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Wales' major US bouts: Johnny Owen

Legends
by Sean Davies (U1712711) 25 March 2008
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As the countdown continues to Joe Calzaghe’s super-fight with Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas on 19 April, I’m doing some features on six Welsh boxers who landed major bouts in the USA.

The full list will eventually be found by following this link - news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/box...

While Johnny Owen’s tragic showdown with Lupe Pintor in Los Angeles on 19 September, 1980, can never fit with the others in this series and be called a “great fight night”, there is no doubting the magnitude of the occasion.

Despite his frail-looking frame, Owen had earnt his shot at the formidable Mexican’s WBC bantamweight title.

Merthyr’s “Matchstick Man” had proved his fighting credentials with 25 wins and just one defeat, a highly controversial points loss to Juan Francisco Rodriguez in Spain that he later avenged in Wales.

His perpetual motion work-rate had won him the British, Commonwealth and European titles, taking the painfully shy, hugely popular 24-year-old from headline shows at Ebbw Vale Leisure Centre to LA’s intimidating 10,000-seat Olympic Auditorium.

Controversy still surrounds the decision to take Owen to a venue where he would face not just Pintor, but the full fury of the Mexican’s fervent Latin American support.

Some still argue that the title shot could have been secured in Wales and that he was given insufficient time to prepare in the heat of southern California, but Owen had trained as mercilessly as ever and eagerly awaited his shot at glory.

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.

In the fifth round he threw 148 shots and had already cut the man known as “Guadalupe” over both eyes.

But Pintor’s bull-like strength was evident, and, although he had landed few punches, the Mexican had opened a cut in his opponent’s mouth that left Owen swallowing large amounts of blood.

"Johnny probably shouldn't have fought me because his style was more like an Olympic boxer,” Pintor would later say.

“He was scoring points, not with hard shots, but they were fast and there were lots of them.

“For him to have someone in front of him who was capable of hitting him with hard shots over 15 rounds in a world championship bout, that was going to tell.

“Keeping up that rhythm - that endless rhythm - was going to wear him down in the later rounds."

By the seventh, distance began to open up between the boxers, leaving Owen more exposed to his opponent’s long, dangerous shots.

He was caught in the ninth and put down for the first time in his career, but it was a snap knock down and he was quickly back in the fray.

By the 12th Owen’s punch resistance was gone and he was dropped by a fierce, straight right.

He bravely got back to his feet, but collapsed horrifically from a huge right uppercut – and never recovered consciousness.

Owen was stretchered out through a rabid auditorium, the Welsh entourage having urine thrown at them and their pockets picked as they left the ring.

He was taken to taken to California Hospital, the Merthyr Express organising a campaign that quickly raised the funds to send his mother Edith to join his father Dick at his bedside.

Hopes fluctuated over a harrowing two months, before pneumonia finally claimed the life of the much-loved Matchstick Man.

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.

Follow this link for more on Johnny Owen - news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/box... and if you want to read more see Rick Broadbent’s excellent book "The Big If: The Life and Death of Johnny Owen" (Macmillan, London, 2006)

Did any of you follow Johnny on his tragic trip to the States? We’d appreciate any memories, tributes, stories or thoughts here…

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posted Mar 25, 2008

That guy gave his all - it was tragic that was to result in the loss of his life.

R.I.P.

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posted Mar 25, 2008

It's always tragic when a fighter dies. By alla ccounts he was a lovely lad, and having seen interviews with Mr Pintor I can say he appears to be a gentleman, and that night clearly affected him in a way people don't perhaps always appreciate.

His family seem like lovely people, and have struck up a relationship with Lupe Pintor, which I think has helped them come to terms with the loss, and helped him gain closure of a sort.

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posted Mar 25, 2008

Couldn't agree more Mamba.I've seen the documentary and it's such an emotional affair, i don't mind admitting that i shed a tear watching.
May Johnny Owen rest in eternal peace.

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posted Mar 25, 2008

i am reading the big if and i highly recommend the book,johnny owen was a true warrior the real deal in a brutal and unforgiving business,he turned pro to do better for his family and give them a better life.
R.I.P JOHNNY OWEN.

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posted Mar 25, 2008

Nobody in the sport can compete with the bravest of them all, the fighters who give everything they've got, including their lives, into one single attempt for worldwide glory as Owen did. He fought the fight of his life and put every ounce of his strength and effort into the fight but sadly, it was not enough. I was disappointed to read that his entourage were so disrespected on their way to the hospital and I hope that Joe can avenge Johnny next month and finally gain US glory for Wales.

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posted Mar 26, 2008

Got to agree with the above. Forkhandles, i've read the book the big if and totally agree it is an outstanding read proper heartbreaking. Appreciate when someone loses their life there can be a tendency to sanitise their lifes to present them in a good light but with Owen you do get the impression from all the reports and the book that he was a genuinely decent and humble guy. A tragic loss RIP

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comment by Mrlesh2 (U1549753)

posted Mar 28, 2008

As a now rare poster I felt compelled to comment as in the past I have trumpeted the book.

After trawling through the Internet I have managed to see some clips of Owen in action and he was a fine fighter who perhaps, not for his tragic end, may well have become a world champion. He also appeared to have been a humble man, a far cry from the sports modern day megastars.

Owen senior's journey is truly inspiring and one that sums up boxing and it's code of honour and respect.

If you have not read the book, you must.

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posted Mar 29, 2008

I WAS LIVING IN SANTA MONICA AT THE TIME AND THE NEWS OF OWENS DEATH SICKENED ALL THE BRITS IN THE BAR ,I REMEMBER HIS MOTHER COMING OVER..TRAGIC DAY TO SAY THE LEAST [ A LOT OF TEARS FROM THE SCOTS IRISH ENGLISH AND WELSH

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posted Mar 29, 2008

KINGS HEAD IN SANTA MONICA BY THE WAY

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comment by ted (U6576923)

posted Mar 30, 2008

THE FIRST TIME I WATCHED THE OWEN V PINTOR FIGHT IT SHOCKED ME ANYONE COULD TELL THAT IN THE LATER ROUNDS OWEN WAS IN SEROIUS TROUBLE HE WAS GETTING BEAT TO DEATH.I LIKE BOXING,BUT THAT FIGHT IS ONE OF MANY THAT POINTS TO THE FACT THAT PUNCHING ANOTHER MAN IN THE HEAD ISNT OR SHOULDNT BE A SPORT.

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