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5. Howard Winstone

The Howard Winstone story: The early years

By Sean Davies

Howard Winstone and his trainer Eddie Thomas formed a famous fight partnership whose quest for the world featherweight title captivated the nation.

He was born and raised in Merthyr Tydfil and it was in the town's Prince Charles Hospital that he ended his days.

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Merthyr is a fine place to raise a boxer - Thomas claimed that children born in the tough valleys town were so angry that they came out with their fists clenched.

It was under Thomas, himself a boxer of some repute, that Winstone learnt his trade.

As a youngster Winstone had been something of a brawler in the ring, but as a teenager he lost the tips of three fingers on his right hand in an accident whilst working in a toy factory.

He recovered, but lost much of his power and was forced to reassess his style.

Thomas moulded the young Winstone in his Penydarren gym, teaching him the fast left jab that would become his trademark punch.

He worked on his hand speed and built stamina through gruelling runs in the Brecon Beacons.

He also made a point of sparring with boxers of all weights, the lighter ones to build his speed, the heavier ones his power.

When the hard work was added to the youngster's natural talent a formidable fighting machine was produced.

He won 83 of his 86 amateur fights, the highlight being the gold medal he claimed at the Empire Games in Cardiff in 1958.

Winstone turned professional in 1960 and two years later claimed the British featherweight title from the highly rated Terry Spinks.

Vincente Saldivar
Mexican great Vincente Saldivar proved to be Winstone's nemesis

The reception Winstone received back in Merthyr brought the town to a standstill.

"If I could find a boxer as good as Howard Winstone I would make millions," said the great trainer Angelo Dundee after Winstone outclassed his Cuban fighter Baby Louis.

"He's the nearest I have ever seen to the great Willie Pep."

The first setback in Winstone's professional career came when he lost to Leroy Jeffrey of the USA.

The Welshman later claimed that this helped him to focus his career.

He particularly remembered fighting soon afterwards on the same bill as Sugar Ray Robinson.

He met the legendary Robinson who told him how he had overcome his first defeat.

Winstone bounced back to claim the European title from Italy's Alberto Serti in front of a vocal crowd of 10,000 in Cardiff.

In these golden days of boxing British and European titles meant something, and if you were to claim a world title you really were the best in the world.

This was the final goal left for Winstone, but problems were emerging.

The relationship between Thomas and Winstone always remained close, but others were starting to question the trainer's management.

He did not risk his man against the dangerous, hard-hitting champion Sugar Ramos.

The Cuban had killed two men in the ring - including the excellent former champion Davey Moore in their title bout - though the belief was growing that Ramos had passed his peak.

Thomas closed on securing a shot at the belt, but Mexico's Vincente Saldivar fought Ramos first and claimed the crown.

The Howard Winstone story: The first Vicente Saldivar fight

Saldivar was an awesome fighter, a powerful southpaw who had won 25 of his 26 professional fights, 21 inside the distance.

He and Winstone met at Earls Court in 1965, but the travelling horde of 12,000 Welshmen saw their man lose a narrow points decision.

The quality of the bout meant a rematch was inevitable and Saldivar agreed to a fight in Cardiff in June 1967.

Winstone was having trouble making the weight and was given little hope. He fought his heart out, though, and seemed to have won the first 10 rounds comfortably.

Saldivar dropped him in the 14th, but most still thought Winstone had done enough to win.

There was an outcry when referee Wally Thom, an old adversary of Eddie Thomas, raised the Mexican's hand in victory.

The epic trio of Saldivar fights was completed four months later in Mexico City.

The Howard Winstone story: The second and third Vicente Saldivar fights

Winstone's build-up was troubled, domestic problems culminating when his wife Benita stabbed him in the arm.

Yet Winstone controlled the early rounds in front of a hostile crowd.

He faded later and in the 12th Thomas had to throw in the towel.

The Welshman had won the hearts of the Mexican crowd, though, and he and Saldivar became firm friends.

Saldivar retired soon after and at last Winstone had the chance to claim the elusive, vacant world crown.

A match was arranged in January 1968 between the Welshman and the experienced Japanese fighter Mitsunori Seki.

If this was not the most difficult match-up, few begrudged Winstone his shot at glory.

He controlled the fight, stopping Seki in the ninth with a cut eye.

Rarely had Merthyr seen a party like the homecoming that greeted Winstone.

He held the title for just six months before he was defeated by young Cuban Jose Legra in Porthcawl.

Winstone had beaten Legra twice before, but now he had lost his speed and reactions and he was stopped in the fifth.

He retired after the fight and spent his remaining years in Merthyr where he remained a hugely popular, admired and respected figure.

The affection was recognised world-wide where he is established as a legend of the fight game.

In 1968 he was awarded the MBE and he died in 2000 at the age of 61.



see also
Wales' pugilist princes
15 May 09 |  Boxing
Winstone tribute overdue - Avoth
30 Jul 10 |  Boxing
Howard Winstone, left like a piston
01 Oct 00 |  Boxing
Wales' boxing world champions
25 Mar 08 |  Boxing
Cardiff's greatest fight nights
04 Jun 10 |  Boxing
Ten top Ninian Park memories
22 Apr 09 |  Cardiff
Wales' boxing history in photos
24 May 09 |  Boxing
Wales' greatest US fight nights
25 Mar 08 |  Boxing
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales


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