Before training greats like Winstone, Buchanan and Jones, Eddie Thomas was some fighter himself

Yesterday’s Heroes

EDDIE Thomas of Merthyr excelled at every level of the sport for around 40 years. He will still be remembered today by veterans of the game as an astute manager who ran a compact little stable from his office in an ice cream parlour in his hometown, nestled deep inside the Welsh valleys.

Among the many wonderful fighters Eddie steered to stardom were all-time greats Howard Winstone, Ken Buchanan, and Colin Jones. He had a host of other fighters throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including Eddie Avoth, the British light-heavyweight champion between 1969 and 1971, and Carl Gizzi, who challenged for the British heavyweight title in 1969.

Colin Jones – Action Images/Sporting Pictures

As a fighter Eddie was rated world number two at welterweight in the January 1951 issue of the Ring magazine. To show how great an achievement this was, the only man that stood above him was Sugar Ray Robinson.

Like most great boxers from this period, Eddie was a very good amateur. Despite holding down a tough job as a coalminer, he won the Welsh lightweight championship in 1946 and followed that up with victory at the ABAs five weeks later. Ten thousand fans crammed into the Empire Pool, Wembley, to see these championships and Eddie won through in contests against the Scottish entrant, T Fraser, and then the army champion, Ernie Thompson. Two weights above Eddie, 17-year-old Randolph Turpin was successful at middleweight. Eddie and Randolph teamed up again later that month as the two lads both won for the ABA in a 5-3 victory against a strong team from the USA.

Eddie wasted no time in turning professional. He won his first contest just six days after representing the ABA, and he beat Ivor Simpson of Basingstoke in a four-rounder on a Jack Solomons promotion at Harringay Arena. Top of the bill that night was a 12-rounder at heavyweight between Bruce Woodcock and Freddie Mills. Eddie was already competing alongside exalted company, and with top London manager Sam Burns looking after his interests, his route to the top was to be well-planned.

He won his first 10, with contests taking place either on top London shows or in the small halls of South Wales, where he was building a strong following. A cut-eye defeat to Yrjoe Piitulainen of Finland put the brakes on a little and a further loss, in March 1948, against seasoned fellow-Welshman Gwyn Williams in a British welterweight eliminator, caused his team to stop and think a little.

Eighteen straight victories then put things right and helped Eddie to move from UK number five to world number two and a prospective match with Sugar Ray. Along the way, Eddie picked up the British title. After beating veteran Ernie Roderick in an eliminator, Eddie then beat Henry Hall and Cliff Curvis in title bouts to gain two notches on a Lonsdale belt.

Unfortunately, Jack Solomons could not complete the negotiations for a world title contest, as Robinson was making good money at middleweight and becoming a two-weight world champion. Instead, Eddie had to make do with the Commonwealth title and then the European title, which he won at the Market Hall, Carmarthen, of all places.

Eddie was now at the peak of his career and both the Board and the EBU recognised his next contest, a European defence against Frenchman Charles Humez, as a world title eliminator. Once again, Eddie defended in his native Wales, this time at Porthcawl, but he came off second best, with BN reporting that Humez gave “a bustling exhibition of strong two-handed fighting that proved too much for Thomas. Eddie never appeared to be comfortable before the fury of his redoubtable opponent”.

He boxed on for three more years, losing his British title and, therefore, the chance of an outright Lonsdale Belt, but he then achieved so much else as a manager. One of the greatest Welsh fighters, Eddie died in 1997, aged 71.

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