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

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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 Jeffrey 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.