Jem Roche: Irish Heavyweight Boxer Fought For World Title In Dublin
A G.A.A. athlete and a contender for the World Boxing Heavyweight crown, Jem Roche, a Wexfordman, took on a challenge of convenience for American World Heavyweight Champion, Tommy Burns. In an era when American boxers came to England in the early 20th century after a lengthy and tiresome sea journey, they endeavoured to earn the best possible financial return before returning home. That often meant seeking out unheralded challengers to make a contest and raise a stake.
Tommy Burns came to London in 1907 for a title defence against Gunner Moir and after securing a 10th round knockout, word reached Ireland that Burns could be persuaded to take on an Irish boxer in Dublin. In a frantic search for an Irish challenger to tackle the mighty Burns, promoters scoured the Irish boxing scene. Jem Roche of Wexford G.A.A. fame was the dominant Irish heavyweight at that time. Playing with Wexford seniors in hurling and football but not winning silver trophies, Jem Roche was very active in Irish boxing rings as a consequence.
A Dublin consortium raised a £1,500 purse and a contract was agreed. Roche as reigning Irish champion had scored a sensational victory in October 1907 when he knocked out former British Heavyweight champion, Charlie Wilson, in the 8th round, at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin. This iconic victory put the name of Jem Roche firmly on the world boxing radar and Tommy Burns was aware of Roche’s fame in Ireland. When the search for a serious challenger to Burns title was not yielding too many contenders, the American camp agreed to come to Dublin and take up the challenge. However Jem Roche had not yet encountered the real heavyweight punchers and Burns mentors had studied Roche’s concentration.
On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th 1908, at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, Jem Roche would make Irish boxing history. His opponent would be the American boxer, Tommy Burns, and the great prize for Wexfordman, Jem Roche, was the World Heavyweight title.The legendary contest saw Roche ghosting around the ring in the opening minute and in a momentary lack of concentration by the Wexford boxer,Burns put him on the deck in the 1st round. Despite his best efforts to regain his composure, Jem Roche was counted out.
Jem Roche after losing this contest again won the Irish heavyweight title with great victories over Broadbent and Warren, two great fighters. When he finally put away his boxing gloves, he concentrated on playing gaelic games with Wexford as a player, mentor and referee. A blacksmith by trade, Jem Roche was born at Ballinclay, Glynn, Co. Wexford in 1877 and died in 1934, aged just fifty seven.