Tommy Loughran, Boxing’s “Philly Phantom”

Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

The sport of boxing emerged in America in the 1800s, and by the early 20th century it had become one of the country’s most popular spectator sports. Philadelphia was a leading center of boxing at the time, and many of the best fighters hailed from the city.

Thomas Patrick “Tommy” Loughran (1902–82) was born in Philadelphia to Irish Catholic immigrants during the heyday of boxing. He began in the sport as an amateur at 17 and had a string of knockouts before his first professional match in 1919. Between 1927 and 1929 he was the World Light Heavyweight Champion. After 1929 he fought in the heavyweight division despite weighing in just over the light heavyweight limit. In the 1930s many of his opponents were substantially bigger in both weight and height. Loughran maintained his confidence in these bouts and seemed impervious to intimidation. One of his notable fights toward the end of his career was for the heavyweight championship in 1934 against Primo Carnera. Although Carnera got the win, the decision was controversial. The match also has the distinction of having one of the greatest weight disparities in a heavyweight championship (Carnera, 270; Loughran, 184).

Tommy Loughran was the World Light Heavyweight Champion, 1927–29. Courtesy

Tommy Loughran was the World Light Heavyweight Champion, 1927–29.

Loughran’s boxing style was unconventional. He had a weak right hand, but he compensated by developing swift strong legs and one of the most effective left hands in boxing. He was known for his skillful maneuverability and precision. Dubbed a scientific fighter, he studied himself in a mirror and scrutinized other boxers’ styles closely. He put much emphasis on training and perfecting his skills and instincts. Because of an uncanny ability to dodge punches and sneak up on opponents, he acquired the moniker the “Philly Phantom.” Nevertheless, he was noted for conducting himself as a gentleman and role model both inside and outside the ring.

Loughran retired from boxing in 1937. In 1942 he enlisted in the Marine Corps and served during World War II as a physical fitness instructor. After the war, he had a successful career as a businessman. He also was a boxing referee and a lecturer on the sport.

Records in the early years of boxing were not as reliable as they are today, but according to, Loughran in his 18-year professional career is credited with 170 matches, 90 of which were wins, and he was knocked out only three times. He defeated 10 champions in all classes from welterweight to heavyweight. Some of the great fighters he bested throughout his career include Max Baer, James J. Braddock, Mickey Walker and Harry Greb. Loughran has been ranked as one of the top 10 light heavyweight boxers of all time, and he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

In July 2006 the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission installed and dedicated a Pennsylvania Historical Marker for Tommy Loughran at Philadelphia’s St. Monica Roman Catholic Church, where he was an active member.


Karen Galle is on the staff of PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office and has been the coordinator of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program since 2005.