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Page last updated at 18:56 GMT, Monday, 7 September 2009 19:56 UK

Matchstick Man's legend lives on

By Steffan Garrero and Sean Davies

Statue of Johnny Owen in Merthyr Tydfil
Owen's tragic death in Los Angeles rocked boxing to its core

Merthyr's Kerry Hope says memories of 'Matchstick Man' Johnny Owen live on in the USA, where Hope is now fighting.

"I was at the weigh-in [before Hope's winning US debut] and some guy asked me where I was from," said Hope.

"I just said 'Wales', the next words out of his mouth were he was the same weight as a guy called Johnny Owen.

"[Owen's fatal] fight against [Lupe] Pintor took place opposite Club Nokia [where Hope fought], so for me it was strange being a superstitious person."

By 1980 Merthyr-legend Owen had won the British, Commonwealth and European bantamweight titles, before the painfully shy, hugely popular 24-year-old headed to Los Angeles' 10,000-seat Olympic Auditorium to face the formidable WBC world champion Pintor.

606: DEBATE

Taking no heed of the ridiculing of his skeletal frame from the US media, Owen stunned the home crowd with a thrilling start, and bewildered Pintor with his tireless, peppering punching.

But he was worn down by the formidable Mexican, and he never recovered consciousness after a horrendous 12th-round knock-out.

It was later found that he had an unusually fragile skull and thick jaw, meaning that the fatal blow could have come at any time in his career.

Owen's tragic tale forms part of a rich story of Welsh boxing in the USA that has featured the likes of Jim Driscoll, Freddie Welsh, Jimmy Wilde, Frank Moody, Tommy Farr, and, more recently, Joe Calzaghe.

KERRY HOPE
Kerry Hope
Born: Merthyr Tydfil
Age: 27
Division: Light-middleweight
Record: Won 12 (1 KO), Lost 2 (2 KOs)

Light-middleweight Hope, 27, has followed their trail, taking another young Welsh boxer - Swansea light-welterweight James Todd - along with him.

The pair have joined up with Talon Boxing, who are based in the Lake Arrowhead mountains near Los Angeles.

Trainer John Tandy has close links with Freddie Roach's Wild Card Gym and Golden Boy Promotions, and Hope is looking for big things after his opening win over Daniel Stanislavjevic in LA.

"The way things were going in the UK it felt like my career was slipping away," said southpaw Hope, who had suffered successive defeats in the UK following the 11 wins that started his career.

"My career has got off to a perfect start in the US, I was honoured to be on a Golden Boy card and Danny Stanislavjevic was a tough fight.

"You had the likes of Bernard Hopkins and Shane Mosley in attendance, I'm sure Oscar [De La Hoya] will be present at future events.

With the training in Newbridge it was a case of drilling yourself to the ground every training session and that's not good

Kerry Hope

"If all goes well I'm out here until the end of October with the possibility of another two fights before I extend my visa.

"I'm out here in November for a possible showdown with former world champion Kassim Ouma then - if that goes well - I can make future plans with regards to the length of time I'll spend in the US."

Hope says that training at Talon Boxing is very different to his former camp at the Calzaghe gym in Newbridge, where he used to work alongside the likes of Joe Calzaghe and Enzo Maccarinelli.

"With the training in Newbridge it was a case of drilling yourself to the ground every training session and that's not good," said Hope.

"You can only burn yourself out. Sometimes it was just heart alone that would get you through your sessions.

"Some people think I'm crazy when I tell them what we used to go through.

"I'm not for one minute putting [former trainer] Enzo [Calzaghe] down because he's a great trainer and a good motivator, but I just felt I needed to make the move for myself.

"I had too many distractions back in Merthyr and boxing is only a short career."



see also
Hope springs from Merthyr to LA
07 Sep 09 |  Boxing
10. Johnny Owen
08 Apr 02 |  Boxing
Boxing legend Owen's father dies
17 Dec 05 |  Wales
Crowds remember boxing legend
02 Nov 02 |  Wales
Calzaghe vows to beat cash crunch
24 Aug 09 |  Boxing
Wales' greatest US fight nights
25 Mar 08 |  Boxing
Wales' pugilist princes
15 May 09 |  Boxing
Wales' boxing world champions
25 Mar 08 |  Boxing
Wales' boxing history in photos
24 May 09 |  Boxing
Boxing & Madison Square Garden
04 Nov 08 |  Boxing
Get your gloves on
13 Dec 05 |  Get Involved
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales


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