FLASHBACK: McAvoy was one of the greatest

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HIS spectacular success story will go down in folklore, his words echoed in literature.

Author Brian Hughes MBE scripted the legacy of Jock McAvoy in a Portrait of a Fighting Legend. The book charters the life and career of the boxer whose humble origins began in Burnley, endearing the reader through his unselfish struggle.

Hughes proclaimed that the 1930s were, without doubt, the greatest period in British boxing history, with many enthusiasts agreeing that the romance of the ring and its hungry exponents rest, almost entirely, in the earlier decades of the 20th century.

Influenced by his impoverished background and society’s hardships McAvoy was a ferocious fighter, the hallmark of his character, who worked tirelessly to provide his family with a better standard of living in hope of surviving that desolate and oppressive generation.

Originally born Joseph Bamford on November 20th, 1907, McAvoy was the son of Nellie Ginty and powerfully built labourer Joe Bamford. His mother had initially moved to the town from Salford to find work as a weaver in one of the borough’s many factories. After her first marriage to George Hardacre ended Nellie took up residence with Joe in Luther Street, where she gave birth to the future boxing star.

A century to the day after the boxer’s birth, fan Damien Hargreaves provided a full-page spread on McAvoy for the Express, meticulously accounting the life of one of the town’s most famous sporting sons.

He wrote: Shortly after the end of the Great War, the Bamford family was forced to relocate to Rochdale to find work. It was here that young Joseph’s boxing career began, making his professional debut in 1927.

Fearing his mother might disapprove of his chosen career, he decided to box under the name of Jack McCoy. However, a confused ring announcer introduced him as “Jock McAvoy” instead and the name stuck.

McAvoy soon realised he had a talent for prizefighting. His style was modelled on that of his great idol, the famous former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, who went on to describe him as the best British boxer he’d seen in 20 years. Boring in his opposite number, he would first soften them up with punishing body blows before invariably acquainting them with the canvas floor of the ring.

In the early part of his career, McAvoy fought several times in the local area.

His first contest in Burnley took place at the New Market Stadium on July 4th, 1929, where regular Thursday night shows were held. The luckless opponent, Frank Ormerod of Nelson, was dispatched within a round by a tremendous right hand punch.

His next fight at the stadium, against Billy Chew of Darwen, was a more competitive affair. McAvoy eventually triumphed on points but it is said that the roar of the crowd could be heard all over the town as the two fighters tore furiously into each other.

McAvoy quickly rose through the ratings and in 1933 secured a British title fight against the Cornishman, Len Harvey.

Harvey was the darling of the domestic boxing scene and would eventually go on to win a version of the world light-heavyweight championship and achieve British titles in three weight divisions.

However, on the night of April 10th, 1933, McAvoy was unstoppable, thrilling the crowd at Belle Vue’s Kings Hall as he fought his way to a close, but deserved, points victory.

McAvoy now set his sights on global success.

Then came his overnight stardom; a bout which brought him fame and admirers on both sides of the Atlantic. It was December 21st, 1935, and McAvoy faced world middleweight champion Eddie ‘Babe’ Risko at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the famous Mecca of boxing.

To the despair of McAvoy, however, the bout was arranged above the middleweight limit so the American’s title would not be at stake.

Associated Press Sports Writer Andy Clarke, reporting for the Miami News at the time, reported how McAvoy prevailed in 2:48 after dropping the champion to the canvas on six occasions. The article read: “A fidgety fighter, whose face drained white as he leaped from his stool at the opening gong, McAvoy sent Risko to the canvas with his first right hand punch. That punch was the beginning of the end for the Syracuse boy.” It went on: “The Englishman, his arms flailing like a windmill in a gale, looped over lefts and rights that sent Risko staggering backward.

“Risko, who had climbed to his feet five times, made one futile gesture to rise again, as the crowd pleaded with him to get up. He couldn’t make it, however, and he settled back as the referee counted him out.”

Less than three minutes of wild, exhilarating ferocity in the opening round, it was all over. However, after such a comprehensive pummelling, Risko and his connections refused to let any return match for the title take place.

McAvoy breezed past Jimmy Smith and Anson Green before making a return to Madison Square Garden in a subsequent bout for the world light-heavyweight championship against American Henry John Lewis. The New York Times wrote: “Lewis had little difficulty ... wagering a careful, systematic battle in which he left few openings for the fast-punching Englishman. Lewis fought his way home to victory in convincing style but his triumph was far from popular with the crowd.”

After his unsuccessful bid to capture the light heavyweight crown, McAvoy returned to England, and his next fight was for the British and British Empire heavyweight titles held by Welshman, Jack Petersen. Petersen won the 15-round fight on points.

McAvoy then went on a 12-fight winning streak including BBBofC British light-heavyweight title glory against Eddie Phillips courtesy of a 14th round knockout at Wembley’s Empire Pool. That success was then cemented with the British and British Empire middleweight titles as he forced a stoppage against Jack Hyams in the 11th round at King’s Hall.

His only other chance at a world title came in 1939, against old rival Len Harvey. The match-up at the old White City Stadium took place in front of a crowd estimated to be in excess of 90,000.

McAvoy was past his peak, but the bout was still a desperately close affair. At the end of 15 hard-fought rounds, Harvey was declared the winner on the judges score cards. McAvoy, and many at ringside, felt the decision should have gone the other way.

The brave loss was to prove the last glorious night in McAvoy’s ring career. He continued to box but was no longer the force of previous years and eventually retired in 1945; though he finished with a triumph over Tommy Davies to sugar-coat a sensational voyage.

However, in 1951 he contracted polio and lost the use of his legs. He was unable to work and became depressed. And on November 20th, 1971, his 64th birthday, McAvoy took his own life.

McAvoy was a hard puncher who scored 89 KOs in 132 wins. He lost 14 times and was held to a draw once. McAvoy was named in Ring Magazine’s 100 greatest punchers of all time.

He may never have won the world title he deserved, but for those fortunate enough to witness his overwhelming presence in the ring, McAvoy was an undisputed champion and one of the greatest sportsmen ever to come out of Burnley.