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Sunday, 1 October, 2000, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Howard Winstone, left like a piston
Merthyr's Howard Winstone
1967: Winstone returns to Britain after fighting the Mexican Vincente Saldivar
By BBC Sport Online's Sean Davies

Howard Winstone, who died on Saturday aged 61, can proudly take his place in any boxing hall of fame.

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

Merthyr is a fine place to raise a boxer - Winstone's renowned trainer Eddie 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.

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.

BBC Sport Online's Sean Davies
He recovered, but lost much of his power and was forced to reassess his style.

Development

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.

Professional

Winstone turned professional in 1960 and two years later claimed the British featherweight title from the highly rated Terry Spinks. The reception Winstone received back in Merthyr brought the town to a standstill.

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

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

Vincente Saldivar of Mexico
Saldivar: A powerful southpaw
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.

Problems

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.

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

BBC Sport Online's Sean Davies
He refused to risk his man against the dangerous, hard-hitting champion Sugar Ramos, though others believed Ramos had passed his peak.

Instead Mexico's Vincente Saldivar fought Ramos and claimed the crown.

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.

Saldivar rematch

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

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

BBC Sport Online's Sean Davies
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.

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.

Title at last

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.

Winstone retired and spent his remaining years in Merthyr where he remained a hugely popular, admired and respected figure

BBC Sport Online's Sean Davies
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.

Retirement

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.

Howard Winstone's funeral will take place at St Tydfil's Parish Church, Merthyr, on October 7, 1100 BST.

See also:

01 Oct 00 | Other Sports
01 Oct 00 | Boxing
Links to more Boxing stories are at the foot of the page.


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