days. It will be a ten-round bout, and Billy will make Tennis think that he has run up against a buzzsaw. Billy is now in training for the coming mill, which is to be managed by Mr. George McDowell head bookkeeper of the Smuggler mine, which is a recommendation that it will be first class in all aspects. Mr. McDowell will be in the city the coming week to make arrangements to run a special train from here the eve of the fight as there are several club members and others who have signified the intention to attend and back the Leadville boy who will be the winner when the fight is over”.
Not much is known of Foxy Tennis’s record at this time. However in the above article there are two words and one name which give clues as to Tennis’s pugilistic capabilities. In the preceding newspaper article headline it refers to Tennis as a “crack” Aspen Pugilist. According to the dictionary “crack” is defined as “excellent; first-rate; having qualities to be proud of.” The second word that needs to be defined is “palmy” (as in the newspaper article Tommy Warren in his palmy days). According to the dictionary “palmy” is defined as flourishing; prosperous; successful. Therefore according to this article Foxy Tennis is “the only man and the only one who fought a draw with Tommy Warren during his peak boxing years. So who was Tommy Warren? Tommy Waren was a Featherweight born in Los Angeles and home based in Louisville, Kentucky (BoxRec.com). According to his boxing record compiled by BoxRec.com (Highlights):
He won the “American Featherweight Title” from Arthur Majesty in 1885.
He won the “Featherweight championship under Queensberry Rules” from Tommy Barnes in 1886.
He drew for the “Featherweight championship under Queensberry Rules” with Tommy Danforth in 1886.
He drew for the World Featherweight Title” with Ike (Spider) Weir in 1887.
He lost the “World Featherweight Title to Torpedo Billy Murphy in 1890.
So when Billy Irwin agreed to fight “Crack” pugilist Foxy Tennis he was accepting a big challenge. This match, scheduled for ten rounds, was reported in two Aspen newspapers. According to the Aspen Daily Times dated January 18, 1898: “The Athletic Tournament at the Wheeler Opera House last night drew a large crowd of lovers of athletic sports. The entertainment was nicely managed and barring the interference of the police who stopped the Irwin-Tennis fight at the beginning of the fifth round, everything passed off very smoothly.
The event of the evening, the ten-round mill between Irwin and Tennis, was next announced. Mr. Bentor said a committee of three well known citizens of Aspen had been chosen to see that the contest was conducted properly. Bruin and Reed seconded Irwin while Sweeny and Taylor acted as seconds for Tennis. Both men appeared to be in fine condition and when Referee Gilbert called time both sprang to the center of the ring and it was soon evident that some fast work was to be done. The men sparred cautiously for a few minutes. Irwin finally taking the aggressive, getting in the first blow. Several clinches followed and friends of Tennis demanded a foul against Irwin on account of a blow stuck while the men were clinched. Tennis landed on Irwin’s head and was warmly cheered. Second Round – Some vicious blows were exchanged in this round and clinches were frequent. Irwin landed with his right and left on head and Tennis got in some hard body blows. Tennis landed with his left on Irwin’s head. Honors nearly even at the close of this round. Third Round - There was some lively work in this round and blows were exchanged in rapid succession. When the gong sounded it was still anybody’s fight. Fourth Round – This was Irwin’s round. Tennis was knocked to his knees by a smash from Irwin’s right, but soon recovered himself and the men mixed matters. The men broke apart for a moment and Tennis was seen to stagger as though dazed. Irwin rushed upon Tennis and with blows from his right and left knocked him under the ropes. Tennis staggered to his feet and Irwin started in to punish him when the police interfered and warned the combatants that such slugging would not be allowed. The gong sounded and the men returned to their corners. Tennis was groggy at the end of this round. Fifth Round – When the gong sounded for this round Irwin came clear over to Tennis’ corner before the latter got up. As soon as Tennis was on his feet he was knocked against the ropes by a smash in the face from Irwin’s right. Irwin followed on this advantage with Tennis feebly sparring. When it seemed apparent that he would be knocked out the police officers again interfered and stopped the fight. Referee Gilbert stepped to the front of the stage and announced the fight a draw. He said that as both men were on their feet when the contest was stopped by the officers he could not do otherwise than to decide as he did. There was no protest against his decision. It was after midnight when the evening’s program was concluded. The purse for the Irwin-Tennis fight was divided evenly between the two men according to arrangement previously made in the event of a draw. All present, both Aspenites and those from abroad expressed themselves as highly gratified with the exhibition given by the managers of the Athletic Tournament.”
According to the Aspen Tribune dated January 18, 1898: “The athletic tournament at the Wheeler opera house last night started in promptly at 8:15 by Harrington’s orchestra rendering several selections. The seventh event was the much talked of glove contest for points between Billy Irwin and William Tennis. It was announced to be a ten round glove contest of three minutes each, one minute rest. F. J. Mund was timekeeper for Tennis and Ernest Hawkins for Irwin. In the First Round Irwin had the best of it, landing quite frequently on Tennis’ nose and Tennis being unable to reach Irwin although he made desperate efforts to get Irwin in the short ribs. During this round the friends of Tennis claimed Irwin fouled him, but the referee refused to allow the claim. In the Second Round Tennis succeeded in reaching Irwin several times, during the round. Irwin’s friends claimed that he was fouled in this round, but it was not allowed. In the Third Round the honors were in favor of Tennis, he showing up much better in this round than in any of the others. Both of the contestants succeeded in landing some good blows. In the Fourth Round Irwin knocked Tennis down. Tennis promptly got up. Marshal Williamson then concluded it was about time for him to take a hand and jumped into the ring telling them they were crowding the limit and if they continued it must be in a different manner. Time was called while Marshal Williamson was still in the ring and the fighters went to their respective corners. The minute rest passed and time was called for the Fifth Round, Irwin getting up and going over to Tennis’ corner. As soon as Tennis got up Irwin hit him, drawing the first blood in the fight and in no time had Tennis on the ropes again. Marshal Williamson then ordered the contest to stop and Referee Gilbert declared it a draw. There was a great deal of dissatisfaction on account of the fight being stopped and if Irwin had only taken it easy in the fifth round and had not tried to rush things the results might have been different and the exhibition proceeded with. Tennis said he did not feel any the worse for the fight”.
According to the above article’s bold print headlines: “Irwin was rattled” and the “Audience dissatisfied” because Billy Irwin “rushed things in the fifth round.” Of course Billy was “rattled!” He had a definite win reduced to a draw by an intervening municipal bureaucrat…not to mention the lion’s share of the purse that he lost. Billy had entered the ring that night to fight…to win…and to give the audience their money’s worth. If they wanted him to participate in a “faked fight” which could detract from his reputation then that was just too bad for them.
It would not be the last time that Billy would be adversely impacted by Aspen’s intervening authorities. Some three years later (Irwin-Coogan match) the Aspen authorities would once again intervene to disqualify Billy for roughing Coogan in the clinches and in both of these matches Billy was fighting well within the boundaries of Queensberry Rules.
According to both newspaper accounts just quoted: When it seemed apparent that he (Tennis) would be knocked out (5th round) the police officers again interfered and stopped the fight. This match has been recorded in Billy Irwin’s Boxing Record Sketch as a “newspaper win” (NWS-W) for Billy Irwin.
Shortly after the Irwin-Tennis match (1-17-1898), which was stopped by the Aspen police in the fifth round Billy Irwin was challenged to another match. The following is an undated newspaper article from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook: “I, the undersigned, will back John L. Taylor to fight William Irwin at catch weights, Marquis of Queensbury Rules to a finish between the 20th of February and the 1st of March, 1898. The challenge is issued to meet the fight talk of several dozen citizens who claim Irwin can whip Taylor. I hereby post $100 with M. Madden as a forfeit. Yours, George Fraser”
Given the date of the Irwin-Tennis match (1-17-1898) and also given George Fraser’s mention of a possible February 20th fight date it is most probable that this challenge was posted in the Aspen Times between late January and early February 1898. Billy immediately accepted this challenge and posted his reply in the Aspen Times as follows: “William Irwin has covered the forfeit of G. Fraser with Mike Madden for a glove contest with J. L. Taylor. Now it only remains for the young men to get into shape, find a quiet retreat and have it out. Both men have admirers and backers. The date for the contest has not yet been fixed.”
According to the just mentioned challenge and acceptance the match was to be at “catch weights” which meant that 124 pound Billy Irwin (Featherweight) would have to agree to fight 133 pound Johnny Taylor (Lightweight). But this was not a problem for Billy. To date most all of his matches were with opponents heavier than him and one in particular (Jimmy Ryan) was even in the Welterweight class and weighed between 145-148 pounds.
As per the challenge and acceptance the match did not take place between February 20th and March 1st nor did it take place in Aspen or Leadville. Instead it took place in Glenwood Springs on March 12, 1898. In a pre-fight newspaper article from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook which was written in the Aspen Times probably the day before he fight the following was reported: “Between 260 and 300 excursionists left Aspen on the Midland Special at 6:30 last evening for Glenwood Springs to see the 20-round fight between Johnny Taylor and William Irwin. The special report of the mill was received by The Times over the Western Union wires, and was sent by The Times representative, who was on the ground. Copies of these messages were placed on the bulletin board at the Brick Saloon, and that place was jammed with people till mid-night, and there was great interest manifested. Considerable money changed hands on the result.”
Presently nothing is known of the boxing record of Johnny “Griffo” Taylor so an accurate assessment of his pugilistic merits cannot be made. But from some of the newspaper articles presented here some clues can be suggested: A fight promoter or gambler named George Fraser was willing to post $100 in the belief that Taylor could “whip” Billy Irwin. This same George Fraser was willing to match his man, Taylor, against Irwin in a twenty round “fight to the finish.” Taylor had a weight advantage over Irwin of nine pounds. In the heavy betting back at Aspen at the Brick Saloon “considerable money changed hands” indicating that many of the Aspenites were of the opinion that Taylor could indeed “whip Irwin.” Both Irwin and Taylor placed side bets of $200 on themselves and this sum represented 2-1/2 months of had labor down in the mines. In the newspaper article it was specifically stated that “Aspen money still goes on Irwin 100-75” and this indicates clearly that a good percentage of the betters favored Taylor as the winner. So it wasn’t projected to be an easy match for Billy to defend his championship title.
According to the Aspen Daily Times dated March 13, 1898:
“Glenwood Springs, March 12. - (Special to The Times) – 7:30 p.m. – Both fighters ready for ring. Streets are crowded with people. All business houses will close in thirty minutes. The match will not be interfered with by officers, nor will any hippodroming be tolerated. Irwin is favorite in betting. Taylor has been nicknamed “Griffo.”
Glenwood Springs, March 12. - (Special to The Times) – 8:10 p.m. – Two hundred and twenty-six people have just arrived on the Midland Special. Two hundred and ninety tickets sold before doors opened. Seats on stage are at big premium. Aspen money still goes on Irwin, 100 to 75.
Glenwood March 12. - (Special to The Times) – Irwin enters the hall and is greeted with cheers. Taylor is coming in amid cheers.
Glenwood March 12 - (later) – The house is in an uproar with bets being offered. Irwin is the favorite. Irwin will enter the ring at 124 pounds Taylor at 133.
Glenwood, 10p.m. – Irwin enters the ring first stripped to the waist: loud cheering. Taylor wears blanket and bows to the audience with great confidence. Bets are declared closed.
Irwin is seconded by Jerry Mahony of Florence and Frank Bruin: Taylor by Mike O’Connell, Walter Brooks, referee; D. Sullivan, timekeeper. Seconds and referee waste time in talk; crowd cry “fight!” The principals advance to the center and shake hands and time is called.
Round One – Irwin lands on face with left. Taylor works very slow. Irwin lands on side and Taylor counters. Irwin works like a wasp. Round Two – Irwin rushes at Taylor, both spar long and are hissed. Taylor fell short with right. More sparring and cat-calls. Round Three – Irwin rushes and both spar fast. Blows exchanged and calls of “Yeah!!” Round Four – Nothing done. Round Five – Irwin punts on chin light. Irwin hits chin again. Taylor swings short; money offered on Irwin; no takers. Round Six – Irwin lands left on face Taylor laughs. More sparring. Audience impatient and cry “fight!” Round Seven – Irwin lands left on face; Irwin lands with his right; Taylor falls short; great cheering; clinch and Taylor lands on shoulder; separated by referee; Irwin lands on Taylor’s head. Round Eight – Taylor swings viciously with right, but is short as usual. Cries of “Don’t be afraid!” Irwin crowds Taylor to corner; clinch follows: Irwin lands right swing on face. Round Nine – Open with sparring, both land on neck and clinch; Irwin lands hard on face with right; crowd disgusted and cry “fight!” Round Ten – Taylor lands on ribs; does it again and again. Clinch; Taylor lands again on ribs. Irwin keeps hands in front of face. Irwin swings right short. Round Eleven – Interchange of light blows; Irwin lands light on chin and the round ends first half of match and nobody hurt. Crowd gets impatient, so far Taylor has not got half across the ring from his corner. Round Twelve – Light exchange of blows; Irwin lands on Taylor’s nose; clinch in Taylor’s corner; light exchange of body blows. Round Thirteen – Irwin lands with right and left; Taylor clinches; Taylor lands on body; Irwin lands right and left on face; Irwin lands on neck; round in favor of Irwin. Round Fourteen – Irwin lands on the cheek again; close in-fighting to neither’s advantage; clinch; Taylor nearly goes as time is called. Round Fifteen – Irwin lands on face and Taylor swipes on cheek; Irwin’s face looks a trifle puffy; clinch; Irwin lands hard with left in face; Taylor staggers; Taylor lands light on right side; Taylor strikes wild; Irwin laughs; Irwin lands left on jaw. Round Sixteen – a nose affair in Irwin’s favor. Rest of the round consumed in sparring. Round Seventeen – Taylor jabs on body; Taylor hits chin and lands right and left; Taylor lands hard on body and pushes fight; Irwin met rushes by jab in face; Taylor lands right swing. Round Eighteen – Taylor lands hard on ribs with a rush; clinch; Irwin lands hard on face; interchange of blows and a clinch. Round Nineteen – Taylor’s left eye is closing; spar and clinch; Taylor received hard chin blow; swift interchange; Irwin ducks and avoids punch in the face. Round Twenty - Spar and clinch; Irwin hits face; another clinch; Irwin lands on side; Irwin hits on neck; Taylor rushes and the men clinch; Taylor lands hard on body; Irwin misses. Taylor lands short; Irwin hits on face; much excitement, and cries of ten more rounds. “Fight” is heard all over the hall; ring filled with men; order restored. The referee declares in favor of Irwin.”
In addition to the Aspen Times fight report the Aspen Tribune also reported the fight in an article dated March 13, 1898 as follows: “About 125 Aspenites went to Glenwood last night on the Midland excursion train to witness the twenty-round glove contest between Billy Irwin and Johnny Taylor, both of Aspen, for $200 a side. The Glenwood opera house was well filled when at 9 o’clock the performance opened with a lively four round bout between Mickey Reed and Billy Tennis. Some very clever work was done by these two boxers, both of whom showed considerable science. Following this came the event of the evening, the Irwin-Taylor contest. Both men entered the ring in the pink of condition, although Irwin might have been considered slightly over trained. At 9:45 the principals stepped to the middle of the ring, shook hands and with a mutual appearance of confidence began the contest. The First Four Rounds consisted of sparring for openings with Irwin always on the aggressive, keeping Taylor well back toward the latter’s corner. Not a blow was landed until the Fifth Round, when Irwin reached Taylor’s jaw with a smart right-hander, and was countered in the ribs by Taylor. Very few blows of any consequence were struck up to the Fourteenth Round, when there was some pretty lively infighting, which ended in a clinch and a break-away. These tactics were repeated up to the Nineteenth Round, when Taylor landed on Irwin’s neck and the latter again countered on Taylor’s jaw. The Twentieth and last round was the liveliest of all, Irwin getting in some pretty heavy licks on Taylor’s face which, however, did not stagger him. Throughout the contest Irwin forced the fighting and landed some pretty heavy blows upon his antagonist, but without effect, and when time was called in the twentieth round there had not been a knockdown or a drop of blood spilled. Those who had expected to see a knockout were very much disappointed and many expressions of disgust were heard. The affair was conducted in a decidedly orderly manner, and so far as punishment or brutality was concerned, not the slightest evidence of either existed. Walter Brooks acted as referee and gave the contest to Irwin on points, which decision gave general satisfaction. The affair was very tame and might have been conducted anywhere without offense to the most fastidious. Doug Sullivan acted as timekeeper, while Frank Bruin acted as principal second for Irwin and Mike O’Connell for Taylor. The fight lasted about an hour and a half.”
Reading these two newspaper articles together a few general conclusions can be drawn. “Throughout the contest Irwin forced the fighting.” “Irwin always on the aggressive, keeping Taylor well back toward the latter’s corner.” “So far (round eleven) Taylor has not got half across the ring from his corner.” “Irwin works like a wasp.” But also to give credit to Taylor it must be noted that the headline of the Aspen Times newspaper had this to say about him: “The plucky Aspen Boy makes a good showing against the Leadville pugilist.” In any event, although both adversaries deserve credit Referee Brooks gave the contest to Irwin on points.
It should also be noted that, according to the Aspen Tribune article: “Those who had expected to see a knockout were very disappointed and many expressions of disgusts were heard.” It, in contrast, should also be noted that when Irwin fought Billy Tennis at Aspen just two months earlier that the newspaper reported, after police broke up the match in the 5th round, that: “There was a great deal of dissatisfaction on account of the fight being stopped and if Irwin had only taken it easy in the fifth round and not tried to rush things the result might have been different and the exhibit proceeded with.” Such was the situation of boxing in Colorado and throughout the United Sates in the 1890s. Sometimes the match would be stopped because of “roughing it” too much and sometime the spectators would be disappointed if there were no knockouts and blood! Three years later, Billy Irwin would once again run afoul of the ringside authorities for roughing it (Irwin vs. Coogan) which resulted in the only time Billy Irwin lost a match by disqualification. Billy’s next challenger, following the Johnny Taylor match, was Reddy Coogan and it would come soon.
The Irwin-Coogan match was anticipated to be a decisive battle between Billy Irwin the featherweight who claimed the Colorado Featherweight championship and Reddy Coogan the bantamweight who now claimed both the Colorado Bantamweight and Featherweight championships. It was scheduled to take place following the Kid Brooks – Reddy Coogan match which took place and ended in a twenty round draw on April 10, 1898.
So it was that the Irwin-Coogan match finally was scheduled and it took place at Aspen on May 25, 1898. According to the Aspen Daily Times dated May 26, 1898 the details of the fight were reported as follows: “A big crowd assembled at the Tivoli last night to witness the twenty-round fight between Billy Irwin of Aspen and Leadville and ”Reddy” Coogan of Denver, featherweight champion of the state. It was 9 o’clock when the exercise opened with O’Connell as master of ceremonies. Then the principal event the 20-round contest between Irwin and Coogan was announced. The choosing of a referee was left to the audience, and after some delay Ernest Houston was selected. Before calling time the referee announced that if both men were on their feet at the close of the twentieth round, the match would be declared a draw. Then with Dougal Sullivan as timekeeper, the word was given and the husky little fellows advanced and shook hands. Coogan appeared slightly under his opponent in height and weight, but was in good form, and his clear eye and cool decisive appearance gave confidence to those who were backing him. Although Irwin’s friends were in the majority, it soon became evident that their favorite had a fight on his hands that was anything but a picnic for him."
First round – Both danced to the center of the ring. Coogan landed first with his right on Irwin’s face and the latter got a good one in the neck from Irwin. Several blows were exchanged. Lively sparring, and the round ended with honors even. Second Round – Irwin got in several heavy body blows but the Denver man still looked pleasant. Before the round closed Coogan had evened up matters by landing a couple of hard blows with his right. Third Round – Reddy landed on face and body. Irwin retaliated with energy landing twice. Time was called after Irwin had received a stinging blow over the right eye. First blood claimed and allowed Coogan. Fourth Round – Lively sparring, but little effective work. Fifth Round – Irwin’s eye badly swollen; appeared to bother him, fighting fast, and several blows given and received. Sixth and Seventh Rounds – In these rounds there was hard work. Coogan appearing fresh and cool. Irwin, though somewhat flushed and disfigured fought hard and rushed his opponent, who proved a skillful dodger. Eight and Ninth Rounds – lively fighting with honors about even. Tenth Round – Coogan had the best of this round, reaching Irwin’s face repeatedly, but not with force sufficient to be effective. Eleventh Round – In this round Irwin showed up well and was loudly cheered for a hard swing on his opponent’s ear, as the latter was trying to avoid a rush. This looked like Irwin’s round. Twelfth Round – Irwin’s eyes is nearly closed and Coogan appears in better condition. The fighting is fierce and blows are given and exchanged in rapid succession. Thirteenth Round - Coogan landed twice on face and Irwin reached his opponent with right and left jabs. The round ended with a rapid exchanged of compliments. Fourteenth to Nineteenth Rounds were fast and interesting. Irwin crowding Coogan, but the latter’s cleverness saved him severe punishment and enabled him to frequently stop Irwin’s rushes. Twentieth Round – When time was called for the last round it was evident the contest would be a draw. Both men appeared to have withstood their hard work and punishment well. As the men advanced to the last 3-minute struggle they shook hands, smiled and then went at each other hammer and tongs. In the first mix-up stinging blows on the face were exchanged. Irwin landed on face with right and Coogan countered with left swing on neck. Irwin countering with right swing on ear. A few light blows were exchanged and time was called. This fight was declared a draw amid loud cheering for both the plucky men. The police officers were present on the stage, but everything was orderly, not a harsh word being spoken by the contestants or any one present. There was no fouling or claim of foul on either side. Those interested in such “sport” declared the contest one of the fairest and prettiest they had ever seen. In meeting Coogan, Irwin tackled a hard man, a man with a good record, but he came out with credit to himself. Had he not had his optic closed by an unfortunate blow early in the mill he undoubtedly would have shown up better.”
According to the Aspen Tribune dated May 26, 1898 the details of the fight were reported as follows: “William Irwin of Aspen and Reddy Coogan of Denver were then presented. It was for the audience to choose a referee, and Ernest Huston was their choice. He announced that if both men were standing at the end of the twentieth round a draw would be declared. Both men were in perfect condition and quite evenly matched. Coogan weighing 116 and Irwin 121 pounds. From the call of time both men fought hard and in the First and Second Rounds honors were evenly divided, the falling of a crimson drop from Irwin’s nostrils in the Third, however, allowed the seconds for Coogan to claim first blood. Each succeeding round was a repetition of the first and no more blood was spilled; neither was there a knockdown. Many hard blows were aimed but few landed. Coogan’s defense was the superior, however, and he came out without a scratch, while Irwin’s right eye and lips are badly swollen. A pretty fight, remarked all who witnessed it, and there were various conjectures as to the outcome had there been ten more rounds. The referee decided a draw and the large audience dispersed quite content that it was so.”
During this match Coogan claimed both the Colorado Bantamweight & Featherweight Championship. But at 116 lbs. he was clearly a Bantamweight. Conversely Billy Irwin claimed the Featherweight Championship. At 121 lbs. Irwin was clearly a Featherweight. Therefore, the weights mentioned in the article gives more credence to Billy Irwin’s claim to the Featherweight Championship following this draw match.
According to the Denver Rocky Mountain News dated May 26, 1898 the fight was reported as follows:
Coogan Failed to Knockout
Special to the News.
“ASPEN, COLO. May 25. – In the twenty-round glove contest this evening between Reddy Coogan of Denver and Billy Irwin of Aspen, the bout was declared a draw. Irwin received a lot of punishment but there was plenty of fight left in him at the end of the twentieth round.”
According to the Aspen Tribune article previously quoted it stated: “There were various conjectures as to the outcome had there been ten more rounds.” According to the just quoted Denver Rocky Mountain News article it stated “there was plenty of fight left in him (Irwin) at the end of the twentieth round.” Undoubtedly there were those who speculated that Coogan, the more scientific fighter, would have won by a knockout. But likewise undoubtedly there were those who speculated that Irwin, with better wind and endurance, would have worn Coogan down and knocked him out.
Above is a data from BoxRec retrieved from their website in May of 2018. Notice that before the fight Billy Irwin was rated at 5 points and Coogan was rated at 1 point. After the fight Billy Irwin had a score of 4 points whereas Coogan was given a score of 2 points.
So on April 10th Coogan and Kid Brooks had fought a twenty round draw and on May 25th Coogan and Irwin had also fought a twenty round draw. The Colorado Lightweight Championship (including Bantamweight and Featherweight) was now a three way battle of contention between Irwin, Coogan and Brooks.
According to the Aspen Tribune dated June 16, 1898: “An Aspen man who is a lover of the manly art” posted the purse money for the Billy Irwin-Kid Brooks fight which was scheduled to take place at Aspen on June 18, 1898.” According to the same article: “The winner of Saturday night’s bout (Irwin or Brooks) will challenge Coogan and the latter arrived from Leadville last night to be on hand to make arrangements to meet the winner.”
All arrangements now made and solidified Billy Irwin continued training in earnest for his upcoming match with Kid Brooks.
Although Billy Irwin had fought a better fight, (see Chapter-Essay 12 “Lightweight Champion (Disputed) of Colorado (1898),” against Coogan than did Brooks he (Kid Brooks) was no one to be underestimated. According to the Aspen Tribune dated June 16, 1898 Kid Brooks had already fought “nearly twenty finish fights” and his record was listed in the same article as follows: He defeated Spider Doyle in six rounds in Denver…Harry Jones in seven rounds in San Francisco…and Kid Miller in nine rounds in Denver. He had also fought draws with Kid Parker, Reddy Coogan and Spider Kelly. Billy Irwin was well aware of Kid Brooks’ record and of the records of those whom Kid Brooks had defeated and with whom he fought draw matches.
According to BoxRec.com no data was available for both Kid Miller and Spider Doyle. According to the Denver Post dated December 3, 1901 Coogan was the “best man of his weight in the West” in 1898. Perhaps more importantly additional information can be gleaned from the “boxing pedigrees” of Kid Brooks’ other three opponents (Kid Parker, Harry Jones and Spider Kelly):
During this time frame Kid Parker had already proven himself to be a world class boxer. In 1899 he had won the Western Lightweight Title by a TKO in the 5th round against Billy Otts after having “floored” him ten times according to the Los Angeles Times. Also, and more importantly, according to BoxRec.com Kid Parker was listed as the 6th best lightweight in America in 1899. So Kid Brooks draw with Kid Parker is to his credit.
Kid Brooks win over Harry Jones in seven rounds also provides insights into Kid Brooks boxing ability especially when considering the fact that it took George “Kid” LaVigne eight rounds to defeat Harry Jones. LaVigne, according to www.boxingscene.com, (see Author’s Note at bottom of paragraph) was the 17th greatest lightweight of all time and rightly so! Between 1895 and 1898 LaVigne had fought and won four World Lightweight Titles…drew two World Lightweight Titles…won two World 138 lb. Lightweight Titles…and won two World 133 lb. Lightweight Titles. Additionally, according to the BoxRec.com ratings Kid LaVigne in 1894 was listed as the number two rated Lightweight in America…in 1895 the number one rated lightweight in America…in 1896 number one also…and 1897 number one also. So in consideration of the preceding, Kid Brooks win over Harry Jones in seven rounds compared to Kid LaVigne’s win over Harry Jones in eight rounds goes a long way in assessing Kid Brooks fistic merits.
(Author’s Note: Data from www.boxingscene.com was retrieved from their website as displayed in 2014).
Kid Brooks draw with Spider Kelly also sheds light on his (Brooks) pugilistic ability. In 1897 Spider Kelly fought a twenty round match, which he lost on points to Jack Everhardt. But, considering Jack Everhardt’s record, this loss reflects favorably on Spider Kelly. According to BoxRec.com Jack Everhardt was the number one rated Lightweight in America in 1894…number six in 1895…number three in 1896…and number seven in 1897.
So Billy Irwin had before him a very formidable opponent…an opponent that he would have to beat in order to fight Reddy Coogan for the Colorado Lightweight Championship.The Irwin-Brooks match was scheduled to take place at the Wheeler Opera House on June 18, 1898.But newspaper evidence now confirms that this match did not take place.According to the Aspen Daily Times dated June 19, 1898: “Owing to a large number of Aspen’s citizens being absent from the city and also owing to Kemptons putting on a strong play and following it up with a watch drawing thereby pulling a large crowd, the number of people who assembled at the Opera House to see the Irwin-Brooks mill was by far too small to warrant the match to be pulled off, consequently it was postponed until the evening of July 4th.” In the same article it further states: “On the evening of the fourth, so says the Marshal, if the fight is billed for that date it must take place, crowd or no crowd.” It appears that the match was not rescheduled and thus did not take place.
The cancellation of the Irwin-Brooks match did not have an adverse effect on Billy Irwin…quite the contrary according to newspaper accounts Irwin had fought a much better fight against Coogan than did Brooks (See Chapter/Essay 12 of this booklet) which, in effect, amounted to a “newspaper win” (NWS-W) for Billy Irwin.Thus it was decided that the Colorado Lightweight Championship would be fought between Billy Irwin and Reddy Coogan.
In the interim, and in lieu of the aborted Irwin-Brooks match, Billy was able to fight another match before his championship match with Coogan.According to BoxRec.com Billy Irwin knocked out Billy Tennis in four rounds on July 1, 1898 (date uncertain).
Following the Irwin-Tennis match Irwin, as well as Coogan, went , in earnest, into training. Both, from recent experience, knew their opponents strong and weak points.Coogan had superior defensive skills and could outpoint and knockout his opponent in a long range battle. Irwin had better wind and could wear out Coogan at close-quarter inside fighting.Thus Billy’s fight plan and training was geared to penetrate Coogan’s defenses with a minimum of “punishment” and thereafter wear out and beat Coogan with rough inside fighting.Conversely Coogan’s best hope to beat the very durable Irwin was to outpoint him and knock him out at long range .Thus Irwin trained and prepared accordingly as likewise did Coogan…and Coogan’s plan would be seen to unfold in the first round of their championship match at Glenwood Springs, Colorado on August 23, 1898.
During the years of their four encounters (1898-1901) Billy Irwin and Reddy Coogan were evenly matched. In early 1896 they were scheduled to fight a twenty-round match in Leadville but the civil authorities would not allow it.
Finally, they were able to come together for the first time, in Aspen, on May 25, 1898. This match lasted for twenty rounds and ended in a draw.
Their second match took place in Glenwood Springs on August 23, 1898 and ended in controversy. Billy Irwin lost this match, scheduled for twenty rounds, in round one “allegedly” due to Coogan’s “fouls and tampered boxing gloves” (see Essay 12).
Their third match took place in Aspen in May of 1899 according to the Aspen Daily Times dated May 13, 1899. Also, according to the Leadville Miner Newspaper dated February 10 or 11, 1901 It was for 20 rounds and “although both men were on their feet fighting at the conclusion of round twenty” the match was a win on points for Coogan."
Their fourth and final match took place in Aspen on February 12, 1901 and also ended in controversy. In this match, scheduled for twenty rounds, Billy Irwin was disqualified for “allegedly violating the rules” by hitting in the clinches. This match only lasted for three full rounds and following the first clinch of round four Billy Irwin was disqualified and the match went to Coogan (see Essay 16).