Born: March 10th, 1895
Died: July 28th, 1957
Newspaper Decision Wins: 43
Newspaper Decision Losses: 10
Newspaper Decision Draws: 2
There are very few people in the history of professional boxing that can boast of having the entire package when it comes to skills, guts, chin, speed, and toughness. One of the reasons Mike O’Dowd is such a stand-out fighter in the history of the game was the fact that he could not only make this claim, but he could back it up as well. Opponents who thought that they could overpower Mike O’Dowd, or perhaps get in a lucky punch to end things, were either very stupid, or very misinformed as to the kind of man they would be facing that night. 117 people tried it over the course of 11 years. Only one man ever succeeded, and that was in Mike’s last career bout, and to a young all-time great in fellow Minnesotan, Jock Malone. This trait, among others, is why O’Dowd was such a legendary fighter. (Note: Historians report that O’Dowd has 121 fights, but 4 remain missing.)
Michael Joseph O’Dowd was born in Saint Paul on March 10th, 1895. He had watched and read the stories of the glory attained by fellow St. Paul boxer, Mike Gibbons, and was drawn to the riches and glory the prize ring had to offer. His style of fighting was that of a constant aggressor who never quit coming forward and throwing high volumes of heavy punches. Always in superb shape, Mike wore his victims down with pressure and infighting, using his crouching stance and bobbing and weaving style to get inside and bust up his man. He turned professional under the management of Mike McNulty in 1913, and started a successful string of victories, but it was his 4th round knockout over the highly regarded Labe Safro in 1914 that propelled Mike to Main Event status. He never looked back, and faced all of the top-raters the rest of his career, and posting victories over men such as: Soldier Bartfield, Young Erne, Silent Martin, Ted “Kid” Lewis, and Italian Joe Gans, before getting a crack at the World’s Middleweight title, held by Al McCoy in 1917. He did not waste his opportunity, as he dropped McCoy six times in six rounds to take the title, in what was considered at the time to have been one of the greatest trouncings ever given in a title match.
Mike returned to a hero’s welcome in St. Paul, where he was greeted by Bantamweight Champion, Johnny Ertle and friendly rival, Mike Gibbons and congratulated on his world’s title. Mike made the most of his mega-fame, doing exhibition tours from coast to coast, and signing autographs wherever he went. He went on to be the only active champion to serve in WWI, something that no one else wanted to risk, as most champions felt Army life was too distracting to defend their titles at the same time. This act of courage made Mike O’Dowd the face of the United States Army and the hero to his fellow fighting men.
From 1917 to 1920, O’Dowd faced all comers, defending his title and whipping such all-time greats as Harry Greb, Al McCoy (again), Ted “Kid” Lewis (again), Soldier Bartfield (again), and Augie Ratner, just to name a few, before facing his hometown rival, Mike Gibbons in November of 1919. The fight was so famous, that people came from all across the country to see it, and it was already being billed as the Fight of the Century in Minnesota. It was a very close fight, but in the end, most reporters awarded O’Dowd the verdict, as this fight was fought during the No-Decision era, like many of Mike’s contests. The fight set the state record for a gate at $41,426.00 a record what would stand for 38 years. He went on to post many more impressive victories around the country before losing his title on a hotly disputed decision to Johnny Wilson in 1920, a fight in which O’Dowd claimed was refereed by the friend of Wilson’s manager.
“The Harp” licked his wounds and continued touring the country, beating most everyone in his path, including the immortal Jack Britton and Jeff Smith, before scoring a Draw with Lou Bogash, and dropping a decision in a rematch with Mike Gibbons in 1921. He avenged the loss to Gibbons a few months later but was showing signs of slowing down, and many advised Mike to retire. He was about to until challenged by rising prospect, Jock Malone in 1923. Mike accepted. Father Time was not on his side this one last time, and he suffered his first career loss by kayo. Though reportedly missing four fights from his ledger, Mike’s official record reads as having 51 wins, 7 losses, and 3 draws, but when including the newspapers decisions, his records jumps even more impressively to 94-17-5 with 1 no-decision. His spectacular record and World title helped to keep Minnesota prominent among the sporting community, and his spot among the all-time great Middleweights is secure. Preeminent historian George D. Blair, rates Mike O’Dowd as the #3 pound-for-pound fighter in state history, behind only Mike and Tommy Gibbons.