Friday, November 06, 2009

Iron Mike

Owen Slot, Chief Sports Reporter of the Times newspaper, has come in for some well-deserved criticism, after describing Merthyr as "not the most obvious of destinations" for a Mike Tyson visit during his current tour of the UK. Or England as Slot has it . Of course there are few towns in the world with such a rich boxing heritage as Merthyr Tydfil, and certainly none with three public statues celebrating pugilistic heroes of the recent past. Mike Tyson, for all his faults, is a knowledgeable follower of ring history, so his visit to the town is not as surprising as Slot suggests.

So is Merthyr the nonpareil of Welsh boxing towns? With statues to Howard Winstone, Johnny Owen and Eddie Thomas it certainly makes such a claim plain to even the most casual visitor. As a youngster I can recall some of the old timers boasting of having sparred with the sparring partner of an earlier Merthyr fighter, Cuthbert Taylor, who had somehow made his way to our Radnorian village.

However, just 12 miles down the valley, Pontypridd can make an equal claim to boxing fame. The deeds of Freddie Welsh surely eclipse anything achieved by a Merthyr fighter, the likes of Nat Fleischer of Ring magazine would not rate you his fourth greatest lightweight of all time for nothing. Ponty was also the home of Frank Moody, another Welsh fighter who found fame in the US.

Even Pontypridd must bow to the nearby Rhondda Valley, home of tremendous battlers such as Tommy Farr, Percy Jones and above all the Tylorstown Terror Jimmy Wilde. Universally acclaimed as the best flyweight boxer of all time, Ring magazine voted Wilde its third greatest pound for pound puncher, behind Joe Louis and Sam Langford, as recently as 2003. Sadly no-one has yet seen fit to erect a statue to this legendary Welshman.

No, when it comes to fighters, the mining valleys of South Wales are a pretty obvious place to go. Throw in Cardiff boxers like the No 2 rated featherweight of all time Peerless Jim Driscoll and nowhere outside the big cities of the United States has anything like a comparable boxing heritage.

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