They say that Howard Winstone should never have made it as a boxer. In his teens he had cut off the tops of his fingers in an accident at work, his private life was always one of many emotional trials and hardships. The odds he faced in life and boxing would have overwhelemed many. But the boy from Merthyr Tydfil overcame all, to become champion of the world and a British boxing legend.
Winston was born in the tough boxing town of Merthyr in 1939, he became embroilled in many fights as a yougster in school often against much bigger kids who bullied him. Young Howard took no prisoners and developed a reputation as someone who wasnt to be fooled with.
His father Howard Senior was a Rag and Bone man and brought home juniors first pair of boxing gloves and would get on his knees and box for hours with his son every day of the week. But even though the future world champion thought he was good, his dad would always dismiss him and say ‘Ye your alright’ This just spurred Howard on to do better and get somewhere in boxing and to prove to his dad he could do it.
The young Winstone started his first formal training at 11 years old at the towns Army Drill hall, home to Merthyr’s amateur boxing team. He shown promise and impressed the coaches from day one and in his third competitive contest aged 14, he became Welsh schoolboy champion.
A year later at 15 he left school and started full time work at local toy factory, it was there where he was to chop off the end of his fingers in a factory power press when he was 16.
‘Merthyr is a fine place to raise a boxer’ – Winstone’s renowned trainer Eddie Thomas claimed that children born in the tough valleys town were so angry that they came out with their fists clenched. – It was under Thomas, himself a boxer of some repute, that Winstone learnt his trade.
As a youngster Winstone had been something of a brawler in the ring, but after losing the tips of his fingers on his right hand in the accident, he was forced to reassess his style. Thomas moulded the young Winstone in his Penydarren gym, teaching him the fast left jab that would become his trademark punch.
He worked on his hand speed and built stamina through grueling runs in the Brecon Beacons. He also made a point of sparring with boxers of all weights, the lighter ones to build his speed, the heavier ones his power.
When the hard work was added to the youngster’s natural talent a formidable fighting machine was produced.
He won 83 of his 86 amateur fights, the highlight being the gold medal he claimed at the Empire Games in Cardiff in 1958. He also won the ABA bantamweight title the same year.
Winstone turned professional as a featherweight in 1959 and was unbeaten in his first 34 contests, but in 1962 was stopped in three rounds by the American Leroy Jeffery. It was only a temporary setback and, having already won a Lonsdale Belt outright, Winstone set off after another. En route he picked up the European title which he defended successfully on seven occasions against fellow countrymen and even going to Rome and Sardinia to face his challengers. It was a title he never lost in the ring.
Winstone’s first attempt to win the world title came in 1965 when he lost on points to Vicente Saldivar, the brilliant Mexican southpaw, after a brilliant battle at London’s Earl Court.
A second match at Cardiff resulted in the Welshman losing so narrowly that a third match was called for in Mexico City – which is 1000 miles from Cancun Mexico and 2000 miles from Punta Cana Dominican Republic - in which Winstone was compelled to retire with an eye injury in the 12th round. Saldivar then retired and Winstone stopped Mitsunori Seki of Japan in nine rounds to achieve, at last, his life long ambition and become World Featherweight Champion.
But he was now facing difficulty making the featherweight limit of 9 stone and when he faced Jose Legra, (whom he had already beaten in an earlier contest), in a world title defence at Porthcawl he went into the ring very much weakened and was stopped in five rounds, a defeat that brought about his retirement aged 29. Howard spent his remaining years in Merthyr where he remained a hugely popular, admired and respected figure. – In 1968 he was awarded the MBE.
Howard Winstone died in October 2000 aged 61 – He will forever be remembered as a genuine World Champion and one of the best ever British fighters.
The video above is a rare and detailed account of Winston, his life and boxing career and a great watch!