McGuigan is a Catholic, and, in a moment when Catholics and Protestant Christians were in the middle of a deeply rooted war in Northern Ireland, McGuigan and his girlfriend, a Protestant, got married. They dreamed of showing Ireland that both factions of Christians can get along. McGuigan reached a national hero status, and during the days he was boxing, Irish people had a popular saying they liked to use: Leave the fighting to Barry.
McGuigan, who is the son of the late Pat McGuigan, a famous singer in Ireland, started his professional boxing career May 10 of 1981, beating Selwyn Bell by a knockout in two in Dublin. After another win, he suffered his first setback, losing to Chris Eubanks brother, Peter Eubank by a decision in eight at Wembley, England. It shall be pointed out that McGuigan campaigned during most of his career dividing his fights between Northern Ireland, Ireland and England.
After his first loss, McGuigan notched two more wins, including one over Terry Pizzarro, and then he was given a rematch with Eubanks. The second time around, McGuigan prevailed, by a knockout in eight.
In 1982, McGuigan won eight fights, seven by knockout. One of the fights almost destroyed his career and his life. He was faced on June 14 of that year, with Nigeria's Young Ali. McGuigan won by a knockout in six rounds, and Ali fell into a coma, of which he never recuperated, dying six months later in his homeland. According to the book The Ring: Boxing In The 20th century, McGuigan has declared that he wasn't sure he wanted to keep on being a boxer after that fight.
But he did continue on boxing, and in 1983, he won four fights, including his first trip to fight outside Europe (when he beat Samuel Meck by a knockout in six in Ontario Canada), before getting his first try at a title: On November 16, Italy's Valerio Nati defended his european Featherweight belt versus McGuigan in Belfast, and McGuigan won the crown with a knockout in the sixth round. He then became the number one Featherweight challenger in the WBA.
In 1984, he won five bouts, all by knockout. Among the fighters he beat were former world title challengers Jose Caba and Felipe Orozco. He also beat fringe contender Paul DeVorce to keep his climb into a world championship try.
In 1985, McGuigan met former world Featherweight champion Juan Laporte and won by a decision in ten. Following one more win, he finally got his world title try when the WBA world featherweight champion Eusebio Pedroza came to London to put his title on the line against McGuigan. McGuigan became a world champion by dropping Pedroza in round seven and winning a unanimous 15 round decision. McGuigan instantly became a national hero for most people in Ireland and most Irish people around the world.
During his time as world champion, McGuigan and his girlfriend made the headlines of Irish newspapers by getting married, because of the aforementioned reasons. He also saw some publicity come in other ways, such as promotional deals and other things. Among these, there was the release of a video game named Barry McGuigan Boxing, which, according to video game experts, was similar to Mike Tyson's Punch-out game and made by the same manufacturers. Later that year, he became the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
McGuigan made his first defense against Bernard Taylor, who was stopped in the ninth, and then against Danilo Cabrera, who got knocked out in 14. This proved to be a controversial stoppage: The fight was stopped after the challenger bent over to pick up his mouthpiece after losing it, a practice that is allowed in many countries but not in Ireland. The challenger did not know that, and the fight was stopped. Although Cabrera's corner protested the outcome, McGuigan remained the winner by a knockout.
For his next defense, he went to Las Vegas in June of 1986, where he faced the relatively unknown Stevie Cruz from Texas in a 15 round title bout. McGuigan held a lead halfway through, but he suffered dehydration because of the extreme heat, and wilted near the end, being dropped in rounds 10 and 15 and losing a 15 round decision and the world belt. McGuigan required hospitalization because of his dehydrated state.
After that fight, he retired, partly due to the death of his father in 1987. He used to say his father was his biggest inspiration and after the passing away of his father, apparently he felt there was no more reason to keep on boxing. However, he went back into the ring in between 1988 and 1989, beating former world title challengers Nicky Perez and Francisco Tomas Da Cruz before losing to future challenger Jim McDonald by a knockout in four. After that fight, he called it quits for good.
McGuigan currently lives in London with his wife and kids, and he works as a boxing commentator for the BBC. He has also tried a hand at acting and was the star of a movie named Malicious Intent in 2000. He has a music band, of which the famous Irish actor, Adrian Dunbarr is also a member. He has had two biographic books written about him.
His record was of 32 wins and 3 losses, with 26 wins by the way of the knockout.