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.