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When a routine defence turned into a real battle for Howard Winstone

Howard Winstone
Howard Winstone got more than he bargained for when he defended his titles against Billy Calvert

THIS week in 1963, featherweight great Howard Winstone was out to put a second notch on his second Lonsdale Belt and make the maiden defence of his recently won European title. Sheffield’s Billy Calvert was the man tasked with unseating the 24-year-old champion. Nearing 30, Billy was in the last chance saloon in terms of title hopes. But for rising star Winstone, who was eyeing a possible world title fight with reigning champ, Cuban-Mexican Sugar Ramos, it was merely a routine defence.

Winstone had beaten Calvert twice already in his first year as a pro. They first met in Aberdare in September 1959, when Calvert was stopped by a cut eye. But in their second encounter, at London’s National Sporting Club three months later, the pair put on such a good show the audience showered them with £31 in nobbins (money thrown into the ring as a sign of appreciation), a decent sum in 1959.

Since joining the paid ranks, Winstone had whipped 40 of his 41 opponents, with a single defeat – a shock second-round stoppage by American Leroy Jeffery in November 1962 – as the only sign of fallibility. Interestingly, an in-form Calvert had outpointed Jeffery three weeks after the American’s win over Winstone. That comparison aside, the Yorkshireman’s 21-12-4 résumé did not suggest he was a serious threat to Winstone.

A huge TV audience tuned in to watch the fight broadcast from Coney Beach, in Porthcawl, and were not disappointed. BN’s report referred to a “worried, bruised and occasionally desperate Howard Winstone,” as against expectations Calvert gave “The Welsh Wizard” his hardest fight yet.

“Determination, peak fitness, relentless combination punching, complete disregard for Winstone’s vaunted jab – we had expected all these,” noted our reporter. “But what made the fight a spectacle for us and a near-triumph for the ‘Cowboy’ [Calvert’s nickname] was his brilliant, shifty and deceptive range of two-handed in-fighting tactics… The champ was fighting a perpetual-action machine who was concentrating on just about every target in sight.”

Howard was forced to go 15 rounds for the first time in his life to narrowly but deservedly retain his titles. Had the fight been a 12-rounder, the verdict could have been different, but Winstone’s accurate jabbing nudged him in front in the final three sessions.  

For Billy, it was virtually the end of the road. He retired less than two years later and lost most of his remaining contests. For Howard, it was onwards and upwards. The Ramos world title fight never happened, as Ramos lost his WBC and WBA belts to Mexican great Vicente Saldivar. Howard made three epic but ultimately unsuccessful challenges against Saldivar, before whipping Japan’s Mitsunori Seki to claim the vacant WBC crown in 1968, ending Wales’ 45-year wait for a world champion to succeed Jimmy Wilde. By then the Welshman was past his best. He lost the title six months later to the gifted Cuban Jose Legra, whom he’d previously beaten, and promptly retired.

A brilliant amateur, Winstone won 83 of his 86 unpaid bouts as well as a gold medal at the 1958 Empire Games. With a young family to support, he missed the chance to box at the 1960 Olympics by turning pro. Throughout his time in the limelight, Howard was famed for his sublimely fast and accurate jab. Curiously, though, his hallmark left had been a late addition to his armoury. In his youth, Winstone was more of a brawler, but an accident at the factory where he worked led to the loss of the tips of three right-hand fingers, along with much of his right-hand power. From then on he worked hard to develop his left-hand boxing.

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