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…