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The meteoric rise and tragic demise of Jackie Paterson

Jackie Paterson
Larry Braysher
Alex Daley tells the story of Jackie Paterson, who died of a stab wound to the neck from a broken bottle

THE astonishing collapse of Benny Lynch’s career through alcoholism at age 25, and his death eight years later, devastated Scottish fight fans. But in the year Benny’s career finished, another Scots flyweight who was destined to win the world crown emerged. Sadly, he too would fall prey to destructive addictions and die tragically young.

Jackie Paterson was 17 when he first ducked between the ropes of a pro ring at the Argyle Theatre, Greenock, on May 27, 1938. Coming in as a late substitute, he outscored the experienced Joe Kiely of Limerick over 10 rounds. Jackie’s amateur club trainer, Pat Collins, who made the match, was sacked by the club for moving the lad into the pros. But Paterson, who earned a meagre wage as an apprentice butcher, was only too happy to switch to the paid ranks and make Collins his manager.

A hard-hitting southpaw, Jackie was matched tough, but the policy paid off. Wins over top-notchers such as Rinty Monaghan, Phil Milligan, Freddie Tenant, Tut Whalley, Joe Curran and Eric Jones earned him a tilt at the vacant British flyweight title just 16 months after turning pro. On September 30, 1939, he dispatched Collyhurst’s Paddy Ryan in 13 rounds to become British titlist three weeks after his 19th birthday, and in March 1940 he beat Kid Tanner for the vacant Empire crown. By now Paterson had left the meat trade and was working as a hammerman in a Glasgow shipyard, an activity which served as part of his training.

A long winning run ensued, including a successful title defence against Ryan, but he lost on points to fellow Scot Jim Brady when challenging for the Empire bantam crown in August 1941. By then Paterson had joined the RAF but was still fighting – and winning. On June 19, 1943, he fought Peter Kane for world flyweight honours before a home crowd of 35,000 at Glasgow’s Hampden Park. Paterson demolished Kane in 61 seconds.

Over the next few years, Jackie collected British, Empire and European bantamweight titles while clinging to but not defending his world flyweight crown. Paterson had been fighting featherweights and was in truth no longer a flyweight. Yet somehow he sweated down to 8st for a successful defence in July 1946 against former foe Joe Curran. Jackie signed to defend his world crown against Dado Marino but the fight was twice postponed. Patterson collapsed before the weigh-in for the second postponed bout, in July 1947, after an excruciating weight-making session. The fight was cancelled after a doctor deemed him unfit to box.

Three months later, Rinty Monaghan beat Marino to gain recognition as champion in the eyes of America’s NBA. But Paterson won a court case to gain BBBofC recognition and still claimed the title. The two met for the undisputed crown at the King’s Hall, Belfast, in March 1948. To make the weight Jackie spent the night before the fight skipping in a sweltering room in front of a blazing stove. Unsurprisingly, he lost in six rounds.

Paterson fought on until 1951, latterly losing more than he won. Sadly, much of his ring money – reportedly over £50,000 – was frittered away on the dog track and he was bankrupt at age 32. He moved his family to South Africa in 1954 in the hope of starting a new life, but whilst there he started drinking heavily. Hitherto a teetotaller, Jackie became an alcoholic. His wife, Helen, divorced him in 1963 and he flew back to Britain. But he returned to South Africa in late 1965 when Helen agreed to give him another chance. Tragically, on November 19, 1966, he was involved in a brawl in a house in Amanzimtoti, just south of Durban. He died from a stab wound to the neck from a broken bottle. He was just 46.

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