Top 12 All-Time Greatest Scottish Boxers

Happy Robbie Burns Day, fight fans! Despite the ravages of Covid-19, it’s still a day to celebrate for all Scottish warriors. But instead of reciting “To A Haggis” and breaking out the bagpipes, we’ll settle for Scotsman Shaun Brown’s ranking of the all-time greatest fighting Bravehearts. Here are the kilt-clad battlers who left an indelible mark in the history of the prize-ring, one almost as deep as that made in Alba by the Bard of Ayrshire. So pour a wee dram and enjoy! Check it out:

12. Paul Weir: Won the WBO world minimum weight 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, tough 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 and two years later he he won a world flyweight title from Isidro Perez. Technically excellent and never lacked guts or self-belief.

Pat Clinton
Pat Clinton

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.

Alex Arthur

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 another world title at 135. Defeats to Julius Indongo and Anthony Crolla did nothing to tarnish the “Rickster’s” accomplishments.

Burns: Headed for the Last Chance Saloon.
Ricky Burns

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.

Scott “The Real McCoy” Harrison

7. James “Tancy” Lee: The highlight of Lee’s career is his stoppage of the legendary Jimmy Wilde in round 17 to take the British, European and world flyweight titles, but he also holds wins over Charlie Hardcastle, Danny Morgan and Young Joe Brooks and won European and Lonsdale titles at featherweight.

Leith’s James “Tancy” Lee.

6. Jim Watt: Watt, now a long serving co-commentator for Sky Sports, surprised many by deciding to forego the 1968 Olympic Games and instead turn pro. He would go on to win a world lightweight title in 1979, defending it against Charlie Nash, Robert Vasquez and Sean O’Grady before surrendering it to the great Alexis Arguello. Watt has the distinction of being one of the few pugilists to go the 15 round distance with the legendary triple crown champ. His third title defense was a points win over undefeated Olympian Howard Davis Jr. on Scottish soil in a memorable upset. Davis and the Americans said ‘Jim who?’ beforehand, but they knew Watts’ name afterwards. So did everyone else.

Watt shocks Howard Davis.

5. Johnny Hill: Scotland’s first ever world champion, southpaw 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 was coached by Tancy Lee. With 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, but Scotland got a world boxing champion when the son of a miner defeated Salvatore Burruni and claimed the WBC flyweight title. McGowan had ambitions to be a jockey before embarking on a stellar amateur career. Heart and brains mixed in with clever punching took him to the top. Two defeats to Chartchai Chionoi were bloody and valiant.

McGowan (right) battles Chionoi.

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, who 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, thus becoming the first ‘lefty’ to win the flyweight crown. He would also win Commonwealth and European titles at bantamweight.

Jackie Paterson

2. Ken Buchanan: A former world undisputed lightweight champion with excellent boxing skills and a brilliant jab, he survived the Puerto Rican heat to defeat Ismael Laguna for the world lightweight title in 1971. And he 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 put up a valiant struggle against the great Roberto Duran in New York. Buchanan’s career is known for that controversial loss as much as his greatest victories, which include wins over Carlos Ortiz, Chang-Kil Lee and Jim Watt.

Scot vs Scot: Buchanan outpoints Watt in ’73.

1. Benny Lynch: One of the greatest flyweights of all-time 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. Tragically, alcoholism would prove to his toughest opponent as it took his life at just 33.

The crowd looks on as the great Benny Lynch trains.
The crowd looks on as the great Benny Lynch trains.

Honorable mentions: Chic Calderwood, Bert Gilroy, Gary Jacobs, Murray Sutherland, Peter Keenan, John Simpson, Willie Limond.

20 thoughts on “Top 12 All-Time Greatest Scottish Boxers

  • May 9, 2015 at 3:11 pm
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    Shame my dad, Ginger Stewart went to war twice, it took his best years from him in the ring. Undefeated lightweight and welterweight champion of Scotland. Should of been so much more. RIP Dad x

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    • May 12, 2015 at 3:45 am
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      I believe your granda and Gilroy were stable mates. I might be wrong, but I think Gilmour owned Ginger Stewart too… and yes he was a Top and excellent fighter as well.

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      • May 12, 2015 at 1:55 pm
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        Hi James, thanks for post, Ginger Stewart was my Dad not Grandpa ( even though I’m only 49 now!) Bert and my Dad never fought, Dad started as a 16 yr old featherweight , winning lightweight title at 19 before going to war in’39, he fought while during the war years, winning the welterweight title, unfortunately he was shot in the leg and suffered other injuries, a French family nursed and hid him for 8 months before they managed to get him back home. He did fight at middleweight at the end of his career but Bert had gone to light heavyweight and retired. You might be thinking of Albert (Ginger) Sadd who Bert beat twice and drew once against. My Dad boxed out of George Blythes Gym in Hamilton. Ron Olver did a centre page obituary to Dad in Nov 1990. Bert was a great fighter, more than agree 🙂

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        • May 13, 2015 at 3:37 am
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          yes Doug, I meant to say your Dad, sorry… a great story your Dad’s career, I have thousands of reports and your Dad is mentioned in many. a top and excellent fighter as I said.

          I thing you read wrong that your Dad and Bert fought, I said I think they ‘both’ belonged to Tommy Gilmour and were a part of his stable of fighters… maybe not though as I mentioned. they knew each other well enough and along with Lynch, Jake Kilrain, wee Johnny McGrory, Bert, your Dad, Big Ken Shaw and a few others, they represented Scotland very well during that, the greatest overall period in Boxing history.

          do you have any memories or insight into Bert’s career from talk with your Dad or any others… Bert went on to coach and train, McGowan, Mc Cormack and Calderwood too.

          any impute at all Doug would be nice to know.

          yours in Boxing and our great fighters and family.

          Reply
          • July 14, 2017 at 8:12 am
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            Hi James, I am the v/chair of the Scottish Ex Boxers Ass. I just came over your letter while trying to find stories to put in our newsletter. I would be very grateful if you could send or email me any stories you have. Thank you, Robert.

  • May 10, 2015 at 5:24 pm
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    Sorry to hear that, Doug. Sounds like a story that needs told. Thanks for leaving the comment. All the best.

    Shaun

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    • May 12, 2015 at 4:00 pm
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      Perhaps I’ll tell it one day, it’d be a mix of boxing and post traumatic stress, he won through though, kinda summed him up. How do you live under that shadow as a son? Easy, live, give and be guided by who you are and where you’re from. Loved my Dad to bits, He gave for others and his family, then came home and gave. My eldest sister was born in ’41, that aside, boxing in Scotland was awesome then… Hat is doffed, what an era x

      Reply
  • May 11, 2015 at 5:15 pm
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    Bert Gilroy actually rates among the Top 5 and arguably Top 2 after Benny Lynch.

    First of all, Lynch and Gilroy’s day was the single greatest period in boxing history without exception… overall it was harder to get to top level from anytime before it and anytime since.
    the competition level was never greater.

    Secondly, fighters are usually rated because they ‘held’ a world title and/or competed for one, of course therefore fighting another world champion. understandable but Not Always the Full Story, and in some cases completely misleading.

    Some fighters were ducked and avoided to the point they couldn’t get near a title and in the case of Bert Gilroy, purposely passed over, dropped and completely disregarded by the Boxing Authorities despite his No.1 ranking and ‘official’ title status.

    Bert Gilroy couldn’t get near a title from 1941-48, the war had nothing to do with it.

    – Passed over in 1942, while still undefeated and still No.1 MW Contender.

    – Dropped from contention 1944 while still No.1 MW and stepping up out of his weight even, in order to fight Britain’s two top big men Mills and Woodcock to further prove his status and worth.

    – Refused a title fight by the board for Mills’ L-HW title from 1945 -48, now No.1 L-HW Contender, a title Mills held for 8 years and NEVER Defended once, not once… few people realize that.

    look at Bert’s record and pictures, he is very clearly a MW, and yet was technically the 4th greatest Big Man in Britain at the time behind Woodcock, Mills and Scots HW Ken Shaw, whom he also beat in one of their two bouts questioned.

    1943 – Dave McCleave was ALREADY chosen for a Final Eliminator contest for the MW title before meeting Bert that year, he couldn’t be scene to lose then could he… Bert had only lost 1 fight of 42 fights and 6 years, a points loss the very fight before this one.

    in this bout against McCleave, Bert was disqualified in the second round, a near riot followed.

    Vince Hawkins 1945 was being advance and protected towards the MW title, and like McCleave, Hawkins was ALREADY chosen for The TITLE against Roderick the Welterweight king, whom was given a Bye in 1942 for the MW title, given a Bye, a BYE (???)… anyway Hawkins too couldn’t be seen to lose now could he.

    remember now, Bert’s status Before, After and DURING these fights, see above again and see the link I will provide below.

    Bert Gilroy had NOTHING to do with what was DONE To Him, NOTHING…

    the Most FEARED and Cheated Athlete in British Sporting History and the Second Greatest Scots fighter of All-time.

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bert-Gilroy-1933-1950/503149766487621?ref=hl

    Reply
    • August 13, 2017 at 4:55 am
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      Looking for information on my uncles who were boxers in the 30’s & 40’s Peter Buchanan who was a pro & was one of Benny Lynch’s sparring partners.
      Tommy Buchanan who was amateur & I believe was a Scottish district champion.
      I would be grateful for any help on how to trace their careers.
      Thanks Billy

      Reply
    • April 3, 2018 at 6:49 pm
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      Thanks for enlightening me on Bert Gilroy. I am a Scot and sport supporter, but had not heard of Gilroy. I’m a huge fan of Benny Lynch so thank you for including him.

      Reply
  • September 17, 2015 at 8:48 am
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    Let’s get Benny Lynch a Statue! please support the campaign! He is number 1

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  • June 16, 2016 at 6:31 am
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    Ken Buchanan is Britain’s best boxer ever so how he’s number 2 on this list I’ll never know. Writer from west coast no doubt smh

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    • January 25, 2020 at 8:35 am
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      Correct James, Buchanan’s achievements far surpassed Benny Lynch’s and that’s not to knock Benny who was an excellent fighter. West Coast bias alive and well here. At least the international Hall of Fame have recognized Ken’s greatness.

      Reply
  • January 26, 2019 at 8:48 pm
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    Joe Woodhouse was a western district twice winner and a Scottish winner he now lives in Australia

    Reply
  • April 9, 2019 at 1:59 pm
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    Was hoping to see my grandfather’s name on this list…Johnny McGrory. Fought in the same era with Benny Lynch and the two were actually pretty close friends during the 1930’s.

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  • May 7, 2019 at 2:29 pm
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    Always remember my Mum telling me how she used to iron Benny Lynch’s boxing gowns, she was very proud of this.

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  • May 13, 2020 at 7:32 am
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    My dad took my brother and me to Glasgow to meet his pal who had been in the army with Benny Lynch and he told us all about him.

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  • July 28, 2021 at 7:52 pm
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    Benny Lynch was my paternal grandmother’s cousin, which I always thought was pretty cool. And number one on the list. Even cooler.

    Reply
  • July 29, 2022 at 7:45 am
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    Buchanan was, without a doubt, Scotland’s number one boxer. Lynch was also very good but never reached Ken’s heights.

    Reply

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