There is at least one modern fighter who seems the perfect fit for the cigar-smoking lifestyle: Conor McGregor, among several others. Of course, cigars and cigar smoking were long associated with professional fighting. Not so much inside the ring as outside it. Still, there have been many great fighters who also enjoyed the occasional cigar. Today, though, seeing a boxer or UFC fighter smoking a cigar anywhere outside of a post-fight victory celebration seems like an oddity.
If you don’t know who Conor McGregor is, you must have been hiding for the past few years. Conor McGregor, also called the “Notorious” Conor McGregor, is just that: Famous for breaking the rules and breaking noses.
Starting his career in the UFC, McGregor grew up and trained in Ireland before coming onto the scene. It’s no secret that the Irish love fighting—boxing or otherwise. So Irish people in the UK and the United States were thrilled to have a fellow Irishman in the ring getting wins.
McGregor’s most famous fight came when he faced one of the greatest boxers of all time, Floyd Mayweather. There were long discussions about an epic showdown between an MMA fighter and a traditional Western boxer. That dream came to life in 2017 when McGregor and Mayweather faced off. In the end, Mayweather won by decision. However, according to reports, McGregor celebrated anyway by publicly smoking a massive cigar.
The answer, then, is that, like many athletes, Conor McGregor does indulge in the occasional cigar. But, unlike some of the following fighters, he is far from an aficionado.
Cigar-Smoking Fighters Like Conor McGregor
John L. Sullivan
Like Conor McGregor, John L. Sullivan is a boxer of Irish descent. Born in Massachusetts in 1858, Sullivan, known as “The Boston Strong Boy,” stood 5′ 10″ and weighed over 210 pounds.
Sullivan was known for many things, including having only one loss in his 44 fights. He was an athlete and first left school to pursue baseball. Then, Sullivan started boxing when he realized he was more suited to what we now call “combat” sports.
Sullivan had a legendary cigar habit. Some reports suggest he smoked dozens of sticks daily. While the exact amount remains unclear, Sullivan advocated for cigars, among other things. He stated, “My whole life is guided by nature … I believe there is such a thing as a man overworking himself and becoming stale.” That is why Sullivan advocated everything from drinking to playing late-night cards, pool, and, of course, smoking cigars. Sullivan always said he didn’t need more than 8 to 10 weeks to train for a prizefight. But, then, that was it. He’d step into the ring and destroy his opponents.
“Gentleman” Jim Corbett
“Gentleman” Jim Corbett was another tremendous American boxer from the late 19th Century. He was the first boxer to defeat John L. Sullivan in 1892. Some say Corbett had an advantage in the match because of the new, adopted “Queensberry” rules. Yet, no one who saw the first match left disappointed.
The Queensberry rules concern the ring’s size and how professional fighters should conduct themselves. For example, under the Queensberry rules, fighters cannot “wrap up” in the way they are often used to.
The match between Corbett and Sulivan went an astonishing 21 rounds. That was when fights continued until someone got knocked out or gave up. The fight between Corbett and Sullivan was an extravaganza, and some 3,500 people attended it. Most newspapers across the country reported on it as well.
When out of the ring, gentleman Jim Corbett smoked so many cigars that he had some named after him. Today, cigars have gone away from the ring, but they remain popular outside of it.
Joe Frazier is an exciting fighter like Conor McGregor. But, although Frazier defeated Ali, the pantheon of great fighters overlooked him. Of course, this isn’t true of those who follow the sport of fighting. But, among the public, his name registers far lower than, say, Ali.
Many considered Frazier an undersized heavyweight champion. Standing at just under six feet, Joe was both short and light. But he made up for his stature with incredible skill and tenacity in the ring. That, plus, he was one of the best-conditioned fighters to ever step into the ring. Often Frazier would wear his opponents down round after round, waiting for his time to strike. Back then, his nickname was “Smokin’ Joe.”
Today, Joe Frazier has become quite the cigar aficionado, and you’ll often see him holding a Ghurka cigar.
Jake LaMotta gained fame in the movie “Raging Bull,” in which Robert DiNero plays LaMotta. As the film title suggests, LaMotta’s nickname was the “Raging Bull.” Although, some people called him the “Bronx Bull” because he fought like a bull. LaMotta chased his opponents around the ring and ate punch after punch to get on the inside and inflict bodily damage. As a result, LaMotta won many of his fights with vicious body shots.
Outside of the ring, LaMotta was to New York Italians what Sullivan was to Irish Bostonians. Both men liked smoking cigars and rarely went without one in hand at public events.
The first significant black boxer in American history was Jack Johnson. He fought an incredible 91 times during his career, with only 11 losses to his 35 wins by knockout. Johnson had a massive 74-inch reach that he used to keep opponents outside until he was ready to strike.
Fans came to know him as the Galveston Giant, and he was definitely fond of giant cigars. Although his favorite brand varied, one thing is sure: the “Giant” loved his cigars.
Finally, we arrive at the famed Italian-American boxer known today as the real “Italian Stallion.” He was considered a fighter on whom the “Rocky” movies were based. But that’s not true, although Marciano certainly inspired Sylvester Stallone on some level. The fact is that during his time in the ring, Marciano was known as “The Brockton Blockbuster” because he fought out of Brockton, Massachusetts. Anyway, Rocky Marciano, Conor McGregor, and other fighters on this list loved the occasional cigar as well as they did a good fight.
Photo credit: “Conor McGregor 2019,” by BMF BMF, Wikimedia Commons license CC BY-SA 4.0.