Merthyr’s Boxers: Howard Winstone

The series on Merthyr’s great boxers continues with arguably Merthyr’s greatest champion – Howard Winstone.

Howard Winstone was born on 15 April 1939 in Penydarren, the second of four children. He attended Penydarren and Gellifaelog Junior Schools and, encouraged by his father, showed early enthusiasm and aptitude for following Merthyr’s rich boxing tradition. He started boxing aged eleven, and in 1954 joined the gym opened by the former welterweight champion Eddie Thomas, a short walk from the Winstone family home. He won three Welsh schools titles, and one British title.

After leaving school he worked at a Lines Brothers Toy Factory where on 19 May 1956 his right hand was crushed by a power press, leaving him without the tips of three fingers. As a result of the accident he lost much of the punching power in his right hand and so had to change his style developing one of the fastest left hand jabs in the sport. Far from hampering Winstone’s career, in 1958 he won the Amateur Boxing Association’s featherweight championship, a gold medal (Wales’ only gold) at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, and the Welsh Sports Personality of the Year Award – an honour he would receive on two further occasions, in 1963 and 1967.

Winstone won 83 of his 86 amateur bouts and hoped to box at the 1960 Olympics, but instead turned professional under Eddie Thomas’s management. He made his professional debut in February 1959 at Wembley Stadium, London, when he beat Billy Graydon on points over six rounds. He then proceeded to win his first 24 professional fights, at which point he was considered ready for a shot at the British featherweight title, and in May 1961 he fought Terry Spinks the holder of the title, and the 1956 Olympic gold medallist at the Empire Pool, Wembley. He out-boxed Spinks, forcing him to retire after ten rounds, and so claimed the British title.

He continued to win all his contests, and in April 1962 he defended his title against Derry Treanor, at the Empire Pool, winning by a technical knockout in the fourteenth round. The next month he defended his title against Harry Carroll in Cardiff forcing him to retire after six rounds.

His first defeat came in November 1962 – his 35th fight after 34 straight wins. He was beaten by Leroy Jeffery, an American featherweight, by a technical knockout in the second round after having been knocked down three times. In January 1963, he defended his British title for the third time, defeating Johnny Morrisey by a technical knockout in the eleventh round, and won the European title the same year, defending the title in May 1964, January 1965,  and March, September and December 1966.

Winstone now set his sights on becoming the World Champion. In September 1965 he challenged for the WBA and WBC world featherweight titles held by the Mexican left-hander, Vicente Saldivar. The fight was held at Earls Court Arena, London and Saldivar won on points over fifteen rounds.

He challenged Saldivar again in June and October 1967, but was defeated on both occasions. Following the defence of his title in October 1967, Saldivar announced his retirement leaving his world title vacant. In January 1968, Winstone fought the Japanese, Mitsunori Seki for the vacant WBC world featherweight title at the Royal Albert Hall. Winstone won the contest and finally gained the world title.

In July 1968 he defended his newly won world title against the Cuban, Jose Legra, at Porthcawl, Wales. Although Winstone had beaten Legra twice before, he was knocked down twice in the first round. He continued fighting, but unfortunately he sustained a badly swollen left eye, which caused the bout to be stopped in the fifth round. Having lost the world title in his first defence, Winstone decided to retire at the age of 29.

He continued living in Merthyr Tydfil after retirement. In 1968 he was awarded the MBE. Later, he was made a Freeman of Merthyr Tydfil due to his boxing accomplishments. He died on 30 September 2000, aged 61.

In 2001, one year after his death, a bronze statue of Winstone by Welsh sculptor David Petersen was unveiled in St. Tydfil’s Square, and in 2005, he beat many other local luminaries to be named “Greatest Citizen of Merthyr Tydfil”, in a public vote competition run by Cyfarthfa Castle and Museum as part of the centenary celebrations to mark Merthyr’s incorporation as a county borough in 1905.

Merthyr’s Boxers: Cuthbert Taylor

Cuthbert Taylor was born in John Street, Georgetown on 11 December 1909 to an English father of Caribbean heritage and a Welsh mother. After winning Amateur Boxing Association’s flyweight title in 1928, he was selected to represent Britain in the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. He became the first black boxer to compete for Great Britain, and only the 3rd black British Olympian (after Harry Edward and Jack London). He defeated Juan José Trillo of Argentina, but he was eliminated in the quarter-finals of the flyweight class after losing his fight to the potential silver medallist Armand Apell.

On returning to Wales he turned professional fighting Manchester’s Jackie Brown at Merthyr Tydfil on 29 December 1928. The contest ended in a draw, which was followed by his first professional win, over Lud Abella and a loss to Phineas John. By May 1929 Taylor was invited to fight at the National Sporting Club in London, losing by points in a 15 round match against Bert Kirby.

Cuthbert Taylor
Cuthbert Taylor

On 29 July 1929, Taylor had moved up a weight division, and challenged Dan Dando for the Welsh Bantamweight Championship, defeating Dando on points. His reign was short lived when he lost the title just over a month later to Phineas John. Taylor challenged twice more for the Welsh Bantamweight belt, failing on both occasions, both against Stanley Jehu, first for the vacant title in 1930 and then an unsuccessful challenge in 1931. Although having been Welsh bantamweight champion, and being recognised as one of the best in Britain in his weight category, Taylor was denied a chance to fight for the British title due to a rule that prohibited non-white fighters from challenging for the championship.

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Cuthbert Taylor and Francois Machtens in 1932

Cuthbert Taylor retired from boxing in 1944, but made a brief, unsuccessful comeback in 1947.

In a distinguished career, Taylor faced four world champions, including the great Freddie Miller who beat the Welshman on points after a 12-round battle in Liverpool. In total Taylor fought 247 professional bouts, with 151 wins, 69 losses and 22 draws. In all his fights he was knocked out only once, by Tommy Hyams at Selhurst Park in 1932. None of Taylor’s fights were conducted outside Britain. Including amateur fights he recorded over 250 victories.

In his later life, Taylor was a fan of Howard Winstone and he offered the youngster valuable advice. Cuthbert Taylor died on 15 November 1977.

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?

jimmy-wilde
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