BANTAMWEIGHT CHAMPION (DISPUTED) OF COLORADO (1895-98)
During the nineteenth and then again in the twentieth century the popularity of boxing brought the formation of weight divisions other than the Heavyweight class. This was so in order to eliminate the handicap of smaller contestants having to concede excessive weight to their heavier opponents. It was in this context that the Bantamweight division began in 1889 when Tommy “Spider” Kelly, in a four round match, beat Michael “Chappie” Moran and was declared the World Bantamweight Champion.
At this time in America the Bantamweight limit was only 110 pounds but it crept up, pound for pound to 112…to 114…to 115…to 116 until finally settling in to a range between 113 to 118 pounds. So in the 1890s the newness of this division and this progressive weight escalation gave rise to virtually constant confusion. From this time and even into the 1920s the Bantamweight Championship locally, nationally and worldly…in one of the preceding venues or the other was almost always in “dispute” with one, two or maybe even three claimants. Such was the state of affairs during the 1899-1900 time frame when both Billy Irwin and Dago Mike decided that the Featherweight division in Colorado was a “bit crowded” and that the Colorado Bantamweight championship was more ”within their reach.”
Going back to the latter part of 1898 and the Colorado Featherweight division there were, at this time, six claimants to the Colorado Featherweight Championship: Young Corbett, Reddy Coogan, Young Spitz, Jack Dempsey, Billy Irwin and Dago Mike. It was believed at this time that Young Corbett’s was the most valid but soon the other five claimants would have their chance to prove otherwise.
The first to challenge Young Corbett’s boast that he was the Colorado Featherweight champion was Reddy Coogan. The Coogan-Corbett match took place at Aspen on November 14,1898. Although Coogan was knocked down twice he managed to “hang-in” for the full twenty rounds to an “official” draw decision but arguably a “newspaper” win for Corbett. In a rematch on December 14, 1900 at Cripple Creek Young Corbett virtually ended Coogan’s championship aspirations in the following manner: “Young Corbett of this city had no trouble at all in defeating Reddy Coogan at Cripple Creek last night before the Olympic Club of that city. From start to finish it was all Corbett, and in the middle of the third round Coogan’s seconds, seeing he had no chance whatsoever, threw up the sponge,” (Denver Evening Post dated December 15, 1900).
Dago Mike was second to challenge Young Corbett’s ring supremacy. At that moment in time he (Dago Mike) considered himself to be the Colorado Featherweight Champion due to his second round knockout of Kid Bennett at Cripple Creek on January 15, 1898 (see BoxRec.com). However after the match with Young Corbett his championship claim was no more and even his reputation had been compromised. Young Corbett knocked him out in the second round. This match took place at Aspen on December 16, 1898. Young Corbett refused a rematch with the Dago “until he went out and got a reputation” (Aspen Daily Mail dated January 21, 1899). A full account of this match will be reported later along with and in comparison to Billy Irwin’s match with Young Corbett.
Abe Spitz (also known as Young Spitz) was next to go up against Corbett and he did so on February 7, 1899. It ended in a twenty round draw and according to an article in the Denver Post dated April 18, 1899: “Corbett claimed in that contest (with Spitz) to have hurt his arm…and efforts will be made to match him against Spitz again.” This match took place in Denver on June 10, 1899. Spitz was knocked out in round four of what was to be a twenty round match and so Young Corbett’s claim was still the most valid.
On April 17, 1899 it was Billy Irwin’s turn to go up against Young Corbett. The Young Corbett vs. Billy Irwin match took place at Aspen and Corbett won by a knock out in round four. A full account of this match will be reported later along with and in comparison to Dago Mike’s match with Young Corbett.
Last but not least of the Colorado Featherweight Champion claimants was Jack Dempsey. It seemed that he was the most “troublesome” of Young Corbett’s antagonists. On June 23, 1899 at Aspen he and Corbett fought a twenty round draw. Then in a rematch on February 12, 1900 at Pueblo Jack Dempsey knocked out Young Corbett in the second round and, according to BoxRec.com, this match was for the Colorado State 126 pound title. As far as weight is concerned 126 pounds is the upper limit of the Featherweight class and only a pound away from Lightweight. Dempsey’s victory was short lived however because just two weeks later on February 26, 1900 at Denver Young Corbett knocked out Dempsey in three rounds.
Before leaving Jack Dempsey and the Colorado Featherweight Championship it should be noted that Dempsey’s first claim to the Featherweight Championship of Colorado was when he knocked out Young Corbett in the second round at Pueblo on February 12, 1900. Prior to this his career had taken him outside of Colorado and only briefly to Colorado in the latter part of 1896. A thumbnail sketch explaining the preceding follows here. Jack Dempsey, after leaving his hometown of St. Louis circa the late 1880s, went to California where he became the Lightweight Champion of California when he beat Jack Davis (BoxRec.com in 1890). He then relocated to Washington state for several years and was later headquartered and fought out of Butte, Montana. However in 1896 he did fight briefly in Colorado where he made quite a good showing. His record in Colorado, and also his complete to-date record, can be found in the Denver Times dated September 7, 1900. His Colorado record is as follows: beat Jerry Haley in 21 rounds at Cripple Creek…beat George Hall in 6 rounds in Pueblo…beat Dave Reese in 10 rounds at Cripple Creek…and beat Fred Ross in 20 rounds at Pueblo. However during this period in Colorado he did not fight Young Corbett, Young Spitz, Billy Irwin, Reddy Coogan and Dago Mike. Dempsey, after his Colorado sojourn of 1896, returned to Butte and also fought again on the west coast before returning to Colorado (Pueblo) in 1899.
The important thing to note here, as far as Billy Irwin is concerned, is that it took Dempsey 20 rounds to beat Fred Ross and 10 rounds to beat Dave Reese. But in comparison Billy Irwin beat Fred Ross in one round and, in a bare knuckle bar room encounter, beat Dave Reese in a time frame of one round. Dempsey and Billy Irwin would never meet in the ring as adversaries but they did meet in the ring as allies on June 12, 1899 at Aspen when Billy Irwin served as Dempsey’s cornerman and second when he (Dempsey) fought Young Corbett to a 20 round draw.
As far as Billy Irwin was concerned, at this time, he had already been the Colorado Featherweight State Champion (1895-1898). He also had already fought for the Lightweight Championship of Colorado against Coogan (1898) in which he lost solely on a “rigged” match for it was alleged that Coogan had worn boxing gloves that had been “tampered with.” Thus he (Coogan) should have been disqualified and thereby concede the Lightweight title to Irwin (See chapter/essay 12 of this booklet). The difference between Bantamweight and Featherweight is, at a minimum, only one pound and Billy would have no problem “making weight” as a Bantamweight. It was at this time and under these circumstances that Billy Irwin claimed the Bantamweight Championship of Colorado.
Soon, or maybe even simultaneously, Dago Mike would claim the Bantamweight Championship of Colorado for himself. This was the “dispute” that would unfold between Billy Irwin and Dago Mike between early 1899 and mid 1900. During this time frame Billy and the Dago would fight each other three times. They would also be matched with and fight three of the same adversaries (Young Corbett, Reddy Coogan and Tom Delaney). The evidence and comparisons to be presented indicate that Billy Irwin’s claim to the Bantamweight championship was the most valid up until their last match at Leadville on June 5, 1900.
The first comparison to be presented as evidence was the Dago vs. Corbett match (Aspen on December 16, 1898) with the Irwin vs. Corbett match (Aspen on April 17, 1899). According to an article in the Aspen Tribune dated December 17, 1898: “About the middle of the first round Mike knocked Corbett down. This seemed to rile Corbett who sprang to his feet and landed a heavy right hander on Dago Mike’s solar plexus following with a lefter on the neck which not only felled him to the floor, but also practically put him out. Time was called but Mike was too groggy to get to his corner before the gong rang for the second round and when he attempted to put a show of fight it was plain to be seen that it was all up for him. Before the second round was half over Corbett had Mike at his mercy and a couple of stiff rights laid him out hopelessly beaten.”
In comparison to the Dago vs. Corbett match Billy Irwin showed up much better against Young Corbett than did Dago Mike as can be seen from the accounts of these matches. The Corbett vs. Irwin match took place at Aspen on April 17, 1899. The match was covered by the Aspen Daily Times, Aspen Tribune and the Denver Post all dated April 18, 1899. The following are excerpts from these newspapers covering the fight. In the first round: “To the surprise of the audience Irwin assumed the aggressive landing on Corbett’s face and rushing him to the ropes.” (Aspen Daily Times). In the second round: “Irwin landed repeatedly and was loudly applauded and honors were about even” (Aspen Daily Times). Also in the second round: “Irwin succeeded in drawing blood on Corbett" (Aspen Tribune). In the third round: “Irwin continued pluckily forcing the fighting and landed repeatedly with light blows on Corbett’s face" (Aspen Daily Times). In the fourth round: “Corbett lands right swing on Irwin’s jaw knocking him down. As referee counted off the seconds up to eight, Irwin staggered to his feet too dazed to put up his hands. Corbett struck him a terrific blow in the temple, and Irwin dropped to the floor unconscious and was carried to his corner. The large crowd jumped to its feet shouting “FOUL” and the ring was soon filled with excited men. Order was restored and referee Huston declared there was no foul and gave the decision to Corbett” (Denver Post). “Irwin suffered defeat last night on account of the superior strength of his antagonist. However he put up a gamey fight and not for one moment did he show the white feather. From a pugilistic point of view he suffered defeat but not dishonor” (Aspen Daily Times). To put into the proper context regarding Corbett’s “superior strength” over Billy Irwin it is to be noted that Irwin was ten years older than Corbett.
The second comparison between Billy Irwin and Dago Mike was the Dago’s match with Reddy Coogan. This match was retrieved from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook (an undated article) and reports the fight as follows: “The four round sparring exhibition between Reddy Coogan and Dago Mike gave the cultured audience quite a little taste of what the sports enjoy when the fight is for blood. In the first round the little roosters took things easy and some who were up on prize ring matters, said it was tame. In the second round it was a little faster and the fighting spirit in the Dago seemed to get the better of him. In the third round it got interesting as both the bantams seemed to loose their tempers and hammered each other severely. In a clinch towards the end of the round Coogan, being provoked at Mike’s rushes, thrust his head several times into Mike’s face. The fourth round opened so vicious and the men showed such evident bad temper that, for decency’s sake, referee Manley separated the combatants after the mix-up lasted but half a minute and ordered the men from the stage. The bout was decided a draw. Coogan proved himself quite clever but physically seemed unequal to his opponent.” (Verbatim undated article from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook).
In comparison to the Dago Mike vs. Reddy Coogan match which was stopped “for decency’s sake” in the fourth round Billy Irwin showed up much better against Coogan than did the Dago. Disregarding the “tampered glove” match between Irwin and Coogan which was stopped by the sheriff at the conclusion of the first round there are two other Irwin-Coogan matches to compare with the one Dago-Coogan match. Both of these Irwin-Coogan matches were twenty rounders. The first one of these two encounters took place at Aspen on May 25, 1898. It was covered by the Aspen Daily Times, Aspen Tribune and the Denver Rocky Mountain News all dated May 26, 1898. These verbatim accounts of the match can be found in the last 5 to 6 pages of Essay/Chapter 10 of this booklet. In reading these newspaper accounts Irwin showed up much better against Coogan than did the Dago. The second 20 round match between Irwin and Coogan took place in May 1899 according to the Aspen Daily Times May 13, 1899 and the Aspen Democrat dated February 3, 1901. To date the newspaper article reporting this match has not been found or if this match was done in an illegal venue or done clandestinely perhaps it was never reported? But what is known of this match comes from the Leadville Miner newspaper. According to a clipping (undated but probably January 1901) from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook: “The Leadville Miner says: In Aspen before the A.U.A.O. on the night of February 12, Billy Irwin of Leadville and Reddy Coogan of Denver will meet in a 20 round go. These men have fought two battles before. The first was 20 rounds and resulted in a draw, although Irwin’s friends claim he had a long way the best of it. The next was also 20 rounds. Both men were fighting at the finish but Coogan was given the decision.” As mentioned before and considering these two 20 round matches Irwin showed up better against Coogan than did the Dago.
Last on the list of comparisons of mutual adversaries fought by both Dago Mike and Billy Irwin was that of Tom Delaney. This third comparison also reinforces Billy Irwin’s claim to the Colorado Bantamweight Championship over the Dago’s. According to BoxRec.com the Dago Mike vs. Tom Delaney fight took place circa February 1, 1899 (the exact date is unknown but definitely before July 1899). This was a 6 round match and the Dago lost it on points. Newspaper articles of this match remain unfound. The Irwin vs. Delaney match took place at Silverton on July 4, 1899. It was reported in the Aspen newspapers the following day. Some quotes from this article are as follows: In the first round: “Delaney begins the contest by a stinging rush but it became evident that Irwin was too clever on the ‘duck’ to allow any severe blows to be landed… the baker was thrown twice…the first blood was drawn by Irwin sending out a straight right on the baker’s nose.” In the second round: “Irwin showed superior skill and after a few rushes landed a heavy one on the baker’s jaw bringing him to his knees… he arose immediately and rushed at his opponent only to receive the worst of it in his hurry.” In the third round: “After one or two mix-ups Irwin landed right on the body and with a swinging left caught Delaney under the jaw sending him to the ropes, as he arose he received another and another this time going down to be counted out.” So there you have this third comparison in which Dago Mike lost on points in 6 rounds to Delaney whereas Irwin knocked out Delaney in 3 rounds.
But the preceding three comparisons, important as they are, must also include the three matches that Dago Mike and Billy Irwin had during the 1899-1900 time frame.
It appears that at this time (early 1899) Dago Mike challenged Billy Irwin to a 6 round finish fight in which he boasted that he would knock out Billy Irwin within 6 rounds or loose the match. This is gleaned from a Denver Post article dated April 18, 1899 which states: “Dago Mike tried sometime ago to stop Irwin in six rounds but failed.” So the first of the three matches between Billy Irwin and Dago Mike was a loss for the Dago and a win for Irwin. Said another way it was a loss for the challenger and a win for the challenged. And finally said yet in another way it was a loss for the aspiring Bantamweight Champion and a win for the champion.
After this loss for the Dago he remained persistent however and later in February 1899 he challenged Billy Irwin again to another match. From Billy Irwin’s scrapbook which was probably from an Aspen newspaper article the Dago issued his challenge: “I Dago Mike have deposited at Hull and Giese’s $50 to fight Billy Irwin any rounds to which we will agree (Signed) Dago Mike…Aspen, Colorado…February 14, 1899.”
Billy Irwin accepted the Dago’s challenge on the same day as gleaned from this article from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook: “I accept the challenge of Dago Mike for a boxing contest and have $50 posted at John Conners Saloon to bind the match. I will meet Dago Mike or his backers at any time or place he may name to draw up Articles of Agreement and name a final stakeholder. Yours Respectfully Billy Irwin.”
In another article from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook (undated but probably February 1899) there must have been a mix up in the posting of Dago Mike’s $50 which reads as follows: “Fifty Dollars not posted…It was stated last night that Dago Mike had failed to post his forfeit of $50 for a sparring contest with Billy Irwin. Irwin’s money is up and as Dago has a good many admirers in this neck of the woods it is altogether likely that he will come to the fight with the necessary filthy Lucre.”
In another article from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook (undated but probably February 1899) it reads as follows: “That the Dago and Irwin will come together with a clash is a foregone conclusion and to prove that they will Captain Monahan of the Buckhorn now holds $100 as the first deposit of the make money. The fight will take place about the middle of the month, (March 1899) the conditions being that the winner take all of the gate receipts. Irwin has taken a lay-off and under the training of Reddy Coogan will be put in the best of condition. They doubtless will both know they have had a fight on their hands.”
All of the arrangements now being made the fight was scheduled to take place at Aspen on March 15, 1899. It would be a 20 round match. Both the Aspen Daily Times and the Aspen Tribune reported the match. A verbatim of the Aspen Tribune dated March 16, 1899 is as follows:
ENDED IN A DRAW (Article’s Title)
LAST NIGHT’S GLOVE CONTEST FINE EXHIBITION.
BUT NOT A FINISH (Article Sub-title)
“Both men were on their feet at the end of the twentieth round in the glove contest between Billy Irwin of Aspen and ‘Dago Mike’ of Cripple Creek at the Wheeler last night, therefore under the rules Referee Gilbert declared the fight a draw.
About 500 spectators occupied seats when time was called for the go, among whom were many who had placed money on the result of the fight.
At 8:50 ‘Dago Mike’ accompanied by his trainer, George Manley, and other seconds Grant McMasters and Oscar Kendrick, entered the ring. They were followed five minutes later by Billy Irwin and his trainer, ‘Reddy Coogan’ and his seconds, Frank Bruin and Floyd Hale.
Considerable time was occupied in choosing a referee, the audience with almost one accord calling for ‘Pug’ Gilbert. Mr. Gilbert was finally prevailed upon to act in that capacity, and at precisely 9:15 the principals were told to shake hands and the fight begun.
Round 1 - Both men stepped confidently to the center of the ring appearing to be in the pink of condition, and were loudly applauded by their respective admirers. Mike landed on Billy’s body heavily and received an uppercut for his pains. Both men become cautious and the round ended without much damage.
Round 2 - Mike landed on neck, Billy on face; sharp infighting, with little effect.
Round 3- Irwin landed on Mike’s nose, drawing first blood, which was claimed by second Frank Bruin, and allowed. Irwin escaped a vicious right aimed at his heart, in a clever get away. Honors even.
Round 4 -This round was marked by numerous clinches and many cautions from referees and seconds about hitting in the breakaway. Some infighting was indulged in, but aside from Mike landing on Irwin’s body several times, little harm was noticeable.
Round 5- Mike resumed tactics of landing on body. Billy landed on Mike’s neck. Round ended with both men fresh and honors about even.
Round 6- Reporters from Aspen Tribune at ringside did not report anything about this round.
Round 7- Opened with sparring for advantage. Mike struck short; Billy followed with right on head. Mike missed in a long lunge.
Round 8 - Mike landed on neck; Billy on face; Mike slipped down while trying to rush Irwin. This round was marked by considerable parleying on the part of the seconds.
Round 9 - Billy landed on ribs; Mike wind; Irwin on left side of head and made a lively get away to avoid a vicious right-hander.
Round 10 - Both men came up smiling but cautious, and Irwin landed twice lightly on Mike’s face, but did not stagger Mike.
Round 11-Billy made a swift pass for Mike’s face but was stopped; then landed on Mike’s neck; Mike on Billy’s ribs. Mike again fell down by missing in a rush.
Round 12 -More cautious sparring, several light blows on both sides. Billy lands on Mike’s nose. Drew blood. Rounded ended in give and take.
Round 13 -Fast fighting introduced; Mike got in a hard on Billy’s neck. Billy countered with right on face. Honors even.
Round 14 - Opened with fast fighting, but soon settled down to sparring for advantage, Mike landed long body blows. Billy landed on neck. This was Mike’s round.
Round 15 - Mike slipped under ropes in rush; recovered and landed on Billy’s ribs; Irwin countered on Mike’s face; Mike landed on body; Billy on face. No advantage was gained by either in this round.
Round 16 - Both men came up fresh. Mike rushed; landed on neck; Billy on face; Mike on body. Fast and furious fighting with honors about even.
Round 17 -This round was almost a repetition of the preceding round. Although the blows landed were somewhat heavier.
Round 18 -Both men came up looking for opening for knockout. Mike rushed but fell short. Billy stopped body blows. Mike ducked a heavy right.
Round 19 -Cautious sparring, with both men apparently fresh. Irwin fell down in rush; Mike rushed and did likewise. Round ended featureless.
Round 20 - Men came up looking confident. Sparring for opening. Rush together; considerable infighting ensued, breakaway, and spar until time is called.
It was evident that the men were quite evenly matched, although many were of the opinion that Mike was the strongest at the end of the contest. While the spectators expected to see a knock out, all appeared to be satisfied, as they had witnessed a clever and closely contested exhibition. The affair passed off quietly under the able management of Jakie Geis and was a success from every standpoint.”
As previously mentioned the Dago Mike vs. Billy Irwin match was covered by two Aspen newspapers. The preceding account was reported by the Aspen Tribune. A verbatim of the Aspen Daily Times coverage of the match dated March 16, 1899 is as follows:
THE FIGHT A DRAW (Article’s Title)
IRWIN-DAGO MIKE CONTEST AT THE WHEELER (Article’s sub title)
LARGE CROWD WITNESS A FINE EXHIBITION OF THE MANLY ART – IRWIN FIGHTS ON THE DEFENSIVE BUT NICELY STOPS THE MAD RUSHES OF THE DAGO (Article Sub-sub Title)
“The twenty round fight at the Wheeler last night between Billy Irwin and Dago Mike proved a good drawing card and the house was well filled.
Considerable trouble was experienced in selecting a referee for the main attraction, those men upon whom the seconds could agree, declining to officiate. Finally Pug Gilbert, who was the popular choice from the start, consented to act and performed the duties of the position to the satisfaction of everyone.
At 9:10 the contestants entered the ring attended by their seconds and were given an enthusiastic reception, that accorded to Irwin being exceptionally warm.
George Manley, Grant McMasters and Oscar Kendrick seconded Dago Mike, Reddy Coogan, Frank Bruin and Floyd Hale were Irwin’s seconds. Referee Gilbert selected Frank Campbell as Time Keeper.
Although it had been reported that Dago Mike had been slightly the favorite in the betting at the ringside there was plenty of Irwin money and all bets on the Dago were taken without odds and several BLUFFS were called on behalf of the Aspen boy (Irwin).
Time was called at 9:20 p. m. and the lightweights advanced to the center of the ring and shook hands. Early in the bout Mike did a little grand stand acting and talking and wore a confident smile. Later on, however, he found he had a real fight on his hands and looked a little bit worried and serious. It was a pretty contest from start to finish and in a pugilistic sense reflected credit on both the little men.
First Round Mike appeared to be more aggressive, but it was the plan of Irwin’s seconds that this should be so. In this round, as in the first half of the contest Mike got in some hard swings with his right on Irwin’s ribs that brought a ruddy glow to the parts landed on. Irwin sparred cautiously and successfully blocked some sledge like blows from his aggressor.
Second Round Mike landed a right on Irwin’s face; Irwin countered with right and left swings on Mike’s jaw. Cautious sparring for an opening Irwin landed on face and clinch followed.
Third Round Mike still aggressive, but Irwin stops one of his rushes by a blow in the face which brought the claret from Mike’s nose. First Blood for Irwin; clinch. Irwin landed twice on face and clinch followed. Foul claimed against Irwin, his knee striking the Dago but foul not allowed. Honors about even in this round.
Fourth Round In this round Irwin got in two good punches in the face and then followed cautious sparring. The round closed with two hard body blows to credit of Mike.
Fifth Round The fighting was rapid in this round with several clinches. Mike continued to hammer Irwin by hard right swings on the ribs but these were seemingly ineffective.
Sixth Round Mike landed on Irwin’s face and Irwin countered with a hard swing on the ear. Both danced about looking for an opening. Irwin lands more frequently and becomes more aggressive. His seconds warn him to be cautious. Mike makes some vicious lunges, but failed to find his man there.
Seventh Round This round showed a repetition of the events of the other rounds.
Eighth Round In this round Irwin’s friends claimed that Mike struck him during a clinch. The foul was not allowed but the Dago was cautioned by the referee. In a rush Mike failed to land and fell to his knees. The round closed with a lively mix-up.
The ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth rounds were not characterized by any special features. In these Mike made several rushes so fierce that when he found his man was gone the force of his onslaught carried him against the ropes.
Thirteenth Round With the exception of the last round this was the hardest of the contest. Irwin lands left and right and a clinch follows. Another exchange of compliments and a clinch. In a mix-up Mike ran away but Irwin after him and landed twice on the head. Mike missed in a rush and went violently against the ropes,
Fourteenth Round Repeated rushes and clinches in this round with hard exchange of blows. Several swings on Mike’s jaw changes his smile to a serious expression.
Fifteenth Round Dago again takes a fall against the ropes because there was nothing but air to strike at.
Sixteenth Round Irwin showed up in good form in this round and his science saved him from punishment at the hands of his stronger adversary. In a rush Mike gets a stiff one on the jaw at close range. Rapid compliments are exchanged and the gong sounds as they clinch.
The seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth rounds showed both men a little winded but still in good fighting trim.
Twentieth Round When time was called for the twentieth round the men shook hands and then went at each other hammer and tongues. The Dago made several vicious rushes at Irwin but got several stiff jabs on the jaw for his impetuosity. In a later rush Mike landed hard on the ribs, but gets a stiff jab in the stomach in return. The men were prancing round looking for an opening when the gong sounded and a great applause went up from the audience.
The Exhibition between the lightweights was entirely satisfactory to those present who were qualified to judge of the merits of such events. If any came to the Opera House expecting to see a hipodrome affair they were disappointed. Both men worked hard to win in the contest and gave a good account of themselves to the enthusiasts of such Exhibitions.
The Irwin-Dago match was fortunately covered by two different Aspen newspapers. Though both accounts are essentially the same there are some differences and observations worthy of note. According to the Aspen Tribune: Both boxers pretty even…in rounds 3, 5, 13, 16 the ringside reporter stated honors even…Irwin’s strategy clearly shows he intended to out-box and out-point the Dago and was prepared to sidestep Dago’s rushes…Dago Mike, ten years younger than Billy Irwin, intended to overpower Irwin with his vicious rushes, body blows and hopefully a knockout…Dago was successful with body blows but Irwin’s blows were more effectively guided to the Dago’s face and on two separate occasions (Round 3 and 12) Billy landed squarely on Mike’s nose and drew blood…Mikes rushes were cleverly dodged by Irwin causing the Dago to drop to the canvas or bounce against the ropes on four separate occasions (Rounds 8, 11, 15 and 19).
According to the Aspen Daily Times version of the match the following observations are worthy of note: Early in the match Mike did a little grand stand acting and talking and wore a confident smile. Later on however he found he had a real fight on his hands and looked a little worried. Also the Aspen Tribune’s coverage of Round 13 doesn’t do Billy Irwin justice because according to the Aspen Daily Times (Round 13) “Mike ran away but Irwin after him and landed twice on the head.”
Above is a data from BoxRec retrieved from their website in May of 2018. Notice that before the fight, Billy Irwin was rated at 4 points and Dago Mike was rated at 1 point. After the match, Billy Irwin had 3 points whereas Dago Mike had 2 points. Therefore” bantamweight dispute” between Irwin and the Dago at this time was in favor of Irwin
After the draw match of March 15, 1899 it would be almost 15 months before they would clash again (June 5, 1900). In this interval both would go their separate ways and be matched with other boxers not previously mentioned. Dago Mike would fight an eight round draw and a twenty round draw with Kid Bennett. He would also fight a five round draw with Dennis “Kid” McFadden. Billy Irwin would fight a twenty round match with Reddy Coogan and loose it on points. He would also fight Johnny “Griffo” Taylor in a twenty round match in which Irwin knocked out Taylor in the first round. Regarding this match Dago Mike had let it be known that he would be there to challenge the winner. According to the Aspen Tribune dated December 9, 1899: “Dago Mike was to have been on hand to challenge the winner but evidently missed the train.” Absent the Dago’s challenge, Billy Irwin was content, for the moment, to continue to claim the Colorado State Bantamweight Championship. However as the summer approached (1900) the inevitable match between Dago Mike and Billy Irwin began to take shape.
According to a Leadville Herald Democrat article dated June 1, 1900: “There is a little dispute to be settled on Tuesday between two Bantamweight fighters, Billy Irwin and Dago Mike.” A verbatim of this article follows here:
AROUND THE CITY (Title)
“THE DAGO AND IRWIN – There is a little dispute to be settled on Tuesday night between two bantamweight fighters, Billy Irwin and Dago Mike. These two young sluggers with their friends have had a dispute as to their relative fistic merits, which was not settled by their last fight, that resulted in a draw.
Both men are hard at work training, indulging in the usual work which is necessary on such occasion. Irwin is taking long walks and getting his wind in perfect condition, while Mike is indulging in considerable work with the gloves at the Athletic arena, and announces himself as ready to fight for a kingdom. Both men probably could enter the ring today in perfect condition.
Young Corbett is here and will remain over for the fight. He is looking for a match with some of the local fistic celebrities and may fight the winner of this contest.
Those who have seen Irwin and Dago Mike working are satisfied that the fight will be a hot one. Mike is one of those fighters who will go in to win every time. He is never satisfied with a draw, and will take some hard chances to win out if matters begin to assume a drawish look. Irwin is also an aggressive fighter with a thorough mastery of the game. It is generally conceded that the battle between the bantams will be a pretty one.
Above is a data from BoxRec retrieved from their website in May of 2018. Notice that in 1900 Billy Irwin’s last six bouts were better than Dago Mike’s. Also notice that, according to this document, the match was for the Colorado State Bantamweight Title (claimed by Irwin and disputed by Dago Mike at this time). In the above diagram Green is win… Red is Loss… and Blue is a Draw.
Going into the Colorado State Bantamweight Title match, Billy Irwin’s claim to the championship at this time was in his favor. According to this boxRec data, Dago Mike was credited with only 1 point whereas Billy Irwin was credited with 11 points. Following Billy Irwin’s loss of the Colorado Bantamweight Championship BoxRec credited Dago Mike with 9 points and Irwin with 6 points.
On June 4, 1900 another article from the Leadville Herald Democrat newspaper states: “The fight between Billy Irwin and Dago Mike on Tuesday night at the Athletic Club arena for the Bantamweight Championship...” A verbatim of the article follows here:
MORE OF THE MIKE (Article Title)
THAN OF THE DAGO (Article Subtitle) AND WILLIAM IRWIN HAS A CONTRACT
“The fight between Billy Irwin and Dago Mike on Tuesday night at the Athletic Club arena for the bantamweight championship is likely to prove one of the fastest bouts ever pulled off in this city. Mike has the reputation of being one of the fastest little fighters in this section. He is as agile as a cat and has a great hitting power, his shoulder development being something remarkable.
When Billy Irwin was tried out a bit on Saturday he showed up in excellent form. He put on the gloves for four rounds with Young Corbett and although the latter was heavier Irwin held his own very creditably.
He is particularly quick on his feet. Irwin is not such an aggressive fighter as Dago Mike but if the latter attempts too much he might find himself against one of Billy’s hard rights which he uses so handily. During the past year Irwin has improved wonderfully in his fighting ability and should give the Dago a keen run for the money.”
So on June 5, 1900 the Colorado Bantamweight Championship match (see BoxRec.com) between Billy Irwin and Dago Mike took place at Leadville’s Athletic Club arena. A verbatim of the article covering this fight (Leadville Herald Democrat dated June 6, 1900) follows here:
“DAGO MIKE GOT BIG END (Article Title)
TWENTY ROUND GO AT THE ATHLETIC CLUB WAS PRETTY EVEN (Article Subtitle)
SAW SOME HARD MILLING ( Article Sub-subtitle)
“A fair audience at the Athletic arena saw two very pretty and clever fights last night. Dago Mike gained the decision in the main event.
In the principal fight both men were on their feet at the end of the twentieth round, and both apparently fit for twenty rounds more. The decision in favor of Dago Mike made by Referee Joe Gavin was strictly according to the rules governing contests of this character, as Mike showed considerably more aggressiveness and did most of the leading. There is no discounting the fact that Billy Irwin is very clever and was able to stop many of Dago’s leads. Manager Gavin showed very good judgment in getting two well matched fighters, who are able to give the people what is generally termed a “run for their money.”
At 9:30 Dago Mike entered the ring. Being quite a favorite among the local sporting fraternity he was given a hearty ovation. A moment later Irwin entered the ring and was very warmly received. Manager Joe Gavin was referee and Alderman Grundel Timekeeper.
Behind Irwin were Young Corbett, John Corbett and Wm. McHatten. Fatty Deuel, Shorty Lane, Tom Curley and Billy Juster, seconded and fanned the Irish-Italian. (Author’s Note: Dago Mike is here referred to as “Irish-Italian.” The author believes that this Irish-Italian comment is erroneous. Author's explanation can be seen in number 13 of this book's Scrapbook section).
At ten o’clock the men approached and were given their instructions agreeing to break clean.
Round 1 - The round started off lively, with Mike forcing things. Mike lands hard rights on face but Irwin recovered quickly. Mike follows with a right on the ribs and shows great agility in getting away. His left finds a lodgement in Billy’s face. The round was somewhat in favor of Mike who showed himself ready to force matters whenever he got a chance.
Round 2 - Mike uppercut Billy and followed it with two hard ones on the jaw. Billy lands hard on Mike’s jaw. There is a hot rally in Billy’s corner and Mike came out bleeding at the mouth. Mike tries a right jab but is cleverly ducked. Mike lands hard on ribs. Billy lands right on jaw. The men were sparring when time was called. Billy was bleeding slightly from a blow on the ear.
Round 3 - Mike leads but Billy blocks neatly. Billy receives a hard one on the ribs. Mike lands hard on wind. The Dago is doing most of the leading but Irwin can get out of the way. Billy lands a stiff left on the ribs. Irwin’s work in blocking the Dago’s hard left swings was very good.
Round 4 - Billy started out by landing a good one on the head. Mike retaliates by a hard right on ribs. Mike keeps leading with his left but Billy is never there. Billy to vary the monotony put his right to Mike’s jaw.
Round 5 - Mike lands hard on jaw. The men fiddle considerably, mix and an exchange of body blows. Billy blocks a hard left swing and the round outside of these was somewhat tame.
Round 6 - Mike is quick but Billy is just as quick in getting away and blocking the Dago’s vicious swings. Billy begins to assume the aggressive and lands several rights on Mike’s mouth. This round was mainly a clever sparring match. Mike apparently coming to the conclusion that his hard rushes were not particularly successful.
Round 7 - There is some pretty leading and blocking at the beginning of the round. Both men show great cleverness and every lead of Mike’s was stopped neatly.
Round 8 - The round opens with a hot rally but no serious blows were landed. Mike uppercut in the jaw but the blows were light. Mike adapted his uppercut tactics again but they were blocked as usual. The men clinch and Billy lands in the break away. Mike lands right and left on jaw. The men were sparring as the round closes.
Round 9 - Mike rushes and lands twice on the face. Mike swings on face and follows with a left on jaw. Billy lands hard on Mike’s ear. Mike land several hard uppercuts on the jaw in a mix up. Billy lands hard on head. Mike lands hard on neck just as the gong sounds.
Round 10 - Mike opens the round with a right swing on the neck and follows with a right uppercut on the jaw. There is a hot rally with an even exchange. There was another rally with honors even. Mike rushes but Billy ducks ad saves himself.
Round 11 - Mike started out by landing twice on the face with his right and left. Billy got in a hard one on the Dago’s neck. There was a hot mix up in which Mike has the best of it. Billy lands hard on the Dago’s neck. Mike rushes but Billy’s foot works saves him. Billy plants a good right on the neck and Mike found that Irwin was fighting.
Round 12 - Billy lands two lefts on the nose and follows it with two more. Billy finds Mike’s nose again and the Dago found that laughing didn’t pay. He had hard work to keep out of the way of the rain of blows. This was clearly Irwin’s round from start to finish.
Round 13 - Mike starts to rush matters but Irwin is not there. Billy plants a hard one on Mike’s ear. The Dago is compelled to resort to clinching to save himself from punishment. Mike lands on the wind. Mike ducks some straight jabs. Mike lands right on jaw as time is called.
Round 14 - Mike led off with his right and finds Billy’s head twice. The men sprint considerably but finally Billy finds an opening and lands on the Dago’s eye. In a hot rally Mike lands twice on the face.
Round 15 - Mike starts out ambitiously to do up his man but Billy cleverly stops his blows. They cautiously sparr and Billy puts his left on the nose. Billy shows great skill in ducking the Dago’s swings. Mike lands on ribs. Billy retaliates by a right on ribs and followed with a left in the mouth.
Round 16 - There is some cautious sparring and Billy lands two light jabs on the nose. Mike swings largely and fans the air. Mike keeps swinging but Billy is too clever and puts several jabs on the Dago’s nose.
Round 17 - The round opened with Mike on the aggressive but he is unable to hit his man effectively. Billy lands light left on jaw and dodged a left swing. Mike rushes and lands twice. Mike shows up best infighting. The fight is very even and the men seem both fresh.
Round 18 - Mike rushes vigorously and there are several hot rallies with an even exchange. Billy lands a straight left on the jaw. Mike lands a hard left on the ear. There are several hot rallies in which Mike is the aggressor but Billy is great on protecting himself.
Round 19 - Mike as usual rushes in but does no damage, owing to the lad’s blocking tactics. Billy is very effective in straight forward jabs and gets out of Mike’s reach handily. Billy dodges a right and Mike went to his knees from the force of his own blow.
Round 20 - Mike is still aggressive and lands hard on jaw. Billy puts a hard left on the jaw and Mike gives a left on face. Billy cleverly ducks several straight arm blows. Billy lands right on jaw as the round closes.
Referee Gavin gave the decision to Dago Mike.”
Following the third and final match between Dago Mike and Billy Irwin the Bantamweight Championship of Colorado passed from Billy to the Dago. Billy was thirteen years older than Dago Mike and his “peak years”, in retrospect, were from 1895-1898. The Dago’s “peak years” had just begun. The Dago would continue his prize fighting career with considerable success. However the day would come when he too would face the inevitable: gain weight…advance past his prime…loose to a younger adversary. This same inevitable fate was not solely limited to Billy Irwin and Dago Mike. Reddy Coogan and Young Corbett, contemporary antagonists of both Billy and the Dago, would suffer the same fate. As the age old saying goes “they are all gone now but certainly not forgotten!”
In writing this essay a lot of newspaper articles, as evidence, have been produced. As a final note I would like to add my own “interview” with Dago Mike. In 1957 I (age 13 at the time) and my father (Billy Irwin’s son) were visiting Leadville. As I recall, it was a beautiful summer’s day in July. Just by chance my father and I ran into Dago Mike on Harrison Avenue. I remember Mike being very nearly dressed in a coat and tie. In the discussion that followed I remember him as a very polite, warm and personable…a likeable man…a gentleman. My father extended his hand while saying “Hello Mike!” I then was introduced to him and likewise shook his hand. We chatted for awhile and my father recalled to him the matches he had with Billy Irwin: a loss…a draw…a win. He nodded in the affirmative. What I remember the most of Mike’s reminiscences about my grandfather was (paraphrase): “Billy Irwin was a hard man to hit…he just wasn’t there when you tried to hit him…I couldn’t get through to him to knock him down and out.”
During the years of their three encounters (1898-1900) Billy Irwin and Dago Mike were very evenly matched although Billy Irwin was a full thirteen years older than Mike.
Their first encounter appears to have occurred probably in the latter part of 1898. This conclusion is drawn from a Denver Post article dated April 18, 1899 which states: “Dago Mike tried sometime ago to stop Irwin in six rounds but failed.” This was a win for Billy Irwin.
Their second match took place in Aspen on March 15, 1899. It was a twenty round match which ended in a draw.
Their third match, also for twenty rounds, took place in Leadville on June 5, 1900 and although the match was determined to be even the referee awarded the decision to the “more aggressive” Dago Mike.
Michael Mongone grave marker at Crown Hill Cemetery, Denver,
Colorado. It is located at Block 48, Lot 129, Unit 4.
Pioneer Bar in Leadville, Colorado. For years, it was owned
and operated by Dago Mike (behind the bar).