Great Scots: Josh Taylor’s place among a nation’s fighting legends

Following his fine victory over Jose Ramirez at the weekend, IBHOF inductee Graham Houston assesses Josh Taylor’s standing among the Top 12 legends of Scottish boxing.

Within hours of Josh Taylor defeating Jose Ramirez the debate began on social media platforms as to the Tartan Tornado’s ranking among Scotland’s greatest fighters. It’s always risky placing a boxer in an all-time list while that fighter is still active, but based on accomplishments so far in his career one has to say that Taylor ranks right up there.

Here’s a personal top 12 of Scottish greats, in reverse order.

12: Pat Clinton

The southpaw Clinton represented Britain at the Los Angeles Olympics before turning pro in 1985. He won the European flyweight title by outpointing unbeaten local fighter Salvatore Fanni in Cagliari, Sardinia, and he captured the WBO 112lbs championship with a split 12-round decision over Mexico’s Isidro Perez in Glasgow on March 18, 1992. It was a memorable performance, with Clinton surviving some torrid moments to rally with sharp counter punching. Clinton made one successful defence before losing the title to South Africa’s Baby Jake Matlala. Record: 20-3 (9 KOs).

11: Paul Weir

Weir retired from boxing with an unimpressive 14-6 (4 KOs) record but he was a WBO champion at 105 and 108 pounds, winning the mini-flyweight (as the WBO calls it) title in only his sixth bout. He defeated two opponents from South Africa, another from Mexico and, in his last successful championship fight, Weir outboxed veteran Ric Magramo of the Philippines. Magramo came at him all night but Weir frustrated the Filipino with constant movement and used the left jab beautifully upstairs and down. “Throughout this fight he’s looked very impressive indeed,” Barry McGuigan noted in the EuroSport TV commentary.

10: Johnny Hill

When we think of tragic figures in boxing history we sometimes overlook former flyweight champion Johnny Hill, who suffered a chill that led to a blood clot on the lung and died at only 23 years of age in September 1929. His death occurred just one month before Hill was to have defended the title against American Frankie Genaro at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Hill had a 19-1-3 (10 KOs) record, winning the flyweight title with a 15-round decision over Los Angeles’ far more seasoned Newsboy Brown. His only loss was by KO against the great French flyweight Emile Pladner — who he had previously outpointed — in Paris.

9: Tancy Lee

Lee was the first fighter to defeat Jimmy Wilde, winning the flyweight title by knocking out Wales’ ring immortal in the 17th round at London’s National Sporting Club in January 1915. Wilde won the rematch the following year. Lee retired with a record of 41-10-2 (28 KOs).

8: Scott Harrison

Harrison (27-3-2, 15 KOs) was a two-time WBO featherweight champion. Very strong at the weight and solid technically, Harrison captured the title with a unanimous 12-round decision over Argentina’s Julio Pablo Chacon on October 19, 2002. Harrison lost the title to Mexico’s crafty veteran Manuel Medina but regained the championship by overwhelming Medina in the 11th round. He successfully defended the title six times (including a draw with capable Colombian southpaw Victor Polo) before problems outside the ring led to six-and-a-half years’ inactivity. A comeback attempt was unsuccessful. Harrison defeated six boxers who were at one time world champions: Chacon, Medina, plus Tom Johnson, Tracy Harris Patterson, Steve Robinson and Wayne McCullough.

 7: Ricky Burns

The “Rickster” was a champion at three weights: 130, 135 and 140 pounds. His win over Puerto Rico’s hard-hitting and undefeated Roman “Rocky” Martinez in Glasgow on September 4, 2010, to become WBO 130lbs champion, was probably one of the greatest performances by a Scottish boxer in the modern era. Knocked down in the first round, Burns rallied to outbox and even outfight his dangerous opponent in an enthralling contest. 

6: Walter McGowan

A truly superb boxer, fast and flashy, McGowan (32-7-1, 14 KOs) won the flyweight title by outpointing the physically stronger Italian veteran Salvatore Burruni at Wembley Pool in June 1966. (Burruni had outpointed McGowan in a European title fight in Rome two years earlier). It was McGowan’s great misfortune that he cut easily. His two title-fight losses to Chartchai Chionoi, in Thailand and then in London, were due to McGowan being cut severely. McGowan moved up to 118lbs for several fights although he was a natural flyweight. He won and lost in British title fights of the highest quality against the outstanding bantamweight Alan Rudkin. McGowan was outclassing dangerous Chicago bantamweight Ronnie Jones when suffering a cut over the eye that caused the bout to be stopped in the sixth round. When McGowan boxed a 15-round draw with Tommaso Galli for the European bantamweight title in Rome in 1965 it was a highly controversial decision, British reporters feeling that the Scottish boxer had won comfortably.

5: Jackie Paterson

Powerful punching southpaw Jackie Paterson won the world flyweight title  with a sensational 61-second knockout victory over Lancashire big hitter Peter Kane outdoors at Hampden Park, Glasgow, on June 19, 1943 but he had problems weight-making and made only one successful defence. Paterson scored 40 KOs in his 63-25-3 record.

4: Jim Watt

Technically sound, gritty and a solid puncher to body and head Watt (38-8, 27 KOs) was European lightweight champion before stopping Colombia’s Alfredo Pitalua in the 12th round in Glasgow on April 17, 1979 to win the vacant WBC title. The Glasgow southpaw made four successful title defences, including a unanimous 15-round decision over Olympic gold medallist Howard Davis Jr, who was undefeated going into the bout. Watt was British amateur champion before turning professional, knocking out future welter champion John H. Stracey in the first round on his way to the ABA title. Three of Watt’s eight losses were due to getting cut over the eye, against Nigerian Victor Paul, fellow-Scot Willie Reilly and Londoner Johnny Claydon. He retired after losing to all-time great Alexis Arguello in June 1981, when Watt had the moral victory of going the full 15 rounds.  

3: Benny Lynch

Lynch was a tremendous fighter, exciting and powerful. He won undisputed recognition as flyweight champion with a 15-round decision win over Small Montana, of the Philippines, at Wembley Pool on January 19, 1937. When Lynch defended the title against Peter Kane in October 1937 it was a huge event in Britain. Kane had a 42-0 record and was truly formidable, but Lynch knocked him out in the 13th round. Lynch lost the title on the scales when weighing in six-and-a-half pounds over the flyweight limit for a title defence against Jackie Jurich, of the US. Although Lynch knocked out Jurich he never won another fight. He developed a serious problem with alcohol and died at the young age of 33. Record: 88-14-17 (34 KOs).

2: Josh Taylor

Unified champion at 140 pounds, Taylor has fought a high level of opposition in his 18-0 (13 KOs) career. His last six opponents had a combined record of 136-1. To hold all four major sanctioning-body titles at the same time is an outstanding achievement. Defeating Jose Ramirez in front a small but hostile crowd in Las Vegas was one of the great British “away” wins.  

1: Ken Buchanan

Buchanan scored what could be called epic wins, especially when he defeated Ismael Laguna under the sweltering Puerto Rican sun to become lightweight champion in 1970. He outscored Laguna in the rematch at Madison Square Garden despite suffering a cut and swollen left eye. Buchanan retained the title by outpointing tough local favourite Ruben Navarro in Los Angeles. Roberto Duran proved too much for him but Buchanan produced outstanding performances as a former world champion. He outpointed future world champion Jim Watt in a British title bout and won the European title by stopping tough Antonio Puddu in six rounds on his opponent’s home ground in Cagliari, Sardinia. Buchanan retired with a record of 61-8 (27 KOs) but his last four losses came when he was a long way past his prime.

Main image: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.