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16 October 2014

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Johnny Hill, Scotland's first boxing world champion 1928

The Sporting Life reported: "There began the greatest flyweight contest seen in this country since the war – culminating in a British victory and the return to this country of the world flyweight championship which Jimmy Wilde lost to Pancho Villa in New York five years ago."

The Scotsman commented that: "Hill won because he was slightly the quicker and because Newsboy Brown's tactics were ruined by his inability to avoid Hill's straight left."

Johnny Hill

© Photo Press

Unfortunately, Hill's career would come to a similarly tragic end as that of Lynch. While the Glasgow boxer's problems with alcohol were largely responsible for his death at the age of 33, Hill was a clean-living 23-year-old when he died of pneumonia, just like Lynch. Just 12 months after becoming world champion Hill caught a chill training and was killed by a blood clot in the lung.

While Hill was dying, an American fighter called Frankie Genaro, who had won a gold medal at the 1920 Olympics, was on his way to challenge him for the undisputed world flyweight title. Genaro only learned of Hill's death as he stepped off the ferry on England's south coast. Fight promoter Jeff Dickson broke the shocking news to the challenger.

Frankie Genaro ended up attending Hill's funeral in the late champion's adopted home of Strathmiglo, Fife on the very day that he and Hill should have been crossing gloves in the ring.

Alf Hill remembers the visitor well: "Frankie Genaro came up to Strathmiglo with his girlfriend. He was smartly dressed like a character in a James Cagney gangster movie, but he was a really nice guy. He was heartbroken, and acted as a pallbearer. It was strange: he should have fought my brother, yet Frankie ended up attending the funeral!"

The 1985 edition of the British Board of Boxing Control Official Yearbook lists Hill on page 279 as being "undefeated world flyweight champion 1928-29". It is time to salute the first ever world boxing champion from Scotland

Written by: Brian Donald

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