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Saturday, 2 November, 2002, 17:44 GMT
Crowds remember boxing legend
Lupe Pintor and Owen's parents
Lupe Pintor joined Owen's parents at the ceremony
Former sportsmen joined the people of a south Wales town to remember a young man who became a boxing legend.

Hundreds braved the rain and wind in Merthyr Tydfil on Saturday to take part in a memorial service for the late bantam weight Johnny Owen and see a life-size bronze statue unveiled.

Pintor and the statue
The unveiling was an emotional moment

Owen - known affectionately at The Matchstick Man and The Bionic Bantam - died at the age of 24 after being knocked out during a world title fight in 1980.

The blow came in the12th round of the bout, but was never pinpointed as the cause of his death.

He was taken from the ring to a nearby hospital, and remained in a coma until he died weeks later.

The man who dealt the final blow - Mexican Lupe Pintor - flew thousands of miles to help Johnny's father Dick unveil a statue to the young fighter's memory in Merthyr town centre.


Johnny Owen's spirit will always be with me

Lupe Pintor, whose blow knocked out Owen

But the family of the wafer-thin fighter - known affectionately as "The Matchstick Man" and "The Bionic Bantam" - have never blamed Pintor for what happened.

"It was nothing to do with Pintor," Owen's 76-year-old father said.

"We didn't know that John had a chink in his armour."

Pintor, now 48, was accompanied on the trip by his wife Victoria.

Johnny Owen
Owen was tipped to be one of the greats

"I was honoured to be asked to unveil this memorial," he said.

"Johnny Owen's spirit will always be with me."

Boxers from across the world who had known Owen took part in a special service at St Tydfil's Church before a huge Welsh flag was pullled off the monument.

The congregation sang the same hymns as were sung in the fighter's funeral 22 years ago - including Fight the Good Fight.

Pintor sat with Owen's parents during the service before moving on to the site of the unveiling.

The statue cost 40,000 to commission from Welsh sculptor James Done, and fundraising activities have been held in the Merthyr borough to help pay for it.

Johnny Owen after knockout
Those around the ring rushed to his aid

So far, however, only half the money has been raised, and efforts continue.

Owen - who began boxing at the age of eight - is the third Welsh boxer to gain a memorial in the town.

Already in place are figures honouring Howard Winstone, the former world featherweight champion who died two years ago, and Eddie Thomas, the renowned trainer and boxer.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Johnny Owen's father, Dick
"I've waited 22 years for this"

More from south east Wales
See also:

07 Oct 01 | Wales
05 May 98 | UK
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