Johnny Owen ORIGINAL on-site poster from the fight that tragically took his life also SIGNED and INSCRIBED by opponent Lupe Pintor former WBC bantamweight and super bantamweight World champion, 19th September 1980, Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, California. Framed for longevity & preservation measures 17 1/2" x 24 1/2"
Johnny Owen - 7th January 1956 – 4th November 1980 - R.I.P
The story of the 'Matchstick Man' is dominated by its tragic end as the frail-looking Welshman was beaten into a coma in a Los Angeles ring by Mexico's Lupe Pintor on 19 September, 1980.
But Owen was no defenceless boy.
The Merthyr man had earned his shot at the WBC bantamweight title with 25 wins from 26 professional fights, his only defeat a highly controversial points loss to Juan Francisco Rodriguez in Spain that he later avenged in Wales.
He had been boxing since he was 10-years old and, despite his appearance, Owen had a remarkable work-rate and could trade with the best in the division.
"He looked so thin but the core strength that he had was phenomenal," said three-time World welterweight title challenger Colin Jones.
"I can vouch for that first hand from sparring with Johnny, he would stand and trade with the best of them."
Owen's perpetual motion work-rate had won him the British, Commonwealth and European titles, taking the painfully shy, hugely popular 24-year-old from headline shows at Ebbw Vale Leisure Centre to LA's intimidating 10,000-seat Olympic Auditorium.
"He trained very hard [in America], he was very confident, everything went fine," said trainer Dai Gardiner on the 30-year anniversary of the fight.
"He had won British, European and Commonwealth titles - he was ready for a world shot."
Controversy still surrounds the decision to take Owen to a venue where he would face not just the formidable Pintor, but the full fury of the Mexican's fervent Latin American support.
Some still argue that the title shot could have been secured in Wales and that he was given insufficient time to prepare in the heat of southern California, but Owen had trained as mercilessly as ever and eagerly awaited his shot at glory.
"There was a real buzz around Wales before the fight," said Jones. "Johnny was always fantastically fit and Dai Gardiner knew how to get the best out of him."
Taking no heed of the ridiculing of his skeletal frame from the US media, Owen stunned the home crowd with a thrilling start, and bewildered Pintor with his tireless, peppering punching.
"There were a lot of Mexicans in the auditorium, they gave us problems, it was jam-packed there," said Gardiner. "But Johnny was very professional, took it in his stride and started very well."
In the fifth round he threw 148 shots and had already cut the man known as 'Guadalupe' over both eyes.
But Pintor's bull-like strength was evident, and, although he had landed few punches, the Mexican had opened a cut in his opponent's mouth that left Owen swallowing large amounts of blood.
"Up to the eighth round everything was going really well, the American promoters were getting worried," said Gardiner.
"Johnny looked so frail, they hadn't even thought he could fight."
By the seventh, distance began to open up between the boxers, leaving Owen more exposed to his opponent's long, dangerous shots.
He was caught in the ninth, but it was a snap knock down and he was quickly back into the fray.
"In the ninth he got caught and went down for the first time in his career," said Gardiner. "I was worried, but in the corner Johnny wondered what all the fuss was about.
"He was bleeding very badly from his lip from the fourth round, but we didn't think there was any trouble. I couldn't have stopped the fight because it was going so well."
By the 12th Owen's punch resistance was gone and he was dropped by a fierce, straight right.
He bravely got back to his feet, but collapsed horrifically from a huge right uppercut - and never recovered consciousness.
"The 10th and 11th went very well, then the disaster struck in the 12th," said Gardiner. "I knew it was bad straight away, he just crumbled."
Despite the problems he had faced in the fight, Pintor would later say: "Johnny probably shouldn't have fought me because his style was more like an Olympic boxer.
"He was scoring points, not with hard shots, but they were fast and there were lots of them.
"For him to have someone in front of him who was capable of hitting him with hard shots over 15 rounds in a World championship bout, that was going to tell.
"Keeping up that rhythm - that endless rhythm - was going to wear him down in the later rounds."
Owen was stretchered out through a rabid auditorium, the Welsh entourage having urine thrown at them and their pockets picked as they left the ring.
"The Mexican crowd showered us with drink and everything else, they took all our equipment from the corner… [but] they didn't realise how bad it was," said Gardiner.
Jones added: "Any Welsh sporting fan can remember where he was that sad night.
"I was having a meal out and can remember seeing it on television - I can honestly say it was one of the saddest days of my life."
Owen was taken to California Hospital, the Merthyr Express organising a campaign that quickly raised the funds to send his mother Edith to join his father Dick at his bedside.
He underwent an operation to remove a blood clot from his brain.
Hopes fluctuated over a harrowing two months, before pneumonia finally claimed the life of the much-loved 'Matchstick Man' on 4 November.
It was later found that he had an unusually fragile skull and thick jaw, meaning that the fatal blow could have come at any time in his career.
"I carry Johnny in my heart all the time, I always think of that fight," said Gardiner. "Every year around the time of the anniversary I go up to his grave."
***In 2002, Lupe Pintor was invited to Merthyr Tydfil by Johnny Owen's family to help unveil a bronze statue commemorating boxer's life and career when he SIGNED and INSCRIBED the poster***
Condition very good (light staining to bottom of the poster & 2 light horizontal creases - top half. However, these are only visible on close micro inspection)
***The on-site poster is extremely RARE and is a stark reminder of the dangers of boxing and represents the tragic passing of this historic Welsh hero along with the Pintor signature, makes this a unique rarity and one of a kind collectable from the steeped riches of British boxing history***
Price: £ RESERVED
Johnny Owen (The Long Journey) / Lupe Pintor Visits Wales - Documentary
José Guadalupe Pintor Guzmán (born April 13, 1955), better known as Lupe Pintor, is a Mexican who competed from 1974 to 1995. He won the WBC bantamweight title in 1979 after defeating Carlos Zárate Serna, and made eight defences. In 1985, Pintor defeated Juan Meza to win the WBC super bantamweight title, but lost to Samart Payakaroon in his first defence the following year.
Early Life & Career
Lupe Pintor was born into a poor, working-class family in Cuajimalpa, just outside Mexico City in 1955 and is alleged to have had an extremely violent relationship with his father, eventually forcing him to run away. He lived for a time on the city streets, learning how to look after himself and began boxing professionally in 1974.
He opened his account with a second round knockout of Manuel Vázquez and immediately stepped up to ten round bouts, claiming a decision over Francisco Nunez on his next outing. He suffered his first loss three fights later, when disqualified against Magarito Lozano, but claimed victory in his next eight bouts, seven by knockout, including wins over notables Juan Díaz, Rocky Mijares and Willie Jespen.
Pintor first boxed future World Bantamweight Champion Alberto Davila on February 25, 1976, losing a decision over ten rounds, then embarked on a winning streak of some twenty two fights in a row. Amongst the fighters he beat during this period were Gerald Hayes - who later conquered Juan Laporte - and Antonio Becerra, the only man to get the better of Salvador Sánchez as a professional boxer.
He then travelled to Puerto Rico, where he lost a ten round decision to Leo Cruz - himself a future World champion. Returning to Mexico, Pintor lost for the second time in a row, carelessly dropping a decision to journeyman Jose Luis Soto. Another winning streak, comprising five fights in a row, all by way of knockout and he was ready for a shot at the World title.
Carlos Zarate was Pintor's stable mate and a fellow Mexican. He was an outstanding champion and continues to be rated one of the very best of all Bantamweights. The records however, show that Pintor edged a very close and controversial split decision, following a remarkable contest that saw him hit the canvas in round four. But the judges were so at variance when recording their verdict, that (like already stated) the contest remains a matter of controversy today. Naturally, the new World Champion's relationship with Zarate - already strained - took another hit and Zarate retired in disgust.
Pintor was a busy champion and he began his reign by engaging in three non-title bouts, beating Aucencio Melendez by a knockout in the first and avenging his loss to Jose Luis Soto before losing a rematch with Manuel Vázquez by a knockout in six. Then he began to defend his title in earnest, retaining it with a knockout in twelve over Alberto Sandoval in Los Angeles and drawing over fifteen with Eijiro Murata in Tokyo.
His next bout brought a touch of tragedy to his career. He defended against Johnny Owen of Wales in Los Angeles. Many of the fans present and the authors of The Ring's Boxing in The 20th Century, have agreed that the fight should have been stopped during round ten. But it carried on until the close of the twelfth, when Pintor unleashed a savage right-hand, knocking his opponent out cold. Owen failed to regain consciousness, lapsed into a coma and died seven weeks later.
Saddened, Pintor - encouraged by Owen's family - resumed his career by avenging his loss to Davila, retaining the title by unanimous decision. He went on to retain the belt against Jose Uziga - again by decision - and Jovito Rengifo, by a knockout in eight. He stopped Hurricane Teru in the fifteenth and final round to close 1981 and began 1982, by retaining the title against Seung-Hoon Lee with an eleventh round knockout.
Soon after the Lee fight, Pintor vacated his World title and started eyeing the WBC Super Bantamweight crown worn by the great Wilfredo Gómez. Stepping up, he immediately beat former WBA World Bantamweight Champion Jorge Luján and then, on December 3 of that year, he and Gómez met as part of the Carnival of Champions in New Orleans. Showcased on HBO, this duel was subsequently dubbed the division's 'Fight of The Decade' by The Ring magazine. But it did not go Pintor's way. Gómez recorded a fourteenth round knockout and relinquished his own title five months later.
Pintor was inactive throughout 1983. He returned to the ring a year-and-a-half later as a fully fledged Super Bantamweight defeating Ruben Solorio on February 16, 1984 and busied himself thereafter trying to get another shot at the World title. his perseverance paid off when he was pitted against Juan 'Kid' Meza, the WBC's Super Bantamweight Champion on August 18, 1985. Pintor floored the defending champion three times on the way to collecting a unanimous decision and celebrated his new status as a double World title holder.
His first defence of this new crown did not go to plan. Travelling to Bangkok to meet Samart Payakaroon, Pintor exceeded the division weight limit and was subsequently stripped of his title at the scales. Payakaroon could still become champion if he defeated Pintor but if Pintor won the title would be declared vacant. Payakaroon pounded Pintor to defeat in five rounds and the ex-champion hung up his gloves for the next eight years.
Pintor made a comeback of sorts in 1994, but at the comparatively advanced age of thirty-eight, he was long past his best. Winning just twice in seven contests through over the next eighteen months, he was finally convinced that it was time to retire.
Pintor was named The Ring magazine Comeback of the Year fighter for 1985.
Unlike many great champions, Pintor has managed his money well and opened a boxing school in Mexico City. In 2002, he was invited to Merthyr Tydfil by Johnny Owen's family to help unveil a bronze statue commemorating boxer's life and career.
In 2008, Pintor reunited with Carlos Zarate and joined Juan Laporte as the three former victims of Wilfredo Gómez showed up at a party dedicated to Gómez for his fiftieth birthday, in Puerto Rico.
Pintor, along with Hector Camacho and Hilario Zapata and several non-boxers was voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in December 2015 and was inducted in June 2016.
Johnny Owen (January 7, 1956 – November 4, 1980) from Wales. His fragile appearance and astonishing abilities earned him many epithets, including ‘the Bionic Bantam’ and ‘the Merthyr Matchstick’. During his brief career, he held the Bantamweight Championships of Great Britain and Europe and became the first ever Welsh holder of the Bantamweight Championship of the Commonwealth.
He challenged champion Lupe Pintor for his version of the World Bantamweight title in September 1980, losing a torturously difficult contest by way of twelfth round knockout. Owen never regained consciousness, fell into a coma and died seven weeks later. A statue commemorating his life and career was unveiled in Merthyr Tydfil in 2002.
Early Life & Career
Johnny Owen was born John Richard Owens, the fourth of a family of eight children to working class parents Dick and Edith Owens in Merthyr Tydfil on January 7, 1956. He began to box at the age of eight and enjoyed a lengthy amateur boxing career taking in some one hundred and twenty six fights. Highlights of his amateur exploits were the winning of several Welsh titles and an impressive international record representing his beloved Wales.
A quiet, reserved, friendly character outside the ring, his appearance and character were in total contrast to what he would become once he had stepped inside the ropes of a boxing ring. For once inside the ring, he was a formidable opponent with determination and strength that seemingly were impossible to summon from such a frail looking body.
Johnny Owen's style was one of perpetual motion coupled with skill and knowledge of the noble art. The sheer ferocity displayed when he stepped between the ropes - often thought surprising in one so slight - and incredible stamina built by long hours running amidst the steep hills of the South Wales Valleys, brought him greater success in the pro ranks.
He finally turned professional in 1976, opening his account with a points victory over fellow Welshman George Sutton, in Pontypool, on September 30; at the time, Sutton was ranked number three contender for the British title - a fine win for Owen in his very first professional contest.
Owen enjoyed an auspicious start to his professional career, lifting the Bantamweight Championship of Wales after just six contests and knocking out Paddy Maguire to claim the British title after only ten. Guided by manager and trainer Dai Gardiner, Owen steadily grew to dominate the domestic bantamweight scene and by the end of 1978 felt ready to take on his first, big, international test.
His encounter with Paul Ferreri to contest the vacant Bantamweight Championship of the Commonwealth, delivered one of the finest performances of Owen’s entire career. Ferrari, Italian born and resident in Australia, had held the title before – not to mention a clutch of other belts – and was widely expected to be a difficult, if not insurmountable obstacle to the comparatively inexperienced Welshman’s ambitions. Yet – and almost improbably – an enthralling encounter ensued. Ferreri’s shots were clean and hard and both men brought enormous skill to bear on a fight that went the full distance of fifteen hotly disputed rounds. Towards the end, the Australian began to wilt, his punches seeming to have little effect on an opponent relentlessly piling on the pressure.
The judges saw the contest Owen’s way and he was proclaimed the first Bantamweight Champion of the Commonwealth that Wales ever had.
Owen’s victory paved the way for a shot at the division’s European title, held by Juan Francisco Rodriguez of Spain. It was the Welshman’s eighteenth contest and his first overseas and continues to be regarded, by everyone who was there, as a travesty. The fight took place in the champion’s backyard in Almeria amid a series of spectacular allegations of foul play by the challenger’s camp. Rodriguez was said to have exceeded the weight limit and his camp to have engaged in gamesmanship designed, amongst other things, to disrupt Owen's sleep. It didn’t stop there. During the contest itself, the champion was stated to have elbowed and butted his way through the rounds, whilst his seconds were believed to have smeared his gloves with an agent for the purpose of obscuring his opponent's vision.
As if that wasn’t enough, the challenger – who had appeared to dominate the contest – was to be the victim of a hometown decision and, adding insult to injury, the Spanish boxing authorities withheld his purse – apparently an act of spite inspired by an incident that took place in England, some months before.
Until the meeting with Lupe Pintor, this was Owen’s sole professional defeat and was avenged a little less than twelve months later. With the European Championship once more at stake, Rodriguez journeyed to Ebbw Vale and acquitted himself bravely on the way to being relieved of his crown. Four months later and Owen successfully defended his British Championship for the third and final time, winning a Lonsdale Belt outright in the process. An impressive record behind him, his next outing would be to Los Angeles and an encounter with the reigning World Champion.
One Too Many
A Mexican slugger, Lupe Pintor had edged a controversial split decision over stable mate and long-time champion Carlos Zarate to lay claim to his WBC World Bantamweight title. Zarate may have retired in disgust, but Pintor proved to be a worthy successor and few rated Owen’s chances when they came together at the Grand Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles on September 19, 1980.
Ringside, there were some who expressed concern when they cast their eyes over Owen’s skeletal frame and astonishment when he seemed to be holding his own against the assertive champion. When the bell rang to signal the end of the eighth round, most observers had the Welshman ahead, but he was tiring fast and, in the ninth, suffered the first knockdown of his professional career. The momentum of the whole fight suddenly lurched in the champion’s direction and from the tenth Pintor was in the ascendency. Catastrophe came with twenty five seconds of the twelfth round still to go. A final, thundering right sent the challenger thudding to the canvas and Pintor had retained his title. Following the knockout, Owen lay flat on his back for five minutes and he was then taken out. The promoters’ insurance paid about $94,000 in medical costs, but did not pay any death benefits to survivors.
Owen, whom it transpired had an unusually delicate skull, never regained consciousness and, despite extensive surgery, slipped into a coma. He was pronounced dead on November 4, 1980, aged twenty-four.
Owen’s family, far from blaming the World Champion, telegraphed him shortly after their loss and encouraged him to go on fighting. Twenty years later, a memorial to Johnny Owen was unveiled in Merthyr Tydfil. At the request of the late fighter's father, the unveiling was performed by Lupe Pintor, the statue was sculpted by James Done.