Rochdale boxers

Over the years, Rochdale has produced a number of excellent boxers including Kevin Taylor (the town’s only Olympian), Derek Wormald, Terry Hernon and the Connellan brothers who swept the board in the amateur ring. Two fighters, however, stand out in the professional game : Jock McAvoy and Johnny Butterworth.

Jock McAvoy

Known as the Rochdale Thunderbolt, Jock was actually born in Burnley in 1908 although always was associated with Rochdale, being trained at Tolley’s Boxing Club in the town which produced so much pugilist talent.

The height of Jock’s fame came in the 1930s. Although out-pointed by Marcel Timil for the European cruiserweight title in Paris in 1935, he later took the British middleweight crown at Belle Vue in Manchester and then fought in the USA, outpointing Al McCoy and then knocking out Ed ‘Babe’ Risko at Madison Square Garden. A shot at the world light-heavyweight title fight in March 1936 saw a defeat to John Henry Lewis over 15 rounds.

 McAvoy bounced back in a catchweight contest in Manchester, beating the heavyweight Bill Wainwright and by the end of the 1930’s held two weight titles at the same time, beating Eddie Phillips to take the British cruiserweight title at Wembley Pool and defending his middleweight title against Jack Hyams at Belle Vue.

The war years saw less success for Jock, a low-point being his retirement following a fight with Freddie Mills in 1942. After a number of comeback bouts, Jock chose to quit the fight game, suffering a nervous breakdown and by 1951 being stricken by polio.He died in 1971.

Johnny Butterworth

Born in 1932 Johnny Butterworth he was taken in by Barnados and following a period being brought up by nuns near Hamer was looked after by a lady known only as Mrs Stansfield who encouraged him to take up boxing.

According to his daughter ‘Johnny Butt’ began as a booth-fighter at Belle View before claiming amateur titles in the early 1950’s and becoming the first from Rochdale to win a Northern Counties title.His professional career included fights in Australia and the USA where he became Central Area champion, scoring wins over Welsh and Scottish champions.

Described as a short, stocky bulldog with a tearaway style, Johnny trained at Heybrook Gym and could often be seen running round Hollingworth Lake as part of his pre-fight preparation. 

In 1955 Johnny claimed the British title from Joe Lucy but hand injuries forced him out of the fight game only to re-appear in Australia in 1959 where he beat George Bracken in a memorable encounter (filmed and available on-line). Following a re-match with Bracken, which he lost due to a cut eye, Johnny returned to Rochdale in the late 1960’s where he took a series of odd jobs.

Johnny Butterworth’s rise to the high-life was memorable and glamorous, marrying Miss Great Britain, Dorothy Hazledine, and it seems that he was larger-than-life, loud, always joking and (when he had the money) a snappy dresser. In Rochdale he was a regular at The Carlton Ballroom where he would ‘sort fights out’ with a ready presence or a rapid and single punch ! Scores of stories survive him whether true or otherwise, one being that he was offered a contract with the Italian football club Juventus which he turned down in favour of the more lucrative life of a boxer. Many people comment on his friendliness and his eagerness to talk about his boxing career, carrying photographs of himself to show anyone interested.

Coming from nothing to achieve international recognition, he epitomised the rags to riches and back again story. Johnny died at the age of 82 after spending some time in Marland Court Residential Home and many feel he would richly deserve a blue plaque being erected in the town to his memory.