Rightwing Film Geek

Robert McDermott, 1960-2015

The man who partially inspired my latest life turn has died. My mother told me Saturday that her youngest brother, my uncle Robert, had succumbed in Glasgow to a virulent cancer that had just recently spread to his brain.

According to my mother, who was 16 when Robert McDermott was born, he was the baby brother whose nappies she would change and she became, as often happens with the eldest children in large families, a de facto parent.

When my sister and I were young, uncle Robert would sometimes look after us (as would my other aunts and uncles despite some of their youngish ages — uncle Robert was only six years older than I). But he was the “fun uncle,” who’d let you do things your parents mightn’t. Who’d let you wade in the burn (creek) you weren’t supposed to go to. Also, and more relevantly today for me, uncle Robert was a champion boxer. As the chubby “wee professor” bookworm I was, and on which track I’ve lived my adult life, I envied that. In addition to my Muhammad Ali fandom, uncle Robert made a boxing fan for life, something that I think comes across even in my film writings.

Uncle Robert fought for the Scottish national team as an amateur, including at the European Games. He won an award named for 1970s world lightweight champion Ken Buchanan, as Scotland’s top boxing prospect. Apropos of that, the Daily Record did a center-page spread showing him in a ring corner, in his gear, surrounded by all eight of his sisters who still lived in Scotland. But at least a couple of his trophies and medals he gave to my mother, who had emigrated by this time. After we left, she would frequently talk about trying to bring him to America, where there’s much more money and potential for glory in professional boxing.

While that never came about, he did turn professional and had a decent career over there. Here is the only tape of him fighting that I know exists in public — it’s 1980s-vintage video and is of a whole card. His fight starts just after the 28:30 mark and lasts 6 rounds to a decision.

Uncle Robert got as far as a British bantamweight-title eliminator — a “winner gets the next shot at the reigning champion” fight. He got his nose broken in that fight en route to a 10th-round KO loss. His conqueror, Dave McAuley, went on to become a British and world champion. Only two other men stopped him — one went on to become a British champion, the other a world champion. But his career was hampered and eventually cut short by drugs and crime. He talks about that part freely here.

I’ve mentioned in vague terms, here and elsewhere, that my extended family and the law haven’t always been on the most cordial of terms (and no, I won’t go into further detail than saying my uncle Robert wasn’t the only one to do hard time). While I can truthfully say along those lines that I’m thereby not sorry I left Glasgow, I still envied my uncle the “hard man.”

Over the last few years, some changes in my life priorities have happened, in part because of uncle Robert the hard man. While by anybody’s definition, I’m still an obsessive cinephile — I depart in a couple of weeks on a 3,000-mile flight for a festival of 85- 90- and 100-year-old movies that don’t even talk, it’s become relatively less important to me. What has become my life’s avocation is becoming a fighter, at whatever level of success I can achieve.

Now … I’m no under no illusion that, at just a few weeks short of 49 years old as I type, I could ever become a full professional, much less one as successful as uncle Robert. But a few years ago, I weighed 250 pounds and a couple of things happened, one of which was watching two UFC fighters on TV, both flyweights, both standing 5-4 — my height. The mixed-martial-arts flyweight limit is 125, so I weighed as much as these two men put together. And comfortably more than twice the fighting weight of the only pro boxer I knew; uncle Robert fought as a bantamweight (118) and flyweight (112).

It’s taken about three years to get where I am now, with fits and starts, in part because at the start I was too out of shape to get in shape. I walked into an MMA gym and left in humiliation after a week because I felt like the fifthest fifth wheel in history. So I took things slowly because I had to. And to be honest, I started with the modest goal of simply not becoming unhealthy over it. I now weigh a little over 140 pounds, with 15 more pounds to go before I’ll be satisfied with my weight loss. First diet-only, then cardio, then weightlifting and now boxing. For the past year and a half, I’ve had a gym membership and about half that period, I’ve trained with a pro fighter — first on the punching bag and pad drills, now sparring more-or-less weekly.

BloodyFaceNow I can run 2 miles in 20 minutes, and longer than that at a slower “jog” pace. I have defined shoulder, chest and arm muscles and routinely visible veinage. I can box on the heavy bag for an hour and can spar with my trainer for five or six 3-minute rounds. I can land punches on him, and take punishment without too much cowering or blinking. In the attached photo, my trainer noticed I was bleeding before I did and took this photo at round’s end. I insisted we keep going for the rest of the scheduled rounds. He obviously holds back his power a bit (maybe a lot; hell if I can tell now), while I don’t/can’t really. But a pro fighter is a pro fighter. He obviously still dominates our sparring and he’d stiffen me inside a minute if he fought 100%, but I can actually make him fight hard and sweat. My trainer thinks my goal of fighting a live fight in 2016 and being competitive, even if (especially if) it’s only in the “Old Boys” division, is very doable. I now post a video channel of myself sparring with him (and losing, but still … here’s one round embedded)

To bring this back to uncle Robert — however much one tells oneself not to let your imagination run wild with grandiose ambitions (and even if you largely succeed), you get “some day …” dreams. I had one regarding boxing and him. Had I gotten into the ring and had at least some success at the start, I would have brought him over here for a few days so he could see his “brainbox nephew” fight, as he did. And I don’t mean if I had big success anything approaching what he had … just enough to know I wouldn’t fold like many men do upon entering the ring for real, a possibility which I obviously still cannot exclude regarding myself. I wouldn’t want to make a fool of myself and/or waste his time. When I told my mother of this plan several weeks ago, she told me the then-recent bad news about uncle Robert’s cancer. I said I hoped he could see my videos, but she told me he already was going blind and would soon be put in hospice care away from Internet access. She did tell me that she had told him of what I’d been doing in the previous couple months and told him of the bloody-face photo. His reply (and my mind’s ear can play uncle Robert saying it) was “aye … well he better get used to that if he wants to get good.” I can tell myself he’d seen me and approved.

RIP, uncle Robert.

May 17, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized

9 Comments »

  1. I`m sure your uncle Robert would be so damn proud of you Victor for following in his footsteps , he was a wonderful boy who became a great man I know he did some things that might not have been nice but then think we all have been there done that and wore the tee-shirt because I know I did and so did my brother and my family but as the saying goes they are your mistakes and if you benefit from them well you have learned and Robert sure did learn from them as I said he is a legend not only in Possil but I would go as far as saying he is a true Scottish Legend and can truthfully say I am proud to have known him and the rest of your family xx may he now R.I.P.

    Comment by Fran nee Johnston Kimmet | May 18, 2015 | Reply

  2. Brilliant Epitaph and story about your Uncle Robert .i knew all the McDermotts is your mother Cassie

    Comment by Jim Rodden | May 19, 2015 | Reply

    • No, Elizabeth (Betty/Liz). Cass is in Canada.

      Comment by vjmorton | May 19, 2015 | Reply

  3. brilliant he was certainly a legend

    Comment by madge milligan | May 19, 2015 | Reply

  4. Rest in peace Dan you where one in a million

    Comment by Brian ward | May 20, 2015 | Reply

  5. R.i.P Sherbo u were a lovely guy we all went berry picking together all ur family and mines rab smith I am katrina one of the smith family xx

    Comment by Kizzy Martin | May 20, 2015 | Reply

  6. Bless you and this no b.s., straight to the heart post.. I ended it a bit teary eyed. But then again I am a cinephile as well so I guess that kind of goes with the territory… but, bless you and your entire family. You are all so incredibly strong yet loving to eachother at the end of the day, no matter what hard times you’ve had to overcome in your past. I can’t imagine a move like that to another country, although I’m dying to travel of course. But to have to leave someone who is a bit of a father figure even, so far away, and to be so inspired by him and his fighting…now that’s truly soul-stirring for me. I don’t believe in coincidences, I do believe in fate, and I do believe in gifts not of this world, (a huge part probably being because I have no choice really but to follow my private God given “gifts” that I rarely share with anyone unless I feel I must. Anyways – ) He loves you so much. And to have the privilege of having such a purely loving soul be a guardian of yours growing up, and the fact that you are in this country for most of your life now and you are not only pursuing with rampant success your love of film, but you are stepping into an even deeper territory of your heart with Robert. And he’ll be with you until you see him on the “other side.” He loves you so much. And it’s no coincidence I happened upon your post, sir. :) I’ve dreamed all my life of being a true, bad arse fighter. I pushed it aside as a fantasy. And over the past two years, especially the past year…I’ve realized I have to do it. I have to. No more talking “hopes” to loved ones of doing it…it’s aching inside me and I know it will start at the bag. I’m lucky , very blessed, because my prayers were answered. Two different boxing clubs recently opened nearby my home for the first time. And one is actually completely dedicated to UFC training. Gina Carano being someone I’ll think of every day without even meaning to as inspiration, I’m doing everything I can right now as I intern for nothing and sell clothes online for pennies basically to make up for unemployment…I’ve decided this is my next step. I’m starting training, and I’m starting it next week. Or at least I’m signing up and speaking to at least a couple of trainers at the brand new UFC gym that miraculously popped up in the strangest spot nearby my home in northern, VA — about 45 min away from D.C. Sir, you and Robert have just popped up in my search over blogging and actually making legitimate money from it over passion for film…this post popped up. And it wasn’t a coincidence. If you have any tips for me, I sure as hell would love them, haha. Film-writing wise/blogging AND fighting. I would lick every drop up of it! God Bless,

    Holly Curtis / Fairfax, VA

    Comment by Holly C | October 5, 2015 | Reply

  7. my friend, Robert he got the nickname sherbo as a child, he always had a tube of sherbet with liquoras a sherbet dab, when ever he had a penny or 2 he would buy a sherbet dab, ergo the legend begins SHERBO. he loved his family, da auld john, abby his ma, used to take half the scheme away on a working holiday to blairgowrie berry picking, he loved that time, growing up in possil, fruin st torr st finlass st, the arches, member the arches, 2 brothers 8 or 9 sisters, frank, joe, gail, Teresa, Bernie, lavina , Sophia. the inlaws cannon, lyons, proctor, Moffatt, Darling, to name but a few, a lot of large families were brought up in that era, McDermott, Rooney, Fitzpatrick, O,Sullivan, Daniel’s, summers, Burns, Robert loved dogs, flying pigeons, fishing, he never caught many fish, but he new his pigeons, mrs Gibb.

    Comment by john | September 17, 2016 | Reply


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