The friend was Lupe Pintor, the man
who threw the fateful punch that ultimately led to the untimely death of
the young Welshman. The events of 22 years ago affected forever the lives
of everyone who knew the young man from the valleys town so steeped in
boxing history, Merthyr Tydfil.
Lupe had only met Johnny's father
once since the terrible tragedy
unfolded back in
1980; he had never met Mrs. Owen or Johnny's 4 brothers and 3 sisters.
Invited by Dick Owen (Johnny's Dad) to unveil the statue, during his visit
to Mexico in the summer, Lupe readily accepted the honour and visited the
Owen household, Friday night (Nov. 1st), to a welcome that the anti-boxing
brigade would never understand. Of course, there were tears and sadness in
knowing what had brought them together. But most of all there was
compassion. Johnny's family have never held Lupe responsible for what
happened, quite simply it was an accident.
Lupe met each of the brothers and sisters with a handshake and hugged
them as he cried. A
sincere man, he explained - through an interpreter - "I am sorry for what
happened, I did not wish him [Johnny] harm. It was a sporting accident,
sport is beautiful. I was just doing what I knew best, as Johnny was. He
was a great warrior. This is a difficult moment for all of us, difficult
because it is remembering what once happened in a very different
situation". His feelings were reciprocated as he was told by one of
Johnny's brothers, "Please don't cry, it was an accident. You have come
all this way to honour my brother and we thank you. Tomorrow we shall
celebrate John's life and achievements together; John would be proud".
Firstly, (Saturday 2nd) a memorial
service was held at High St. Chapel where Rev. David Protheroe said of
Johnny, "He had a vision, a goal. He persevered and finally he achieved.
Some may say, and I'm sure Lupe Pintor would agree, that Johnny did win a
fight. He did win a world championship to the people of Merthyr. He won
our hearts and there is no bigger prize than to win the hearts of your
community". After the service everyone walked the short distance to the
location of the statue, sharing their stories of Johnny as they went.
Reflecting Johnny's patriotism the
statue of the former Welsh, British, Commonwealth &
European champion stood resplendent draped in a Welsh flag. Lupe was to
have unveiled the statue solely, but when the time came he beckoned Dick
Owen to him and together they proudly revealed a statue that is a fitting
tribute to the 'great warrior'. The figure bears a striking resemblance to
its subject and is fine in every detail; down to the leek that Johnny was
given by an old lady, and wore taped to his sock for every fight.
Fittingly, the unveiling ceremony was concluded with a rousing rendition
of the Welsh national anthem.
As Lupe and his wife, Virginia, enjoyed Sunday lunch with the
Owen family, the
following day, Dick said of Lupe, "He is a wonderful man. He had nothing
to do with John's death. There was a chink in John's armour and that is
all there is to it". The Mexican former world champ, replied, "I am so
glad I came here. I feel that Johnny's spirit has always been with me. We
had a great fight; it was a gentleman's fight. I don't know what the
decision would have been had the fight gone to the end. But, I would have
respected the decision if it had gone to Johnny because it was a
Lupe spoke of his great respect for
the Owen family and cheekily added, "I wish to become an honorary
Welshman, maybe I can come to Merthyr to live and then they will put up a
statue of me!
A day for boxing to be proud.
(After Johnny's death it was
revealed that he had an abnormally thin skull, the terrible accident which befell him could have happened at any time).