Merthyr’s Boxers: Billy Eynon

The next boxer we are going to look at is Billy Eynon. Many thanks to Gareth Jones for his assistance and advice in writing this article.

Billy Eynon was born on 26 December 1893 in Treharris. As a teenager he was lured into fighting at the infamous fairground boxing booths at Georgetown. In his excellent book ‘The Boxers of Wales: Volume 2 – Merthyr, Aberdare and Pontypridd’, Gareth Jones relates the story of how he was tempted to fight at Jack Scarrott’s booth on the promise of winning five shillings. When he went to collect his winnings however, he was told by Scarrott that his cornermen (both of course employed by Scarrott) were both entitled to two shillings each, leaving the young Billy with just a shilling!

Eynon made such an impression however, that Scarrott offered him a week’s work at Brecon Fair. This was eventually extended to six-months, and provided Billy with invaluable experience.

Eynon’s first ‘legitimate’ fight took place on 31 January 1914 at the Drill Hall in Merthyr. The headline fight that night was between Eddie Morgan (see previous entry – http://www.merthyr-history.com/?p=592) and Tommy Phillips, which Morgan lost on points. The local crowd were appeased somewhat when Billy Eynon defeated Dick Jenkins in his debut match.

He was beginning to consolidate his reputation when the First World War broke out. Eynon joined the Royal Artillery, and despite being wounded in France, carried on boxing. He won the Army featherweight title in 1918 and met the Navy champion in Salonika before a crowd estimated at 200,000 people.

Western Mail – 19 May 1916

Following the war, Eynon, now boxing as a flyweight, appeared in his first fight against Kid Doyle at the Olympia Rink in Merthyr, a match which he won. The victory earned Eynon a rematch at the National Sporting Club in a fight which would be an elimination fight for the British title. Eynon lost the fight on points.

Soon after this, Billy Eynon changed weight-divisions to become a bantam-weight, and in 1920 challenged again for the British title. On 18 October he beat George Clark on points to earn a fight against the reigning British bantam-weight title holder Jim Higgins.

On 29 November 1920, Eynon faced Jim Higgins at the National Sporting Club. The fight would prove to be a controversial one. Eynon, hampered by weight difficulties was forced, on the day of the fight, to undertake vigorous exercises and have a Turkish bath to try to reduce his weight, whilst his opponent rested and prepared for the match. An exhausted Eynon took to the ring and although he acquitted himself well, the match went to Higgins on points. Many in the crowd, including the Prince of Wales, disagreed with the decision and vented their frustration by throwing gold sovereigns into the ring for Eynon. Although he lost the fight, Eynon himself said he made far more money that night than his opponent!

Billy Eynon carried on boxing for several years, but in 1927, he was forced to give up the sport due to a detached retina and the risk of blindness. In 1928 a boxing tournament was held in Merthyr to raise money to help for him.

Billy Eynon lived out the rest of his days in Merthyr and died in 1980.

Merthyr’s First Boxing Champion

Most people know of Eddie Thomas, Howard Winstone and Johnny Owen, but how many of you know anything about Jimmy Wilde?

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Jimmy Wilde

Jimmy Wilde, or “The Mighty Atom,” “Ghost with the Hammer in his Hand” and “The Tylorstown Terror” as he was nicknamed, was born on 15 May 1892 in Quakers Yard, but by the time he was 12, Jimmy’s family had moved to Tylorstown in the Rhondda. The son of a miner, Jimmy followed his father into the colliery, and being so small, he was able to crawl through gullies impassable to most of his colleagues, which undoubtedly helped develop his renowned strength.

He started boxing at the age of 16 in fairground boxing booths, where crowds were amazed by his toughness and ability to knock down much larger opponents, most of which were local toughmen weighing around 200 lbs. He left Tylorstown Colliery in 1913, and in 1916, Wilde joined the British Army and was sent to Aldershot as a PT instructor.

The record books often show that Wilde started boxing professionally in 1911, but it is widely assumed (and later confirmed by boxing analysts), that he had been fighting professionally for at least four years before that, and his officially listed debut was on 26 December 1910, when he fought Les Williams to a no-decision in three rounds. His first win came on 1 January 1911, when he knocked out Ted Roberts in the third round.

Managed by Teddy Lewis, reserve captain of Pontypridd RFC, Wilde went undefeated in 103 bouts, all of which were held in Britain, and on 14 February 1916, he won the British flyweight title by beating Joe Symonds by a knockout in round twelve at the National Sporting Club in London. On 24 April 1916, Wilde beat Johnny Rosner by a knockout in the eleventh round at Liverpool Stadium to win the IBU World Flyweight title. In December of that year Wilde became recognised as the first World Flyweight Champion (the IBU title was only recognised in Europe) when he defeated Young Zulu Kid of the United States whose corner threw in the towel during the eleventh round of their bout at the Holborn Stadium.

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During the First World War, Jimmy Wilde served as a Sergeant Instructor, fighting professionally only twice in 1917, and three times in 1918. Following the War, Wilde went to America in 1919; he toured the States beating an assortment of mainly much heavier opponents. The Americans grew to love Wilde and to this day he is revered by American boxing fans.

By 1921, Jimmy Wilde was 28 years old, had fought in hundreds of contests (possibly up to a thousand including booth fights) against bigger men and had held his world title for four years. Now he was to suffer only his third defeat (in 128 fights) when matched in a non-title fight against Pete Herman, who weighed in at 121 pounds to Jimmy’s 108 pounds. Wilde returned to the ring out of a sense of obligation to defend his title against Pancho Villa on 18 June 1923. After losing by a knockout, Wilde announced his retirement.

Jimmy Wilde lived the last few years of his life in the Cadoxton district of Barry, South Wales. With his final boxing winnings, Wilde entered into several business schemes, including a Welsh cinema chain and partnership in a cafe at Barry Island that was named ‘The Mighty Atom’ cafe. None was successful and he spent his final years in poverty. In 1965, Wilde suffered a serious mugging at a train station in Cardiff, from which he never recovered. His wife, Elizabeth, died in 1967, and two years later Wilde died in a hospital in Whitchurch. He was buried in Barry Cemetery.

Wilde had a record of 139 wins, 3 losses, 1 draws and 5 no-contests, with 99 wins by knockout, which makes him one of the most prolific knockout winners of all time. Ring Magazine, a publication which named him the 3rd greatest puncher of all time in 2003, has twice named him the greatest flyweight of all time (March 1975 and May 1994). In 1990, Wilde was elected into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame as a member of that institution’s inaugural class, a distinction shared with all-time greats such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Harry Greb, Benny Leonard and Henry Armstrong. In 1992 he was also inducted into the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame and one of his prize winning belts is part of the organisation’s display. Wilde was ranked as the number 1 flyweight of all-time by the International Boxing Research Organization in 2006.

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The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, congratulates Jimmy Wilde after his defeat of Joe Lynch in 1919

If you wish to read more about Jimmy Wilde, check out the following website:

http://www.johnnyowen.com/jimmy_wilde.html