Whether or not tonight is a final farewell for Scotland’s Ricky Burns, there’s no question he’s had a tremendous career, one where he has probably over-achieved. Burns, a two-weight world champion who looks to start an earnest campaign for a third against Omar Figueroa, has certainly done enough to be recognized as one of the the best Scottish fighters of all-time. So where does he rank in the pantheon of other fighting Bravehearts over the years? Here’s how we rank ’em:
12 Paul Weir: Won the WBO world minimumweight title after just six fights in 1993 and the diminutive figure would capture two-weight glory one year later at light flyweight before being defeated by Scottish scourge, ‘Baby’ Jake Matlala on two occasions. Quick and always keen to take the fight to his opponent.
11 Pat Clinton: Scotland has had a knack of producing good little men and Clinton was certainly one of them. Clinton, from a family of 10 brothers and sisters, would do that rare thing of winning a fight on continental soil when he took the European flyweight title in 1990. In November 1991 he was fighting in a hotel; March 1992 he was winning a world flyweight title from Isidro Perez. Technically excellent and never lacked guts or self-belief.
10 Alex Arthur: A classy operator inside and outside the ring who, despite defeat, was involved in one of the greatest British fights of this century when he went to war with Michael Gomez for five rounds in 2003. Arthur, a tremendous body puncher, won British, Commonwealth, European and world honours at super featherweight.
9 Ricky Burns: One of the country’s more unlikely world champions. Learning fights against Alex Arthur and Carl Johanneson saw the boy become a man. Roman Martinez was meant to blow him away, and the rest is history. Burns would capture that WBO super featherweight title and go on to win the 135lb title. His career continues tonight against Omar Figueroa.
8 Scott Harrison: Menacing, brooding and in his prime a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, his fights with the wrong side of the law can make it hard to remember his ferocious ring exploits. A two-time WBO world featherweight champion who had been linked with fights against Barrera back in the day.
7 Tancy Lee: Or to give him his full name, James “Tancy” Lee. Despite not turning pro until into his 30s, Lee would defeat the legendary Jimmy Wilde in 1915 to win the British, European and IBU flyweight title. He would go on to win Lonsdale and European honours at featherweight.
6 Jim Watt: Watt, a long serving co-commentator for Sky Sports, surprised many by not going to the 1968 Olympic Games and instead turning pro. He went on to be world lightweight champion between 1979 and 1981, losing his crown to the great Alexis Arguello. Watt defeated American golden boy Howard Davis Jr. on Scottish soil in a memorable upset. The Olympic gold medallist and his team said ‘Jim who?’ beforehand, but they knew Watts’ name afterwards. So did everyone else.
5 Johnny Hill: Scotland’s first ever world champion. Hill would win British, European and World flyweight titles within two years. He was one of the biggest boxing stars of the 1920’s, and coached by Tancy Lee. A terrific left jab and punishing right hook, his rise to the top was a whirlwind. He died aged 23 of pneumonia, one night before he was due to defend his world title against Frankie Genaro.
4 Walter McGowan: England got the World Cup in 1966, Scotland got a boxing world champion. The son of a miner claimed the WBC flyweight title defeating Salvatore Burruni. McGowan had ambitions to be a jockey before embarking on a stellar amateur career. Heart and brains mixed in with clever punching. Two defeats to Chartchai Chionoi in 66 and 67 were bloody and valiant.
3 Jackie Paterson: Paterson picked up the baton from Lynch to become world flyweight champion. A corporal in the Royal Air Force, Paterson got himself a crack at Peter Kane’s world flyweight title. Kane had narrowly lost to Lynch in 1937. Kane and Paterson met at Hampden Park in 1943 and went for each other’s throats, culminating in a one-round KO victory for Paterson, the first ‘lefty’ to win the flyweight crown. He would also win Commonwealth and European titles at bantamweight.
2 Ken Buchanan: A former world undisputed lightweight champion. Not many Scots would’ve survived in the Puerto Rican heat, let alone fighting Ismael Laguna, but he did in 1971. And would then beat the Panamanian again one year later. Scotland would never see him defend or fight for a world title on home soil thanks to a WBA/British boxing board feud, but they did see him stand up to Roberto Duran. Buchanan’s career is known for that controversial loss as much as his greatest victories.
1. Benny Lynch: One of the greatest flyweights ever, period, and Scotland’s greatest ever boxer. Born out of the tough Gorbals area of Glasgow, he developed his scrawny neck by doing special weight exercises. His defining bout came against Small Montana at Wembley in 1937 to become world champion. Alcoholism would be his greatest opponent as it took his life at just 33.
Honorable mentions: Chic Calderwood, Bert Gilroy, Gary Jacobs, Murray Sutherland, Peter Keenan, John Simpson, Willie Limond.