SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — In 2003, Seamus McDonagh a cheerful shoeshiner from San Francisco, once found himself at the center of the professional boxing universe.
A native of Ireland, McDonagh was tapped to fight Evander Holyfield in June 1990. Holyfield was expected to challenge Mike Tyson, but Tyson was upset by Buster Douglas in February. Organizers scrambled to find a stand-in — McDonagh was the man for the job.
“I was ninth in the heavyweight rankings, Irish, gregarious,” he said.
Even with a 19-1 record, McDonagh admittedly was not ready for the fight, but a $100,000 payday helped soften the insecurities.
“The first round I was out of it. I was so fearful,” he said. “You could have knocked me down.”
McDonagh lost 44 seconds into the 4th round, and only fought once after he went toe-to-toe with Holyfield.
He says the 15 minutes of fame helped save his life. Behind the boxer was a heavy drinker who was suicidal, and at one point failed in an attempt to take his own life.
McDonagh became sober and found happiness shining shoes at Moscone Center and other business locales in San Francisco. Mixed in with a box of brushes, he stores a small photo showing a rare connected right fist to Holyfield’s face.
“There I am giving him his lunch,” he deadpans.
The memento exists to prove to his shoe customers that the boxing stories aren’t exactly fairy tales.
Today, they might sound even more far-fetched. McDonagh still lives in San Francisco, still has a shoeshine business, and has devoted his life to acting and filmmaking.
“I was in three movies, but none of them made it to the big screen,” he said. “So I decided to go to the Berkeley Digital Film Institute, and now I’m a filmmaker.”
Business has slowed for McDonagh since the start of the pandemic — which isn’t the case for his sisters who are ER nurses in New York City.
“They weren’t tested, but that had all the symptoms (of COVID-19), he said. “They stayed home and are now back at work.”
McDonagh says he has limited involvement with boxing today. He re-unties Holyfield occasionally and tells him that he was “robbed” in 1990. He also still stashes the “proof photo” in the box, and has produced it in the presence of Holyfield.
“I gave you the left hook after that,” Holyfield says.
“I told him, ‘Prove it!'”
It seems McDonagh would rather have the crinkly photo than a heavyweight title belt. He’s happy.
“I’m grateful to be celebrating a regular life,” he said.