John McCluskey

Flyweight boxer

Born January 23 1944

Died July 17 2015.

John McCluskey, the Scottish flyweight boxing champion who held the British 8 stone title and Lonsdale Belt longer than any other British flyweight boxer has died after a long struggle with dementia at his Hamilton home.

Born in Hamilton in January 1944, John McCluskey did not come - as his best friend and fellow Hamilton born world flyweight champion, Walter McGowan, did - from a well known boxing family.

Aged 16 and prompted by his friend McGowan, McCLuskey went out of curiosity to the Larkhall amateur boxing club where after some sparring the Larkhall club coach, Dave Barry, told apprentice barber McCluskey that he was a boxing natural.

That assessment was vindicated when John subsequently won the Scottish amateur eight stone title in the successive years of 1963 and 1964 - the first Scots flyweight to do so since Glasgow's Dick Currie had pulled off the same feat in the 1950's.

McCluskey's natural ring skills and class had also impressed the formidable and notoriously hard to impress father of Walter McGowan - ex-boxer Joe Gans who would guide his son Walter to British and world titles in the 1960's.

Indeed, whenever the younger McGowan had a major title fight Gans would say to his son -''You have a major fight coming up - get John McCluskey for sparring!'.

Regularly sparring with a ring wizard like McGowan also helped develop McCluskey's own burgeoning ring career.

''Mac's'' ring skills and double Scottish amateur title wins also impressed the British Olympic boxing squad selectors for he was one of only two Scots chosen to box for Britain in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games.

However, his selection was bitter sweet, for his employer at the local Hamilton barber shop where McCluskey worked, refused point blank to give him leave to compete in Japan. This forced 'Mac' to resign and go anyway. But for the Hamilton boxer the occasion proved anti-climatic. Despite stopping the Thai boxer who was the big favourite to take flyweight gold in Tokyo, McCLuskey was eliminated in the quarter final by a Russian opponent.

On return from Japan, John was faced by unemployment and a need to earn his living as he was about to marry, so he decided to join the pro boxing ranks.

Consequently, he consulted 1954 Vancouver Empire Games flyweight gold medal winner Dick Currie, who was working as a boxing journalist, about turning professional and Currie advised him to go to London and sign with millionaire fight impresario, Jarvis Astaire, who helped many top British champions progress to title glory.

McCluskey always lauded Astaire's handling of his career particularly the input of great London based trainer Danny Vary in accelerating his rapid climb to British and Commonwealth champion status.

He enhanced that status by wining the British flyweight crown and Lonsdale Belt in January 1967 by besting rugged Manchester southpaw Tony Barlow.

But championship glory brought no respite from gruelling ring battles. For example although he beat Spaniard Manolin Alvarez on points McCLuskey said that the left hook with which the Hispanic boxer hit him during their scrap was the hardest blow that he ever took in the ring.

In March 1969, Mac not only outpointed tough South African rival Mike Buttle but that win was the first points win by an overseas boxer on points for three years in the Springbok republic.

During McCLuskey's time as a world rated flyweight in the 1960's /'70's there were only half a dozen eight stone boxers in Britain. One of the consequences was that he became a have-gloves-will-travel globetrotter.

Thus occurred the win that he cherished most - his destructive stoppage victory in San Antonio, Texas, over the Mexican world title contender, Arturo Leon Hernandez, who was previously unbeaten in 21 bouts.

Hamilton globetrotter McLuskey also became a big favourite in Switzerland where he fought by public demand four times notching up an impressive win over Swiss European eight stone champion, Fritz Chervet.

Indeed, after giving Italian European bantamweight kingpin, Farnco Zurlo, the fight of his life in Zurich the Swiss ringside fans presented 'Mac' with 200 red roses.

Equally Swiss fans were outraged in 1971 when McLuskey had, by popular ringside fan consensus, beaten his Italian nemesis, Fernand Atzori (who would beat McCLuskey on all three times that they clashed) in a Eurpean bantamweight title bid. The ring judges gave he verdict to the continental boxer.

But compensation came in Melbourne when despite former Aussie world bantamweight champion Lionel Rose being in his cousin Harry Hayes's corner, McCluskey beat the latter handily, although twelve months later 'Mac' was stopped inside the distance by big punching Henry Nissen in another fight down under.

On the personal front, John McLuskey was devoted to is wife, Evelyn and their children and his personable, gregarious, nature made him hugely popular wherever he went including the Scottish ex-Boxer's Association which he attended regularly.

Tough in the ring, nowhere did John McCluskey demonstrate his natural born capacity for compassion than in the loyal way he regularly visited his fellow champion McGowan when the latter was afflicted by dementia - right up to the time when his own affliction with the same condition prevented him from continuing to do so.

But although never quite managing to emulate his erstwhile boxing bosom buddy McGowan's feat of winning a world title, John McCluskey's record of holding the British flyweight title for ten consecutive years has never been equalled by any British flyweight.

Incidentally, McCluskey won the British flyweight title by beating a Mancunian-Tony Barlow-by stoppage in Manchester -just like the legendary Benny Lynch did in 1935 when the Gorbals legend won British tile by stopping Mancunian Jackie Brown for the same Lonsdale Belt.

John McCluskey is survived by his wife, Evelyn and his children and extended family.

Brian Donald