When Pat Patrick won his first five professional fights in sensational style he was regarded as one of South Africa’s finest prospects.
But in the end he was, as the author of The Fighters, Chris Greyvenstein put it, “yet another of the distressing number of South African boxers who, for one reason or another, wasted their talents.”
His name was actually Pat Southern but when he turned professional in August 1948, he changed it, for promotional purposes, to Pat Patrick because he was born on St Patrick’s Day in 1928.
He began boxing as a schoolboy and later joined the East Rand Engineering Amateur Boxing Club in Germiston. Trained by the redoubtable Cyril Carroll, he soon won an East Rand championship.
However, he did not take boxing seriously until he became a professional. Carroll and Toddy Crankshaw who was a well-known soccer player who had played for Germiston Callies immediately ensured that his training became more serious and intense.
Carroll also trained fighters such as Vic Toweel, Shorty Smook, Tony Habib, Ken Le Grange, Bill Dollery and Johnny Wood.
Patrick’s professional debut was against Tony Liversage. They met on the undercard when Johnny Ralph stopped Jack Kukard on 21 August 1948.
Liversage had won his first four fights in style and was the favourite but the newcomer nearly knocked out the fighter who won the SA light-heavyweight title about four years later.
Alf Gallagher, an Australian heavyweight who was in South Africa at the time – he fought Ralph in three closely contested bouts – sparred with the much lighter Patrick and said: “Pat has the biggest heart in the world and he can punch with both hands; and punch hard.”
In his sixth professional fight, in the Germiston City Hall on 10 March 1949, Patrick stopped the experienced Bill Geoghan in the tenth round to win the vacant Transvaal welterweight title.
He also beat Gillie van der Westhuizen and George Bushney and then caused a minor sensation when he knocked out an experienced Hollander, Harry Bos, in the fourth round. In a return match five weeks later Patrick won on points over eight rounds.
Next he took on one of South Africa’s best middleweights, Duggie Miller, who had beaten the brilliant George Angelo in two of their three fights. It was Patrick’s eleventh pro fight and he beat the much heavier and experienced Miller on points over eight rounds.
Patrick became the South African welterweight champion when he outpointed Don Carr over twelve rounds at the Wembley Stadium in Johannesburg on 30 September 1949.
He finished the year with three wins: a fourth-round stoppage of Liversage in a return bout, a third-round technical knockout over Ronnie Meyer and a points victory over ten rounds against 1948 Olympian Duggie du Preez.
DuPreez who was one the fighters in South Africa’s best ever Olympic boxing team finished fourth in the welterweight division losing to Alessandro D’Ottavio in a box-off for the bronze medal.
On 4 March, 1950 Patrick retained the SA title in a return match with DuPreez who was disqualified in the tenth round after referee Ted Benjamin had warned him three times for holding. Du Preez was well behind at the time.
Less than two months later, Patrick stopped Piet van Staden in the seventh round of another title defence.
MARRIED AT 18
Patrick, who married at the age of 18 and had two children, bought a house and the future looked bright. But there were rumours that he was meeting up with John Barleycorn.
Carroll and Crankshaw then arranged a trip to England where they hoped to secure a fight for the Empire title, which could lead to a world rating.
Boxing enthusiasts and journalists were impressed with the South African’s gym workouts before he fought highly rated British welterweight Jackie Braddock, whose record stood at 19-2-1.
They met at the Royal Albert Hall in London; Patrick’s first fight in nearly five months, on 26 October 1950.
Going into the eighth round, Patrick was well ahead on points, but he tired badly in the ninth. In the tenth a desperate Braddock dropped him for a count of seven. He beat the count but the referee stopped the bout.
The Transvaal National Sporting Club, together with British promoter Jack Solomons, then matched him against Eddie Thomas, the British welterweight champion from Merthyr Tydfil in Wales.
The fight was for the British Empire welterweight title that had been vacant for 25 years. The winner would be a step closer to a world title challenge.
The tournament was held at the Wembley Stadium in Johannesburg on 27 January 1951. On the same card Gerald Dreyer, a 1948 Olympic Games champion, was matched with British lightweight champion Billy Thompson and George Angelo with another Briton, Les Allen.
10,000 DRENCHED SPECTATORS
It turned out to be a miserable, rainy night and the 10 000 drenched spectators were unimpressed by the fight between Thomas and Patrick. There was so little action in the middle rounds that sections of the crowd reverted to waltz songs and slow clapping.
But in the thirteenth round a straight right dropped Patrick on his back and he was counted out, bringing the fight to an unexpected ending.
Most critics felt Patrick’s career was just about over, but matchmaker Reg Haswell still had faith in him. He arranged a fight with Paul Karam and Patrick turned up in outstanding form, knocking out his opponent in the sixth round.
In his last fight of that year, Patrick regained the SA welterweight title, which he had relinquished, by stopping Danie van Graan in the tenth round. In a return match in January 1952 he retained the title when referee Peter Murrell disqualified Van Graan in the eighth round for a low blow.
Patrick also beat Mike Slabbert and Peter Galleymore in defence of his title and in August stopped Marcel Lips of Belgium in the sixth round.
SA’s EDDIE THOMAS
There was talk about a fight against the tough John Barleycorn before Patrick went to Cape Town to defend his title against the South African Eddie Thomas in January 1953.
Thomas later became known as one of the hardest punchers in SA boxing and will always be remembered for his three fights with Mike Holt for the SA middleweight title. He knocked out Patrick in the third round.
However, only the Cape Boxing Board of Control recognised Thomas as the champion. The National Board refused to recognise it as a title fight and ordered a rematch.
They met again on 15 June 1953, also in Cape Town. Thomas knocked out Patrick with a left hook in the fourth round.
Patrick then got out of boxing – until one month short of five years later. He made a comeback against Piet Pieterse at the Raylton Sports Ground in Salisbury, now Harare, on 17 May 1958. It was a dull draw over eight rounds and Patrick finally retired with a career record of 23-4-1, including 12 wins inside the distance.
Gary Gordon, a former Natal lightweight champion who saw many of Patrick’s fights, later told of the time he visited Patrick to write an article for the Boxing World magazine.
Gordon went to see Patrick in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, where he worked for an engineering company.
There was so much noise from the boilermaker’s workshop that “Pat’s boss offered him the comfort of his office. He really liked Pat and stated that he was one of the best workers he had, but the trouble was he took off a lot of time”.
Chris Greyvenstein wrote in The Fighters that Patrick was “one of the most enigmatic fighters ever produced in this country. A wicked puncher and a most competent boxer, he seemed a certainty to develop into a challenger for international honours …
“He looked devastating in training only to disappoint bitterly in actual battle … yet another of the distressing number of South African boxers who, for one reason or another, wasted their talents.”
Only a few weeks before Patrick died in Johannesburg on 19 September 1991 I had the privilege of visiting him in his small flat across the road from the Turffontein racecourse in Johannesburg. He seemed rather weary at the time.