The Jim Watt story
Looking back on the super Scot’s terrific career
IF you watched boxing on British TV between the 1980s and 2010s, you’ll know Jim Watt the commentator. And if you’re a long-time boxing fan over the age of 50, you’ll also know Jim Watt the fighter. But to those whose sporting memories end in the mid-1980s, Watt will be best known for his TV work on Sky and ITV. So what about the blond southpaw from Bridgeton who won a Lonsdale Belt outright and made four winning defences of a world crown?
That Jim Watt started to make his mark in the early 1970s, but even when he won the British lightweight title in 1972, the prospect of world glory seemed slim. This was for two reasons. Firstly, the incumbent world lightweight ruler was the incredible Roberto Duran, who after 1972 stayed unbeaten for the rest of the decade. Secondly, Jim lacked the connections and profile to secure the big fights. It would take a few years for that to change.
Watt had been an outstanding amateur, winning the 1968 ABA lightweight title and dispatching future world welterweight king John H. Stracey with a one-punch KO in the semi-finals. Jim was selected to box in that year’s Mexico City Olympics, but instead he turned pro with his amateur trainer, Jim Murray, as manager. While Murray had been an invaluable guiding influence in the unpaid ranks, getting Watt the exposure he needed as a paid performer proved tricky.
In 1973, Jim got a breakthrough of sorts when matched with fellow Scot Ken Buchanan. Ken had lost his WBA title to Duran seven months earlier and wanted to fight Watt to put a final notch on a Lonsdale Belt and make it his own. Ken did just that, taking Jim’s British crown over 15 thrilling rounds at St Andrew’s Sporting Club in Glasgow. But the unheralded Watt’s brilliant performance against the gifted former world champ earned him the attention and respect he badly needed.
In 1975, Jim reclaimed the thenvacant British title by stopping Ayr’s Johnny Cheshire in seven, again at the St Andrew’s Sporting Club. The following year, he left Murray and joined the Terry Lawless stable in London’s Canning Town – a move that proved a turning point. Watt won a Lonsdale Belt outright against Johnny Claydon in February 1977 and picked up the European belt that August when he beat France’s Andre Holyk on a cut eye inside a round. Jim made three quick European title defences and swiftly moved up the world rankings.
In April 1979, he got a shot at the vacant WBC crown. Duran had vacated and moved up in weight, leaving Watt to face Colombia’s Alfredo Pitalua before 10,000 roaring Scots at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall.
Jim beat Alfredo in 12 to become the new lightweight king and saw off challenges from Robert Vasquez (November 1979) and Charlie Nash (March 1980), again at the Kelvin Hall.
His third defence – against 1976 Olympic gold medallist Howard Davis Jnr of New York – called for a bigger venue. Ibrox Park, home to Glasgow Rangers, was used in what was Scotland’s first open-air fight show for 20 years. On that cold, rain-sodden evening in June 1980 Jim’s greater experience and superb boxing carried him to a 15-round decision.
Defence number four saw Watt in a gruelling battle with Oklahoma City’s Sean O’grady – himself a future TV boxing pundit in the US – at the Kelvin Hall, in November 1980. The fight ended in Jim’s favour, with O’grady stopped in the 12th because of a cut caused by an accidental headbutt.
Watt bowed out gracefully after losing his title to the great Alexis Arguello at Wembley in June 1981. He was almost 33, had earned big money and invested it wisely. It was the perfect time to step away and embark on a new career within the sport.