The Life of Boxer Sean Mannion: An excerpt from the book by Ronan Mac Con Iomaire 

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: As is the case with most things involving the city of Boston, there is a long and storied history in the arena of professional prizefighting.  

In 1879, when “Boston Strong Boy” John L. Sullivan transitioned from bare-knuckle boxing to becoming the first gloved champion in the sport, he started a string of colorful pugilists in the city that would write and record some of its most memorable moments, forever engraved in boxing’s history.  

From Rocky Marciano, the greatest champion the sport has ever known; to Paul Pender, who twice defeated Sugar Ray Robinson; to Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the best middleweight of all time; to John Ruiz, the first Latino heavyweight champion; to Irish Micky Ward, who graces the cover of the magazine you are reading and fought the greatest trilogy -and greatest single round- in the annals of pugilism; Boston has cemented its reputation as a ‘fighter’s city.’ 

In 1985, when Ward was making his professional debut, another Boston based Irish fighter, was coming off the biggest bout of his career. Months earlier, Sean Manion helped sell out Madison Square Garden against the ‘Body Snatcher’ Mike McCallum for the WBA Super Welterweight championship.  

Over the course of a 15-year professional career from 1978-1993, Manion, fighting out of Dorchester, garnered a reputation as the fighter nobody wanted to face. In 57 professional bouts, he amassed a record of of 42-14-1. But more impressive than any of his victories, world rankings, title fights, or knockouts -and the reason he is looked upon as a legend in the world of boxing- Sean Manion was never once knocked down in a fight. Let that sink in. 

Photo via The Man Who Was Never Knocked Down by Ronan Mac Con Iomaire

In 2017 a film, adapted from the book ‘The Man Who Was Never Knocked Down’ by Ronan Mac Con Iomaire was released. Both should be considered mandatory consumption.  

Below is an excerpt from the preface of Iomaire’s book. Copies of ‘The Man Who Was Never Knocked Down’ can be found on Amazon.com. 

THE MAN WHO WAS NEVER KNOCKED DOWN (by Ronan Mac Con Iomair)

UPSTAIRS in the Tweleve Bens Bar in Dorchester, Boston, Sean Manion sits among a tangle of precariously stacked tables and chairs. To the left, an empty bar awaits the next function. To the right, a painted mural of Connemara reminds Sean of home.  

Downstairs, it’s getting busy. The well-worn clothes of honest labor gathering around the bar after another day on the sites. Bottles of bud, pints of Guiness.  

We’re interviewing Sean for a movie documentary on his life. He’s been brought back here for obvious reasons. Drink. Sean used to be an enthusiastic customer of the Tweleve Bens. His picture, in full-on boxing pose, still hangs on the wall downstairs.  

A brutally handsome creature, the good looks that robbed so many hearts before drink caught up with him and exacted a revenge of sorts.  

Today, however, he is dry. He looks back on his drinking past with a melancholy tinged with a denial of sorts. Off the drink and moving back to Ireland within the next few days. Back to his beloved Ireland. Ros Muc. Back for another shot at the good life.  

Fast forward nine months later. It’s New Year’s Eve. The phone rings. I look at the screen -Sean Manion.  

“Hey, Sean, cen chaoi a bhfuil tu? (How are you?) 

Sean’s back in Boston. He’s back drinking. His family haven’t been able to get in touch with him for over a week and are worried he is missing. He’s not missing. He’s drinking.  

“I’m going to drink tonight,” he says. “But I’m off it from tomorrow.” 

It had only been two years previously when I first visited Sean Manion in Boston. At the time he was dry. Proper dry. Working, coaching, focused.  

Driving down East Broadway through the center of South Boston, Sean was giving me a guided tour of where his pro boxing career began. The gyms in which he sparred with some of the most dangerous criminals in U.S. history, Whitey Bulger’s gang. 

Suddenly, the car in front of us comes to a stop. In front of it is a large white SUV, which has come to a halt in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. When the driver in front of us starts sounding the horn, the door of the SUV opens. Out gets a well-built, angry looking man.  

“Shut the f**k up, you ass hole.” 

The SUV driver is standing in the middle of the road, both arms raised, both middle fingers extended toward the driver in front of us. 

“F**k you, asshole.” 

Sitting beside me, Sean laughs. 

“That’s Joey DeGrandis. He fought three times for the world title. I used to spar with him years ago. If the guy in front of us knew who he was beeping at, he’d stop pretty quick. I wouldn’t go pissing Joey DeGrandis off.” 

We pull out of the traffic, leaving DeGrandis and the other guy behind us as we drive to the gym in which Sean spent much of the 1980’s. Jimmy Connolly’s gym, on the fourth floor of 383 Dorchester Avenue, is long closed.  

Instead, we head into Peter Welch’s gym next door. The place is wedged. In the middle of the room stands a boxing ring full of young kids, sparring with the full on fury of youth. By the walls, punching bags hang off steel girders, sweat flicking from the brows of those attacking them.  

Sean would be back later that evening to train a young boxer from Donegal named Michael McLaughlin, another Irishman drawn to America by the dream of pro boxing. 

“Hey, are you Sean Manion?” 

A man walks over, accompanied by a young girl. 

“This is my daughter, she really wanted to meet you, she sees your photos on the walls around here.” 

Sean shakes the man’s hand, he pats the girl on the head.  

There are framed posters hanging everywhere, publicizing great bouts of years gone by. Marvin Hagler, Rocky Marciano, Micky Ward, Sean Manion. 

“Manion!” 

The roar comes from the back of the room. Sitting down on one of the benches is a giant of a man with a smile on his face and a woolen cap pulled down over his forehead. 

“Sean Manion, how the f**k are you?” 

He gets up. They shake hands. 

“Hello Kevin, long time no see.” 

Kevin McBride, former U.S. and Irish heavyweight champion, infamous for knocking down and beating Mike Tyson in 2005. Tyson quit boxing after that fight.  

Sean introduces us and tells him what I am doing in Boston. 

“They should put a statue of Sean in Galway,” said McBride. “And you can put that in your book. This man is a f**king legend.”