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Boxing



The Influence of the Rhondda Valleys


Boxing Gloves

Eddie Thomas



Howard Winstone



Tommy Farr


Jim Driscoll


Johnny Owen




The Influence of the Rhondda Valleys

The Rhondda Valleys was known worldwide for its workforce, mainly being the coalmines. It was this work that attracted a great amount of people to work in south Wales. The wages were not great, and due to its poor existence, not many were prone to a great life either. It was due to this fact that children were brought into the south Wales valley with angry temperaments. As a result, many were willing and possibly even eager to use their fists to solve problems and to let out their frustration.

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Eddie Thomas

Eddie Thomas, known mostly for his coaching rather than his boxing, was one of the greats at spotting young Welsh talented boxers. He was never left without a new recruit to teach from the south Wales valleys, as they were always keen to do well in the sport. Merthyr Tydfil was especially a known place for great boxers, and was known by many, including Eddie Thomas that it was one of the toughest places in the world to be, as, explained above, fists were used to resolve a great deal of problems in the valleys.

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Howard Winstone

Born in Merthyr Tydfil on the 15th April 1939, Howard Winstone later became one of the world's most famous boxers, with a great deal of credit owing to Eddie Thomas. The two first met in Eddie Thomas' gym, above the local snooker hall, creating one of boxing's most famous partnerships. According to the boxing writer Ken Jones:
"Technically, Winstone was the best boxer produced in this country. He was supremely gifted with good balance and good feet, but he liked to fight and it did not take much to get him into a scrap."

An unfortunate accident threatened to end Winstone's boxing carrer, as he lost the tops of his fingers on his right hand working in a toy factory. However, Eddie Thomas revived the great aspects of Winstone's talent, leading him to win 83 of his 86 fights. One of the most famous boxing matches involving Winstone was against the English Terry Spinks, competing for the British featherweight title. Spinks was favourite to win, having won the gold medal at the Melbourne Olympics. However, Winstone meant business from the beginning, forcing Spinks to forfit the match at the end of the tenth round. The Welshman had made his home town of Merthyr a proud village.

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Tommy Farr

Tommy Farr, a typical south Wales boxer, came from a poor family in the small town of Tonpandy. He, like many others who became famous for boxing, began working in a coal mine, boxing being a great way for Tommy to escape. He would also be a youngster who would get himself into the fights outside of the rings, scrapping with other youngsters outside of hiss school.

Tommy Farr decided to take up boxing, claiming:

"So many people have asked me what makes a good boxer. In my instance it was an escape from the strife and tribulations of poverty. I shall be ever greatful to boxing, for boxing has served me very well. I had a choice, of course. I had the coal mines or boxing and I chose what I humbly think was the lesser of two evils."

Farr faught his first professional fight at the age of twelve, bringing its fair amount of defeatsTommy Farr Tommy's way. It was this that spurred him to go to London in search of the fame that many desired as boxers. However, it was a tough task ahead of him, trying to persuade the promoters to give him a chance to prove his talent. His chance finally came, when another Welsh boxer, Randy Jones, was injured before a fight due with Englishman, Eddie Steel, Farr becoming a late replacement. However, its outcome was disatorous, as in the seventh round, Farr took a punch to the throat and ran out of the ring to the changing rooms. Unknowingly to the booing crowd outside, Farr had swallowed his own gum shield, which was stuck in his throat, leaving him unable to breath. Luckily, Farr recovered from his defeat, and returned to Wales, which lead him to a great winning streak, gaining the Welsh light-heavyweight title in Tonypandy, at the age of nineteen.

Tommy Farr became an exceptional talent in the ring, even snatching victories from two of the greats of the boxing world, Max Baer and Tommy Laughran, both of whom were former World champions. However, his great success in the boxing ring lasted until the 30th of August 1937, where he met with Joe Louis, also know as the mighty Brown Bomber. Many believed that Louis would have an easy fight. Tommy Farr was greatly underestimated and lasted the whole fifteen rounds with Louis, who still had his World champion title at the end of the fight. Despite this, Tommy gave a great performance, making the whole of Wales a proud nation. Farr won an impressive $60, 000 dollars for his efforts against Louis. Commenting on the night, Farr claimed:

"It was a good fight, a clean fight and a very hard fight. I hope to fight him for the championship again and I think I will be the new World heavy weight champion."

After suffering many more defeats, Farr returned home from America and was stripped of his British title, the British Boxing Board of Control accusing him of not returning to defend his title at an earlier date. Tommy Farr never had a chance to regain his title, as the war had interrupted the boxing.

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Jim Driscoll

Jim Driscoll, like Tommy Farr came from a poor background. He became known to the National Sporting Club from his fights in boxing booths, and soon became the main attraction. Driscoll decided to fly to the United States of America after being crowned the British featherweight champion. There were no shortage of crowds that would pay to see Driscoll, as his talents were well known across the Atlantic. Driscoll lost only three of his 69 fights, and was considered to be a World champion after his fight with Abe Attell in February 1910. According to the Ring historian Nat Fleischer:
"Once again we have ND against this meeting in the record books, however Driscoll was easily the best. The Welshman easily outpointed Abe Attell and virtually took his World title away from him. He definately proved, as far as I am concerned, that he was the best featherweight in the world."

During this era of fighting, if one of the boxers were not knocked-out, the fight would result in aThe frail Jim Driscoll against Charles Ledoux no-decision contest, which is why Driscoll was unable to claim the World title. However, for betting purposes, the media would decide who they believed was worthy of the victory.

One match that has claimed to put a downer on Driscoll's boxing career was that against another Cardiff man, Freddie Welsh. The two friends failed to deliver the match that was expected, when Driscoll finally head-butted Welsh, seemingly frustrated at Welsh spoiling his great skill. Driscoll was disqualified, however, some believe that the outcome of the match was planned as both boxers wished to keep their creadibility.

Driscoll's last match was against Charles Ledoux. Eleven years his junior, and Driscoll taken ill days before the match, Ledoux was expected to walk the fight. However, Driscoll put on a great performance and was leading on points in the fifteenth round, thrilling the crowd who were expectant on him to last until the full twenty rounds. Despite this, Driscoll took a great punch from the Frenchman, and was knocked-out, losing the fight. This saw the end of Jim Driscoll's boxing career.

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Johnny Owen

Another boxer hailing from Merthyr Tydfil was Johnny Owen. He joined his local boxing club at the age of ten, leading him to box for Wales as an amateur. His coach was Dai Gardiner, an owner of a gym at New Tredegar. Boxing was not only a sport for Owen - it was his life. Stepping into the ring would be an escape and a way of expressing himself in a way the shy character never would outside of boxing. Despite his "matchstick" apperance, Owen was a strong fighter and went on to win four British titles in a row between 1977 and 1980, and he also had Commonwealth and European success. He learned the sport quickly, taking the British title away from Paddy Maguire in only his tenth fight. The only dream that was left to be fulfilled was to win a World title.

Owen travelled to Los Angeles in September 1980, to compete against the Mexican Lupe PintorThe fateful, but heroic Johnny Owen for the World title. Veteran coaches such as Eddie Thomas believed it was too soon in Owen's career to be fighting for such a title. Despite all doubt, Owen seemed to be leading on points halfway through the match. The heat, however, was beginning to affect Johnny, and he was knocked down in the ninth round. He reteurned with great rounds, but it was the twelfth round that was to prove to be fatal. He took a hit to the face, and fell onto his head on the mat. The match was stopped by the referee at once, and the crowd continued to boo and spit at Johnny when he was carried away on a stretcher. According to journalist Gareth Jones, Owen fell like "a marionette with its strings cut." Johnny was taken to hospital and had a three hour operation to remove a blood clot from his brain. His family flew to be by his side as he lay in a coma. At one point, it seemed as though he might recover, however, he died on the 4th of November, 1980. Eddie Thomas arranged for the body to be flown home, and commented:

"At such times you often wonder what the hell are we doing in this game. You think of successes, but ther is more go the other way than are successful and you wonder what help they get when it is needed."

Post mortem results reveal that Johnny had a weak skull that left him vulnerable to brain damage. After his death, brain scans were arranged for boxers to make the game safer. Johnny's coach quit coaching for two years because of the guilt he felt. However, he returned to prove to others, and especially Johnny, that he could produce a World champion. He achieved this on two occasions. He says of Owen:

"I never want Johnny to be forgotten. He was a great fighter and a great ambassador for the sport. A lot of kids looked up to Johnny Owen because he was a person who believed in himself and his sport."

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