Howard master of ring craft

Steve Bunce recalls the career of a legendary featherweight

Howard Winstone, who died yesterday from kidney problems, aged 61, was one of the finest British boxers in any decade to step into the ring. He was the world featherweight champion briefly in the 1960s.

Howard Winstone, who died yesterday from kidney problems, aged 61, was one of the finest British boxers in any decade to step into the ring. He was the world featherweight champion briefly in the 1960s.

Winstone was a technical marvel. His skills have long since been neglected, but anybody fortunate enough to have seen him live or watched the rare tapes of his fights, will never forget just how beautiful he was as a boxer. The holder of two Lonsdale belts outright, he held the the featherweight title after beating Japan's Mitsunori Seki at the Royal Albert Hall in 1968.

It was not a classic fight, but Winstone was always a thinker in the ring and not a brawler. The following year Winstone had to defend against Jose Legra to win worldwide recognition as a featherweight. The fight always looked difficult on paper and Winstone lost. He was cut in the first and stopped in the fifth by the vicious Spanish boxer.

However, there was, as always with fights in the Sixties, a story behind the contest. When Winstone beat Seki he was promised £19,000 to fight Legra, but his promoter at the time only offered him £12,000.

Winstone and his long-term manager, trainer and friend, Eddie Thomas, decided this was wrong. Thomas promoted the fight in Porthcawl, in Winstone's native Wales, and paid the boxer the full £19,000.

Winstone retired in 1969, the undefeated British featherweight champion. Oddly, it was not the duo of world title fights in 1968 and 1969 thatestablished the Merthyr-born fighter. It was the trio of fights against the legendary Mexican, Vicente Saldivar, that led to him being mentioned as one of modern boxing's greats.

Winstone lost all three fights, but they were all, except the third and final heroic encounter at the Azteca Stadium, Mexico City, in October 1967, classic encounters. There is nothing like a loss to inspire the British nation to adoration.

In the first, in London in September 1965, Saldivar appeared to win clearly, but afterwards the brilliant Mexican insisted that had he been the challenger and Winstone the champion, and the fight taking place in Mexico, Winstone would have won. Both Thomas and Winstone took heart from the champion's words and a re-match was made for Cardiff Arms Park in June 1967.

The pair met for the second time in one of the most memorable nights of boxing ever to take place in Britain - 15 rounds of the finest fighting, and when the final bell sounded, it appeared to all that Britain had a new world champion. However, the controversial verdict went in favour of Saldivar. The third fight at altitude was a formality.

As a teenager, Winstone, with Thomas in his corner, had impressed the future world championship referee, Larry O'Connell, at an international match between England and Wales in the late Fifties. O'Connell was amazed at Winstone's perfect features and pulled Thomas to one side to voice his fears for the young Welsh boxer's health.

O'Connell remembers the night well. He recalled: "I said to Thomas, 'He looks too young, too frail and too skinny to be a fighter'. How wrong I was. And I will always remember what Thomas said to me, 'Larry, he will win tonight, win the ABAs, win the British title, and then win the world title'. Thomas was right."

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