John McCluskey former British and Commonwealth flyweight champion SIGNED and INSCRIBED " To Colin Best Wishes" black & white 5" x 3" promotional photo.
The reverse lists a summary of amateur record achievements.
Price: £ SOLD
“You have a tough opponent coming up son! – get John McCluskey for sparring!” The author of this fatherly command was a legendary Scottish fight manager called Joe Gans. What Gans didn’t know about boxing wasn’t worth knowing, but as his son, former WBC Flyweight Champion Walter McGowan recounts, “It’s just a measure of how good John McCluskey was that whenever I had a particularly tough scrap my Dad always insisted that John spar with me”.
When weight rather than McGowan moved out of the eight stone class and into the bantamweight, McCluskey succeeded Walter as first British then Commonwealth flyweight kingpin.
Indeed, when John McCluskey had the Lonsdale belt placed around his waist for the first time on 16th January 1967, after knocking out tough Tony Barlow in round eight, he was emulating Scotland’s greatest ever flyweight Benny Lynch. Yet John McCluskey’s career can stand in comparison with the best in it’s own right – despite having a problem never faced by other Caledonian flyweight greats such as Lynch, Lee or Paterson – a total shortage of home grown eight stone men with whom to compete. When John won his British crown in 1967 there were only three other rated flyweights in Britain, compared to the hundreds of earlier times.
Ironically, on the sole occasion in his professional career, when he appeared before his “ain folk” in Hamilton, McCluskey was stopped by Hampshire based Wayne Evans in what was to be his last pro’ contest!
Born in Hamilton on the 23 of January 1944, John McCluskey did not come from a family with a boxing background as he explains: “At 16 I went to the Larkhall Amateur Club, Dave Barry the club trainer told me I was ‘a natural’ and that was it”.
Being an amateur included becoming Scottish Western District youth finalist at flyweight after only three minutes of competitive ring experience! “I stopped my first opponent in the first round but in the final I was out pointed by the vastly more experienced Jimmy Jones”. Winning Scottish and ABA Flyweight honours in the consecutive years of 1963 and 1964, modest McCluskey points out “I wasn’t invincible Scottish International star Bobby Mallon beat me three times, but my toughest amateur was John Kellie.
Nonetheless, 1964 was Olympic year and as ABA Fyweight Champion, John was chosen to join Dick McTaggart as one of two Scots to represent Great Britain in Tokyo. His “reward” for gaining amateur boxing’s ultimate accolade the sack from his employer! However McCluskey went and sacrificed his livelihood in order to appear there.
The Tokyo Olympics were a distinct anti-climax. The flyweight gold medallist was McCluskey’s future pro’ nemesis Fernando Atzori of Italy. Events in Japan prevented the soon to be very well acquainted pair from engaging in Olympic ring combat. “Guys like Atzori, who had a long reach, always gave me problems but I reckon at least a quarter of his gold medal belongs to me! I beat the Thai boxer who was the favourite to take the flyweight gold and although I was stopped in the third round of my quarter final bout by a Russian I had so damaged the Russian that he was softened up and ripe for Atzori to take him – which he did”.
Returning to Scotland, faced with indifferent employment prospects and hopeful of marrying, John decided to turn pro’. I consulted former 1954 Empire Games Flyweight Dick Currie who then, as now, was chief boxing writer on the Glasgow Daily Record. Currie’s advice? ‘Go to London, sign with Jarvis Astaire who has all the right international connections to guide you to the top’”.
A definite plus was that I had Danny Vary as trainer Danny was a great conditioner and ring strategist, his first pro’ opponents, Winston Van Guylenburg. Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) was over ten rounds in Glasgow in only my seventh pro’ fight.
My second pro’ opponent was Manchester’s Tony Barlow the record books tell you I knocked out Tony in all the three occasions we met (in 1965, 1967 and 1969) but Tony was a very small guy – tough as nails and a dangerous and awkward southpaw – up to the eighth round he was a very, very hard puncher, so I had to wait until he “blew up” usually after eight rounds – before I could risk finishing him off. Even after this British Fyweight Title triumph on 16 January 1967 there was no resbite from gruelling ring warfare. “The name of Spanish Champion Manolin Alvarez makes me wince even now he hit me with a hook that was the hardest punch I ever took amateur or pro’. He split my left eyebrow in the eighth round but I managed to outpoint him”.
In March 1969 a visit to Johannesburg saw Mac not only outpoint tough-as-teak Springbok Mike Buttle, but become the first overseas boxer to win a points decision in South Africa for five years. It was in San Antonio, Texas, that Mac had his greatest ever foreign contest and therein lies a tale. “Jarvis Astaire telephoned me and said ‘John are you going to San Antonio, Texas to fight a guy called Arturo Leon’.
So Danny Vary and I looked up the Ring Magazine, the Ring Record Book, Boxing Illustrated and Boxing News but we could find no Atruro Leon! So Danny said, ‘this looks like an easy fight John, the guy isn’t even rated!. So I flew to San Antonio, was treated like a king by the Texans but received a rude shock! No wonder Danny Vary and I couldn’t find Arturo Leon in the ratings! I was fighting Arturo Leon Hernandez who was rated fifth in the World and had an unbeaten record of 21 victories! He had scored four K.O’s in San Antonio and I was being freely tipped as victim number five”.
The result? In the first round McCluskey smashed the tough Mexican to the deck twice with a ferocious barrage of left and right hooks forcing the referee to intervene as Hernandez lay helpless on the ropes! The promise, ultimately abortive, of a WBA World title shot against Filipino Bernarbe Villacampo was another potent incentive for the Larkhall Larruper to dispose of the Mexican in spectacular fashion, although John himself wistfully remarked: “Actually I think I frightened Villacampo’s handlers off by destroying Arturo Leon Hernandez”.
However, it was in the Alpine coolness of Switzerland that McCluskey received perhaps his warmest welcome. John fought four times. How did McCluskey rate European flyweight champion Fritz Chervet? “Fritz was very tricky tough too.
But I always thought I had his number. I decked him twice but the judges saw things differently…” Yet it was his European bantamweight contest on 3 April 1969, in Zurich, against Italian Franco Zurlo that gave Mac his fondest Swiss memories. It was scheduled to be the hard punching Italian’s second title defence in a month. Zurlo had also defeated old Walter McGowan foe Salvatore Burruni. “Zurlo cut my eye in the fourth and I found him really hard but he didn’t get it all his own way because I closed his right eye. He won the fight but I won over the Swiss crowd. When the final bell went a Swiss fan handed me 200 red roses in appreciation of my efforts! Zurlo was furiously jealous. He walked around the ring stamping his feet and protesting that he, the victor, should have received the roses!” Flyweights to win his Lonsdale belt outright. Fellow Celt Tony Davies of Wales attempted to provide some opposition in Swansea but McCluskey’s heavy punching saw off the Welshman in just two minutes and five seconds of the first round.
In fact John McCluskey holds distinction of having held the British flyweight championship longer than any other pugilist in boxing history. His tenure often years is longer than that of Jimmy Wilde, Benny Lynch, Terry Alien, Jackie Paterson or any other of the lesser lights who have held this title. Of course it wasn’t triumph all the way by any means. As early as Mac’s tenth pro’ fight (in Paisley) old amateur nemesis Fernand Atzori was clocking his first point victory (the first three Atzori defeats) against the Hamilton boxer. Perhaps the hardest to accept of this trilogy of defeats was their European title clash of 19 March 1971. Especially as it took place in Zurich. “Sure, Atzori put me on the deck at one stage but everyone else at ringside, apart from the judges, thought I had landed the greater volume of punches. Atzori had a long reach like John Kellie, such guys always troubled me, but I beat him on that occasion.” Mac’s tenure of the commonwealth flyweight title brought mixed fortunes in Australia too.
First there was triumph in Melbourne when even the presence of an illustrious cousin in his corner (former World bantamweight champion Lionel Rose) could not compensate for Aussie Harry Hayes inability to handle McCluskey’s non-stop aggression.
Despite Mac suffering a cut eye. A year later another antipodean safari produced a different outcome: “Henry Nissen was one of the hardest guys I fought. He had me rocking all over before I decided to retire. He hit less hard than Alvarez but hard enough, believe me!” Harder than Hampshire based Wayne Evans did when he ended Mac’s career before his “Ain folk” in Hamilton.
Nevertheless, triumph and distinction are the more consistent hallmarks of Mac’s career. Even allowing for the 60′s dearth of domestic talent a flyweight, holding a British title for ten years is a great achievement; as was emulating the immortal Benny Lynch by winning the same British title and Lonsdale belt on almost the same day (20 years apart) in the same town against a Mancunian opponent. Similarly, travelling to San Antonio, Texas to beat a World rated contender is something only a select few British boxers have ever been able to achieve. How many boxers have fought as pro’s over the unusual distance of nine rounds? Mac did when he lost on points over that distance to Walworth’s Johnny Clark! “My handler wouldn’t let me, a champion, fight an eight rounder!”
Mac now lives happily with his wife of over 20 years and his family in his native Hamilton. 23 boxers who lost to the Hamilton man’s educated mitts, but uttered with that same quiet sincerity outside the ropes that makes John McCluskey such a popular guy with the Scottish fight fraternity, even today.