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Jimmy "Babyface" McLarnin, who died aged 96, was twice world welter-weight boxing champion before retiring to enjoy an unusual financial security.

Not only did McLarnin invest the money he had earned wisely; he also benefited from the generosity of his trainer, Charles "Pop" Foster. In a profession in which friendships traditionally do not last, McLarnin was remarkable for staying loyal to his trainer throughout his career, and the pair remained lifelong friends; when the British-born Foster died in 1956, he left his protégé his entire fortune of $280,000.

Few world champions were as talented or successful; in 1996 The Ring magazine rated him the fifth-best welter-weight of all time. By the time he was 17 McLarnin had already established himself as a hard-punching fighter blessed with remarkable speed. He twice held the world 147 lb crown, and his trilogy of fights with Barney Ross drew large gates.

Ross''s speed and swarming aggression earned him the welter-weight championship when the two clashed in New York on May 28 1934, only for McLarnin''s superior punching power to even the score in the rematch four months later. Exactly a year after their first encounter, it was Ross (who had turned professional to support his family after gangsters had murdered his father, a grocer) who emerged triumphant from their third and final 15-round bout.

James Archibald McLarnin, one of 12 children, was born on December 19 1907 at Hillsborough, Co Down. The family emigrated to Canada when he was three, and spent seven years on a prairie farm at Mortlach, Saskatchewan, before moving to Vancouver. Young Jimmy began boxing at 10, after getting into fights while defending his newspaper-selling pitch on street corners.

"I got a dollar for my first fight and $60,000 for my last," he told one interviewer, "and, in between, there was a lot of hard work." He pursued a spartan training regime from an early age, which was invariably supervised by Foster, himself an ex-fighter who effectively adopted the young McLarnin at 13.

"He knew my dad and, together, they built a makeshift gym and started developing me," recalled McLarnin. "Pop said: ''I''ll make you champion of the world if you just behave yourself and do as I tell you''." At first McLarnin was "a wild swinging kid", but Foster patiently taught him how to develop speed and reflexes while preaching the importance of not getting hit. "If they can''t hit you, they can''t beat you," he would say. After launching his fighter''s career in Vancouver, Foster took the 16-year-old Jimmy to San Francisco, where they had some difficulty obtaining fights because of his youthful looks. But they eventually turned this to advantage when they added an extra two years to his age, and he acquired the nickname "Babyface". Although only 4 ft 11 in tall and 7 stone 10 lb, Jimmy grew another six inches between his 17th and 18th birthdays, and steadily built up a reputation, with 25 wins and two draws in his first year.

There was a moment when he was adjudged "washed up" after he knocked out Kid Kaplan, the former featherweight world champion, who broke his jaw. But McLarnin''s success proved unstoppable. By 1927 his ring earnings had already topped $100,000, some of which he sent home to buy a house in Vancouver for his parents and eight of the other children.

McLarnin''s right hand was his feared weapon. He hit harder and more accurately than any of his contemporaries; and, although it became more damaged as his career progressed, McLarnin compensated by increasingly relying on his developing skills. His renowned durability meant that he was stopped only once in 77 contests.

Inexperience possibly cost McLarnin his first world title attempt, against Sammy Mandell for the world lightweight crown in New York on May 21 1928; McLarnin was, however, to defeat his conqueror twice in non-title bouts over the next two years.

McLarnin was forced to wait five years for a second world title attempt, mainly because boxing politics in the welterweight division were so questionable that the ever-protective Foster refused to involve his fighter. McLarnin instead cut a swathe through New York''s most feared light-weights and welter-weights, destroying Sid Terris inside a round, the popular Ruby Goldstein in two and the dashing Al Singer in three.

On May 29 1933 he finally won the world title by knocking out Young Corbett III in just 2 min 37 sec in Los Angeles, having floored him in the opening seconds with a right hook. This was followed by the epic series of fights with Ross, each of which drew crowds of more than 45,000.

Their third and deciding fight - refereed by the former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey - was the most punishing. McLarnin won with a last-ditch effort in the final round. One reporter present described how, for a full three minutes, McLarnin "stood toe to toe, chin to chin, with Barney. . . When the bell rang (McLarnin) didn''t have a left hook or an uppercut or a right cross left in his body."

McLarnin beat the great Tony Canzoneri and Lou Ambers in his final fights, before retiring from the ring in November 1936 a wealthy man; by then he had won 63 out of 77 contests, drawn three and lost 11. He had also married his childhood sweetheart, Lillian, with whom he had four children.

In retirement, McLarnin opened a machine shop, and appeared as himself in several films, including The Big City (1937), The Crowd Roars (1938), Swing with Bing (1940) and Joe Palooka (1946). He played golf and did some lecturing in later life. Foster bought a house in the same street, and used to drop by daily to relive past glories over cups of coffee. McLarnin died on October 28.

Copyright The Daily Telegraph (2004)
Tributes and Condolences
I remember Jimmy   / Jim Stratton (Neighbor in Glendale )
I met Mr. McLarnin when I was growing up on Cedar St. In Glendale, Ca. This was in the 1950's. I knew his daughter. We used to play 'Hit the bat' out on the street with other neighborhood kids. Mr. McLarnin gave me a few boxing lessons in his li...  Continue >>
JIMMY SUPPORTS AMATEUR BOXING   / Brian Zelley (fan)
In 1968, as a boxer in a Diamond Belt Tournament, we were very pleased when Jimmy was in attendance as a guest. The tournament was in Vancouver and would serve as a BC Olympic Trials.
Ulster's Own   / Rab Adams
Jimmy was the best fighter ever born in Ireland and never forgot his roots and did pay a visit back to Belfast. He did indeed come from an Ulster-Scots/Scotch-Irish background and his mother was from the Sandy Row/Lisburn Rd area of Belfast I have f...  Continue >>
Ireland's Best Fighter   / Roy McLean (Fan)
Probably the best fighter Ireland has ever produced! Bert Suger rates him as the second greatest welterweight of all time behind only Sugar Ray Robinson! I mean out of Ireland rather than Irish-American.  Jimmy was born in Hillsborough N.Ireland...  Continue >>
A great man!   / Jason Arbogast (Friend)
I met Jimmy in 1997, I was twenty years old. I was training for my first fight and went to visit him in Kennewick, WA. After being invited into Jimmy's home I was amazed and inspired. Seeing the pictures of Joe Louis, Bing Crosby and many o...  Continue >>
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