In Their Own Words: Pat Thomas, the first man to win British titles at separate weights, reflects on being a boxing “afterthought”

Perhaps it’s because of his endearing shyness and humility that Cardiff’s Pat Thomas has been overlooked for so long by the British boxing community. During a fabulous 57 fight career conducted between 1970-84, the silky but spiteful native West Indian made history as the first man, post war, to win British titles at separate weights. The soft-voiced 73-year-old now fights for The Lord. Glynn Evans dropped by at his home in Fairwater to hear his story.

“THIS September 24, in Leeds, I’m being inducted into The British Ex-Boxer’s Hall of Fame. I boxed nine European champions and four who fought for world titles. It’s a great honour to finally be recognised. In my day, English boys were always in front of us. I was a black immigrant from Wales but not considered Welsh. I never got a big fight in Wales, never had any build up. Bill posters were always… ‘and Pat Thomas’. An afterthought. Eddie Thomas managed all the top Welsh boys but never showed interest in me. He’d bring over Colin Jones, another welterweight, to spar me because he couldn’t find anyone else. I just touched Colin, taught him, but he’d never, ever have beat me. Not until I was ‘dead’ at welterweight, anyway. Once a light-middleweight division was established here, whoa! (rubs hands). I finally had the strength to do my talent justice. I was a different fighter, could bang ‘em hard. I had the ability to beat any light-middle in this country. Cos I was softly spoken and skinny, I was underestimated. Opponents thought: ‘He’s a tidy boxer so I’ll bustle inside.’ But every opponent hated to be inside with me, because I had wiry strength. I was stronger than all the fighters I fought. I did triceps’ curls, pull ups, press-ups, weights, sit-ups, I’d never get hurt with body shots. I had the moves, the knowledge. I’d steal a metre and come up on top of them, make them pay. Opponents couldn’t run back quick enough. I loved the 15-round fights. I know I’m going to be there at the end, will you be there?

I spent my first 10 years on the island of St Kitts. My grandparents brought us up after mother left for the U.K to be a nurse. I was respectful, well disciplined. I didn’t play any sports. Football wasn’t in and that cricket ball came too fast and was far too hard! Mother settled in Tiger Bay, Cardiff Docks and sent for us. There was French, German, blackies, Pakistanis, Chinese, every nation but I didn’t know about prejudice. Whites called you ‘Blackie’ or ‘Sambo’ but never bothered me…unless you nicked my marbles, then we’re fighting! Shortly after, mother collapsed, in front of my eyes at the Post Office. Dead. Brain Haemorrhage. I was only 10.

After moving to Ely, I befriended Leslie Avoth from the famous boxing family. His house was full of plastic trophies all the brothers had won but they looked like real gold! His brother Eddie would routinely talk about Eddie (Thomas, famous manager) and Howard (Winstone, featherweight champion), names that were regularly in the papers. At 16, I begged Leslie’s father to take me to the Victoria Park boxing gym. I was never an angry fighter, always very technical, told I had a lovely jab. I won the Welsh juniors and boxed in the (inaugural 1970) European Junior Championships in Hungary but lost to the gold medallist. After that, I joined my older brother Carl as a professional. He’d won a Welsh middleweight title and was rated number two for the British. He was a banger. No one hit me harder than him in sparring. He insisted I run up Leckwith Hill, six o’clock in the mornings when the air is best quality. I was fit. I was coached by Phil Edwards, who’d fought Terry Downes and Johnny Pritchard. Good trainer, taught me to hook, knee bent. There were a few setbacks before I even got to challenge for a British title. I fought on the road against everybody put in front of me, some real rough characters. One time I was disqualified, another the opponent was disqualified, another we were both disqualified! I wasn’t dirty, just ‘professional’. I didn’t blatantly do anything. Coming through, I beat Howard Rhiney twice, Des Rea, Trevor Francis. After about 10 fights, I left Phil for (manager) Les Roberts who was better connected. Les managed to get me fights at The National Sporting Club. £35 for six-rounders, £50 for eight-rounders, then top of the bill £150! After Phil, I trained alone. just rounds on the bag. I picked everything up myself. Sparring (local heavyweight) Gene Innocent, his jab knocked me backwards even when I blocked it so I developed this bridge which kept me safe. Problem was, I was very tall. For my debut, I really struggled to make welterweight and, as my body matured, making weight was a constant battle. Light-middle wasn’t properly established in Britain and winning a final eliminator at welter just put me ‘in prison’ for another year. I was losing pure strength. I didn’t eat, could only gargle. When my British title chance finally arrived, I had a bit too much for Pat McCormack. I was hurting him and it wasn’t nice to see (w ko 13, Manor Place Baths, December 1975). I’d done it for Wales but not much fuss was made. I hoped to start making some money but, through my whole career, even as champion, I had to work full-time as a coachbuilder. After a 15-rounder in London, I’d be straight back into work the very next day. £10 wages a week! A European title fight was arranged against Marco Scano in Sardinia for two and a half grand, the highest purse of my career. But I was ‘dead’. No food, no drink. No strength. (Thomas was knocked out in two). Same with Jorgen Hansen in Copenhagen, straight after (l rsf 3). They threw me down. I’d have destroyed them in Cardiff but got messed about, converting stones to kilos. No one was looking after me. I got over the line in a scrappy 15-round British defence with Trevor Francis then, going for my Lonsdale Belt outright, got stopped by Henry Rhiney (rsf 8) who I’d twice ‘carried’ in previous fights. I couldn’t properly make weight. I boxed Henry a fourth time six months after, (and six pounds heavier), and beat him comfortably. Rising to light-middle, I was delayed from fighting for that title for two years after I got disqualified against Larry Paul, my good friend (round five, persistent holding). Larry liked to be rough but, at 11 stone, I could be rough too. I thought: ‘I’ll show you ‘Bad’! It shouldn’t have been stopped. Just untidy. Styles clashed. Next, my brother was due to fight Tony Sibson in Wolverhampton but something happened and I ended up taking it. Tony was undefeated (in 17), destroying everybody, but I knew too much. He couldn’t get through to me. Tony still admits I won (draw pts 8). Now, everyone’s avoiding me so I fought a load of world rated guys, overseas. I wasn’t especially well paid, but it was work. Marijan Benes (an 8-0 Slav) in Rotterdam, Chris Clarke (13-0) in Nova Scotia, Claude Martin (one loss in 27) in Saint-Malo, Andoni Amana (17-0) in Bilbao. (All outpointed him). That was the class I was up with. I felt I beat ‘em all. At 11 stone, I didn’t have any hard fights but I weren’t going to get a decision overseas, was I?! Those performances earned me a Commonwealth title shot with Kenny Bristol in British Guyana. It felt so good when they played my Welsh national anthem beforehand. Bristol just ran and held for 15 rounds and, if it’s close, they give it the home boy. Again! Still, I got to see the world and those fights conditioned me to dominate back home. In the final eliminator for the British, Robbie Davies, a skinhead, put his lips on my lips, his nose on my nose, and refused to shake hands but I just played with him (flooring the 1976 Olympian four times, on route to a 12 round points win). The London press were really building up Jimmy Batten, the champion. He’d beaten Americans and I was underdog. But I stopped him at Wembley (Conference Centre) in eight. I got on alright with his trainer, Terry Lawless. He said: ‘You’re one of the best I’ve ever seen’. He’d put Barry McGuigan on as a sweetener!”

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