BOXING is so beset with tragedies and hard-luck stories that it’s pleasing to write about a fighter who found success in an entirely new sphere after leaving the roped square. Birkenhead-born Pat McAteer emigrated to America in 1957, founded a successful business there and enjoyed a sumptuous lifestyle, after winning a Lonsdale Belt outright.
Liverpool fight fans who are in their twilight years will not need reminding that McAteer was a quality boxer who only lost to top-class men. Long unbeaten runs were rare in the 1950s, but “Pat Mac”, as he was known, stormed to 40-0 before tasting defeat as a pro. Part of a well-known Liverpool fight family, several of Pat’s relatives punched for pay, including his cousin Les, a fellow British and Empire middleweight titlist. More recently, the McAteer sporting name was kept alive by Pat’s footballing nephew Jason, the former Liverpool and Ireland midfielder.
Pat’s first taste of pugilism arrived through a local boys’ club, after which he joined the Provincial ABC under trainer Johnny Campbell. As an amateur McAteer reached the 1952 ABA light-middleweight semi-finals, losing to the brilliant Bruce Wells. After that, Pat turned pro alongside club mate Joe Bygraves, and Johnny Campbell left the amateur ranks to become their manager. McAteer made his paid debut in September 1952 with a second-round KO of Arthur Lewis of Oswestry. Instead of handing Pat his £10 purse money, Campbell placed it in a savings account and gave his charge the book. He was steering Pat in the right direction and the young man took the hint. Aside from buying his parents their first TV set following his fifth fight, McAteer was frugal with his ring earnings.
One obstacle Pat would need to overcome – in common with other British boxers of his generation – was National Service. This meant two years’ compulsory armed forces service and another four years as a reservist, with the possibility of being asked to serve. To avoid the call-up, McAteer worked as a gym instructor aboard the Britannic, the ship’s former instructor, Liverpool ex-pro Dom Volante, kindly stepping aside to allow Pat to take his place. “When we docked back at Liverpool my father was on the quayside, waving and telling me not to get off as there were two guys waiting to grab me for National Service,” recalled McAteer, who managed to repeatedly miss the call-up.
Unencumbered by military service, Pat went from victory to victory, fighting almost exclusively at the Liverpool Stadium. It was there in June 1955 that he wrested the British and Empire middleweight titles from Preston’s Johnny Sullivan, albeit in less-than-ideal fashion, with Sullivan disqualified for an alleged low blow. In fight number 41, Pat’s remarkable unbeaten run was snapped by South Africa’s Jimmy Elliott, who won a 10-round decision in London in April 1956. McAteer avenged the loss 13 months later on Jimmy’s home turf. But it was a fight the Liverpudlian would gladly have lost to change its tragic aftermath. After a fiercely contested Empire title bout, Elliott was knocked out in the sixth and died hours later from a blood clot to the brain.
McAteer made the middleweight Lonsdale Belt his own with successful defences against Lew Lazar and Martin Hansen. He failed in a European title bid when stopped in eight rounds in Paris by Charles Humez in 1957, and he lost his Empire title to future world champ Dick Tiger the following year. Pat’s next and as it turned out final fight was against another future world titlist – a points defeat to Terry Downes in June 1958.
After moving to the US, Pat used his ring earnings to set up a plumbing, heating and air-conditioning business in Fairfax, Washington. By the 1980s the business was thriving and he had 30 employees on his payroll. He died, aged 77, in April 2009.