A Scottish Boxing Hero
Walter McGowan was a clever boxer who throughout his ring career won the WBC Flyweight Championship of the World, the Bantamweight Championship of the British Empire (Commonwealth), the BBBC Bantamweight Championship of Great Britain, the Flyweight Championship of the British Empire (Commonwealth) and the BBBC Flyweight Championship of Great Britain. McGowan was also the only British boxer to win a coveted Lonsdale belt outright after a single defense.
Walter McGowan was born on the 13th of October 1942 in the racecourse town of Hamilton, Scotland.
Originally young Walter wanted to be a jockey, but he soon forgot about that when, guided by his dad Thomas McGowan, a former boxer and Lanarkshire miner, alias 'Joe Gans', (Walter) embarked on a brilliant amateur boxing career.
As an amateur McGowan suffered only two defeats in 124 bouts and was the 1961 ABA Flyweight Champion. Shortly after this Walter turned pro under his dad's management. Gans subjected Walter to a very strict and punishing training regime that included finishing off his roadwork with a swim or being doused in cold water.
He had his first professional fight in August 1961 when he fought George McDade at the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, winning by a technical knockout in the third round. In September of 1961 he defeated Eddie Barraclough on points. He lost his third fight to Jackie Brown for the BBBofC Scottish Area flyweight title on points, but then continued to build up an impressive list of wins.
Between December of 1961 and April of 1965, McGowan had eleven straight wins. On the 2nd of May 1963 he defeated Jackie Brown for the BBBofC British flyweight title and the Commonwealth (British Empire) flyweight title – by KO in round 12. He successfully defended his commonwealth title on the 12th of September 1963, defeating Killer Solomon by TKO in round 9.
On the 24th of April 1964, he challenged for the European flyweight title, held by Italian, Salvatore Burruni. The fight was held in the Olympic Stadium, Rome, and McGowan suffered the second defeat of his career, losing on points over fifteen rounds.
McGowan then had five straight wins followed by two straight loses to Jose Medel by TKO on the 1st Junes 1965 and to Ronnie Jones by TKO on the 2nd of August 1965.
In December 1965, he stepped up a weight and challenged for the European bantamweight title, held by Italian, Tommaso Galli. The fight was again in Rome and ended as a draw after fifteen rounds.
In June 1966, he again fought Salvatore Burruni, this time for the WBC world flyweight championship, which Burruni held. They met at the Empire Pool, Wembley, and McGowan won a fifteen-round points decision to gain the world title, despite sustaining a badly gashed eye in the seventh round. Cuts were to prove a major problem in his career.
On the 6th of September 1966, he fought Alan Rudkin at the Empire Pool, for the British and Commonwealth bantamweight titles that he held. McGowan scored another fifteen-round point’s win, despite suffering a cut eye in the tenth round.
On the 30th of December 1966, he defended his WBC world title against Chartchai Chionoi in Bangkok, Thailand. The Thai fighter won and took the title when McGowan suffered a badly cut nose in the ninth round, and the referee Sangvien Hiranlekha, had to stop the fight.
After three straight wins on points, on the 19th of September 1967 McGowan once again met with the Thai boxer Chartchai Chionoi in a re-match at the Empire Pool, but again the Thai boxer won and kept his title, when cuts to both McGowan’s eyes and his forehead caused the referee to stop the fight in the seventh.
The next fight for McGowan was also a rematch this time against Alan Rudkin. The first match between them in September of 1966 ended in McGowan wining a close controversial decision, most believing Rudkin deserved victory. There were calls for a rematch that seemed inevitable.
The McGowan- Rudkin rematch for the Commonwealth (British Empire) bantamweight title and BBBofC British bantamweight title got underway at the King's Hall, Belle Vue, Manchester, Lancashire, UK, on the 13th of May 1968.
It was a hard fought fight with the first seven rounds producing fine quality boxing. Rudkin started to pile pressure in the eight and McGowan started to struggle as Rudkin kept advancing forward with hard straight punches to the head and brutal body shots, he continued this in round 9, then McGowan went down with what appeared to be a hard right but the legendary referee Harry Gibbs ruled it a slip. Rudkin kept up the pressure and seemed to be in control. By the end of round 10 McGowan’s right eye was shut and he had a cut over his left cheek bone.
McGowan started to rally in round 11 and started to land combinations and fast jabs on the advancing Rudkin. In round 12 McGowan was caught twice with hard shots by Rudkin but the Scotsman was not to be deterred and by the end of round 13 Rudkin’s solid lead had all but disappeared.
The 14th round commenced and Alan Rudkin went straight into McGowan with punishing body shots. Rudkin wasn’t going to be denied of his titles that he believed rightfully belonged to him and with savage intensity he found his target more and more with hard accurate shots, caused a horrific cut over the cut-prone McGowan’s left eye.
By round 15, Rudkin had a cut over his left eye and McGowan had both eyes shut and cuts above and below his left eye. It was a brilliant last round with both boxers trading blows; however it was McGowan who seemed to give away ground. As the bell sounded both men embraced tightly and Walter McGowan planted a kiss, on the cheek of Rudkin.
Once again the result was close but this time around there was no controversy as Harry Gibbs walked over to Rudkin and raised his hand; he had scored it to Rudkin by a round or half a point – the closest it could be!
McGowan fought six more fights, all against foreign boxers, winning them all, before retiring. His last fight was in November 1969 against Domenico Antonio Chiloiro.
Walter McGowan became the first Scottish world-boxing champion to be so honored when he was in the Queen's Birthday honors’ list in 1966.
In the 1990s he trained Palestinian boxers in Israel.
He was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
However McGowan’s story does not have a happy ending. In December of 2001 he appeared at Hamilton Sheriff Court, accused of assaulting Patricia Boyle and released on bail. Then in June of 2002, he faced two charges of assaulting the same woman again on the 4th of March 2002 by repeatedly punching her in the face and knocking her to the ground. He was also accused of breaching bail conditions banning him from going near her after the first assault.
It is unfortunate that this story of a truly remarkable fighter, who stood tall in the ring, had to end on a sad note. At the early age of 59 in June of 2002 Walter McGowan, suffering from dementia and battling alcoholism was declared insane, unfit to stand trial and unfit to plead.
Notwithstanding his health problems McGowan remains a popular figure in Scotland.
Ring History Series: Boxers of Yesteryear