An intelligent, adaptable fighter, Tommy Ryan held world titles in both the welterweight and middleweight divisions. He also schooled several of his contemporaries, including champions James J. Jeffries and Gentleman Jim Corbett, in some of the finer points of boxing. Ryan helped Jeffries develop the crouch he used when he wrested the heavyweight title from Bob Fitzsimmons, and later, he showed Corbett how to counteract the same maneuver.
Born Joseph Youngs, Ryan changed his name after he ran away from home. He honed his boxing skills in lumber camps, then turned professional in 1887 as a lightweight. He scored knockouts in seventeen of his first eighteen bouts, the exception being a 57-rounder with Jimmy Murphy that ended without a decision.
In 1893, Ryan began a five-battle series (not counting an exhibition) with the brawling Mysterious Billy Smith. The first two contests were draws. The third, held in Minneapolis, was a challenge for Smith's welterweight title. After twenty rounds, the Minneapolis police interrupted the fight. Ryan, judged to be in the lead at that point, was awarded the championship.
Ryan easily resisted an attempt by Jack Dempsey (The Nonpareil) to take the title in 1895, stopping the older boxer in the third round. The next year, Ryan faced his former sparring partner Kid McCoy in a non-title match. Ryan trained lightly for this bout and lost by knockout in the fifteenth round. Supposedly, McCoy tricked Ryan by telling him that he was not in shape.
In 1898, after triumphing in a brutal brawl with Tommy West, Ryan turned his attention to the middleweight ranks. He captured the championship with a twenty-round decision over Jack Bonner. Ryan never relinquished this title, holding it until his retirement in 1907. This ten-year hold on the middleweight crown is unrivaled.
Following his retirement, Ryan traveled the vaudeville circuit and performed in boxing exhibitions with Fitzsimmons. He also managed boxers, ran a gym in Syracuse, New York, and invested in several businesses in California, where he eventually settled.
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Excerpted with permission from 'The Boxing Register' by James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, copyright © 1999 by McBooks Press. All rights reserved.