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 – 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 Boxers: Eddie Morgan

Eddie Morgan was born in Morgantown in 1892, and learned his skills in local boxing booths whilst working as a miner. Despite his slight stature, and weighing just 7 stone, he had the ability to lay out opponents twice his weight.

His first recorded professional fight was in September 1909 when he fought Joey Smith in a 20-round contest at Pontypridd and lost by points. However, he was more than half a stone lighter than Smith – a huge difference in weight.

The next recorded fight was a year and a half later when he fought Bert Moughton at St James’ Hall in Newcastle in March 1911. By now he was more than a stone heavier. A press cutting indicates the great Jim Driscoll, already British and Commonwealth featherweight champion, was in his corner that night in Newcastle. This time, Eddie did considerably better in this scheduled 20 round contest – knocking Moughton out in a little over a minute.

A month later at the same venue, Eddie lost a points decision to Joe Fox – a future two-weight British champion.

Eddie’s career really took off with six consecutive wins culminating in two important bouts against American Young Pierce in 1912. Pierce had claimed the American bantamweight title and a career total of 150 undefeated bouts and early in 1912, he had crossed the Atlantic to fight the best bantamweights in Europe in pursuit of world honours. His fight with Eddie was essentially just a warm-up fight. It didn’t go to plan because, after a gruelling 20 rounds, Eddie won on points in a packed Liverpool stadium and was carried shoulder-high from the ring.

Eddie Morgan

Eddie was by now quite a celebrity in Merthyr. Contemporary accounts say that when Eddie walked down Merthyr High Street, people would rush out of men’s clothier shops and compete with each other in offers to make Eddie a free suit, on the understanding he would tell people where he’d got it.

Boxing pundits of the day were now predicting Eddie was the only real contender for Digger Stanley’s British and European bantamweight belts.

Despite this, and Eddie Morgan opted to travel to America to fight instead. Eddie was due to leave Southampton on the trans-Atlantic voyage on Wednesday 10 April 1912, but having overslept, he arrived just as the ship was clearing the mouth of the dock. This mistake probably saved Eddie Morgan’s life – the ship was RMS Titanic.

Morgan did eventually go to America later that year to fight at Madison Square Garden. His opponent was tough New Jersey boxer Frankie Burns and he achieved a very commendable draw in a brutal encounter described in the local press as a “slashing exhibition”.

The Welshman immediately impressed in three New York outings, including one against future two-weight world champion Johnny Dundee. Morgan failed in his pursuit of a shot against world featherweight champion Johnny Kilbane, though, so he headed home, only to again meet frustration as he chased the British crown.

Rheumatism would limit the length of Morgan’s career and it this point it began to worsen.

With war looming in 1914 he returned to the States, but he was not the same fighter and he suffered two defeats, although he did floor Pal Moore in their clash on Christmas Day, 1914. Two no-decision contests followed against the champion Kilbane, the first in the National Athletic Club, Philadelphia, on 23 January, 1915. US journalists claimed that Kilbane won the six-round bout while British reporters said the exact opposite, but all agree that it was a stunning fight.

A similar showdown followed the next month, but the victory seems to have been more clearly in the champion’s favour. Morgan engaged in two close bouts with Rocky Kansas, the future world lightweight challenger, before returning to Britain.

After just one more fight in his home country he returned to the States for good. Morgan settled with his family in Philadelphia, and he would fight many more times, mostly in the Philadelphia area, but by now his skills were fading and triumphs were few.

In 1937, Eddie Morgan collapsed in the street and died at the tragically young age of 45.