Merthyr Tydfil

 Welsh, British, Commonwealth,
& European Bantamweight Champion

Born:  7th January 1956  /  Died:  4th November 1980

The Bionic Bantam




'The measure of a man is not in the number of years he has lived. 
It is in the way he has lived them'.

John Richard Owens was the fourth child born into a working  class family of eight children in the South  Wales valleys town of Merthyr Tydfil. As a child John was quiet, shy, kind, unassuming and generous - not characteristics normally associated with most boxers. However, these traits he carried forward to his adult life. He never changed; success did not change him. He was a champion in the truest sense of the word, both a champion boxer and a champion amongst men. 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. Unlike his hero, Jimmy Wilde,  he was not a big puncher but would wear opponents down, smothering their best work while putting in his own solid shots from the first bell to the last. His thin, wiry, almost skeletal frame led to him being called 'The Matchstick Man'. He was also referred to as 'The Bionic Bantam' due to his dedication to training and his relentless pursuit of opponents. 'The Bionic Skeleton' was also another nickname which described both his skeletal frame and astonishing stamina.   

During his school years, (he began boxing  at the age of eight), unbeknown to his schoolmates he was quietly making a name for himself in Welsh amateur boxing circles. He did not excel academically or on the sports field but in the local boxing gymnasium he was becoming somewhat of an enigma. Quiet and reserved outside of the boxing ring but a  determined and fierce exponent within it. In a distinguished amateur career John had 124 contests, wining 106. He represented Wales on 17 occasions, winning 15.   Fiercely proud of being Welsh, even though he went on to become Welsh, British, Commonwealth and European Champion he always took greatest pride in the fact that as an amateur he had represented his country and as a professional he had won the Welsh bantamweight title.

His arrival on the professional scene was assured when in his first professional bout (Sept.30th 1976) he defeated the no.3 contender for the British bantamweight title, George Sutton, of Cardiff. A win he was to repeat in his sixth contest thereby, securing the coveted Welsh Bantamweight Title. After only 9 fights, and with a growing reputation as a dedicated, tenacious boxer of unparalleled stamina,  Johnny Owen seized the British Bantamweight Title from seasoned pro, Paddy Maguire with an 11th round stoppage in a bruising contest. A Welsh boxer had not held the British Bantamweight Title for 64 years and a Welsh boxer had never held the Commonwealth Bantamweight Title, which was the next target........  read The Ring report

The opportunity arose in November 1978 - with a record of 15  wins & 1 draw to date - against world rated Australian, Paul Ferreri. An accomplished and skilful boxer with a considerable pedigree, Ferreri had fought at the highest level and was thought to be too experienced and knowledgeable for the relatively inexperienced Owen. In a gripping contest of skill from both boxers with Johnny pursuing his usual 'in yer face at all times' style the fight went the full distance of 15 rounds. In a clear decision Johnny Owen was declared the new Commonwealth Bantamweight Champion.   read The Ring report

Just four months later, with his dedicated  army of followers from the valleys, Johnny went to Almeria, Spain to challenge Spaniard Juan Francisco Rodriguez for the latter's European Bantamweight title. In his first fight on foreign soil the Welshman completely out boxed the title holder for 15 rounds- and LOST !! It was a shameful hometown decision the like of which discredits the good name of boxing. His first loss hurt, not least  because of the manner in which it occurred,  but Johnny came through the episode with dignity and his resilience and self-belief intact.   read The Ring report   

Going on to record 7 straight wins after the  Spanish fiasco, the European title dream was back on when Rodriguez was brought over to Wales to defend his title, almost a year later. The fight again went the distance, however , this time there would be no controversy surrounding the decision. Rodriguez was out boxed yet again and Johnny Owen was rightfully proclaimed Bantamweight Champion of Europe.   read The Ring report

Before the fateful challenge for Lupe  Pintor's World Bantamweight Title, Johnny Owen had secured a Lonsdale Belt outright and was the holder of the Welsh, British, Commonwealth and European titles with a record of  25 wins, 1 loss & 1draw. He wanted that World title and who was to say that he  wouldn't get it. He had overcome all manner of obstacles and defied the odds not just in his boxing career but all  his life. Yes, he was still shy, modest, unassuming, skinny and with looks that were deemed not to be conventional but in his heart he was a man of beauty. And inside the ring he was accomplished, skillful and relentless with an indomitable fighting spirit. Sadly it was not to be......  After 9 rounds Johnny was ahead on points although the 10th and 11th rounds had seen Pintor's heavier blows take effect before Johnny was knocked out in the 12th round.   read The Ring report

The date was 19th September 1980; Johnny was  taken from the ring to a Los Angeles hospital where he lay in a coma fighting for his life until 4th November 1980 when he lost his last battle. He was 24 years old. During his short life John Richard Owens had achieved so much but more importantly he had touched so many peoples hearts. Everyone loved him - the young admired him and wanted to emulate his achievements, for here was a true role model. The older generation loved him for his throwback style and impeccable characteristics. Everything he ever did was for his family, friends and Wales.  read The Ring report, re: WBC 'insurance program'

GwÓr Fab O Gymru - True Son of Wales
The ensuing years have seen numerous articles written about Johnny Owen with  the phrase 'tragic Johnny Owen' featuring in almost all of them. There was nothing tragic about Johnny Owen, he died doing what he loved - boxing; fighting to achieve the ultimate pinnacle in his sport. To become World Champion. The only tragedy is that he did not accomplish his goal. The real tragedy is ours, those of us he has left behind whose lives for all too short a time he touched.


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