BORN in the Gorbals, the slum tenements on the south bank of the Clyde in Glasgow, 5st Benny Lynch joined a local boys’ boxing club, then graduated to the more famous L.M.S Rovers Club. But Benny wanted the glamour of the paid ring, so when a boxing booth appeared on a bit of waste ground in the neighbourhood, young Lynch asked for a job. He got paid five shillings from booth owner, and became a regular performer. Local trainer Sam Wilson was so impressed with him he got him work in the small halls around Glasgow. Lynch crammed in 48 fights in his first three years.
He won the Scottish flyweight title and boxed a draw with world champion Jackie Brown. Six months later, aged 22, he floored Manchester’s Brown eight times before referee Moss Deyong stopped the fight in two sensational rounds. Lynch was flyweight champion of the Britain, Europe and the world. He was feted everywhere he went, started drinking heavily and the three months of celebrating his world title win sowed the seeds of his ultimate downfall.
Lynch continued to win overweight matches, though losing twice to Belfast southpaw Jimmy Warnock. When it came to defending his world title, though, Lynch trained with his old zeal. He knocked out Battersea’s Pat Palmer in eight rounds, then outpointed Filipino title claimant Small Montana over 15 to unify for the first time in 10 years. His hedonistic lifestyle resulted in an embarrassing defeat less than two months later, when he was floored several times by former British bantamweight title challenger Len Hampston. He was saved the indignity of a knockout when his chief trainer jumped in the ring, resulting in his disqualification.
In a return three weeks later, he got into shape and stopped Hampston in 10. His last great hurrah was against young Liverpool knockout sensation Peter Kane, in front of 40,000 fans at Shawfield Park, Glasgow in October 1937. Lynch floored his 19-year-old challenger in the first round, only for blacksmith Kane to get up and force the action for the next 12 rounds, before Lynch applied the finisher in the 13th. No one then could have imagined that Lynch’s career would be over after just six more contests. His life spiralled out of control, and he put on weight. When he defended against American Jackie Jurich, he couldn’t even make the bantamweight limit, let alone the flyweight one, and therefore forfeited his world title on the scales.
The fight went ahead, and he pounded Jurich to 12th round defeat. He finished on two defeats, the first on points to Toledo, Ohio, American prospect KO Morgan, who two fights later would challenge Sixto Escobar for the world bantamweight title in Puerto Rico. The bout was originally made at 8st. 6lbs (118lbs) but later raised to 8st 10lbs (122lbs). On the day, Morgan weighed in at 8st 8lbs 6oz but Lynch came in at a whopping 9st 1lb 14oz! (128lbs), and was able to make the weight tell in a close contest.
Boxing headlined Lynch’s last contest with Romanian bantamweight Aurel Toma ‘Benny Lynch’s Tragic Finish’. Lynch this time weighed in at 9st 5 1/4lbs (131lbs) to Toma’s 8st 7lbs (119lbs). It was a lightweight against a bantamweight, but Boxing reported “He was fat and soft, like a tubby little old man….he was sluggish and flat-footed…the farcical proceedings continued in the second round… In the third and last round, Lynch took a left to the stomach, simply gazed upwards at the arc lights overhead, whereupon Toma stepped in and cracked him on the point of the jaw.. Lynch came forward as stiff as a poker, to fall flat on his face to be counted out. It was an unhappy and tragic finish, which gave one that deeply hurtful feeling experienced when something you have prized and cherished has been dashed to the ground and smashed to smithereens never again to hold for you anything but a memory. Tragic, indeed”.
After this knockout defeat, the only one of his career, at the age of 25, Lynch bummed his way round Glasgow, selling his house and pawning his trophies. He was back where he begun – with nothing. It was still a surprise, though, when, less than eight years later, the boxing world learned that Benny had been picked up in the street in a debilitated physical state, and died in hospital, aged just 33.
As a postscript to his extraordinary yet tragic life, Boxing News of July 12, 1950 featured a presentation to Lynch’s two sons, 12-year-old Bobby and 14-year-old John, by correspondent Thomas McCue, of the belt awarded by Ring magazine to holders of world boxing titles. Editor Gilbert Odd had asked the Ring’s editor, Nat Fleischer, to present a belt to Lynch’s family, as his premature death and the intervention of the Second World War had meant that the champion never received the coveted belt himself. The boys’ letter of thanks to the paper finished, “…We express our gratitude to you for this, the only memento we have of our late father, of whom we are very proud”.
Benny Lynch was unquestionably one of the greatest world flyweight champions produced by these isles, and all these years after his tragically premature death, still one of the best of all time. This extraordinary but ultimately tragic life was featured in a Boxing News 20-part series, ‘Scotland’s Pride’, by Thomas McCue from August 1950 to February 1951.