The Ring Magazine 1980
by Christopher Coats
Los Angeles, California
Lupe Pintor retained his World Boxing Council
bantamweight title with a 12th round knockout of Welshman Johnny Owen.
The frail looking challenger, called the "Merthyr Matchstick"
by hometown fans, was taken from the ring on the stretcher and rushed to
California Hospital Medical Center, Owen underwent a three hour brain
operation for removal of a blood clot.
The tragic ending came quite suddenly. Owen held his own against the
champion for much of the fight, and, though Pintor took charge from the
ninth on, Owen was not taking a dreadful beating. A right hand to the
head dropped Owen to the canvas a full two minutes into the 12th.
Referee Marty Denkin gave the mandatory eight count. Then, before
allowing the fight to continue, he asked Owen if he wanted to go on. The
Welshman did not appear seriously hurt at that point. But seconds later
Pintor landed another right to the head and Owen crumbled to the canvas
with an ugly shudder. He immediately lapsed into unconsciousness.
Pintor, 118, entered his third title defense a 5-1 betting favorite. A
typical Mexican banger, Pintor brought no new battle plan into his fight
against the light hitting 5'8" challenger. A good left hook and
lots of courage have made Pintor what he is, and he overcame his four
inch height deficit against Owen by pressing forward, looking to unload
the harder punches. But Owen, the Commonwealth champion, showed that,
his ghostly pale and thin frame, he had serious ambitions for
the world title. At times, he clearly outboxed Pintor, not hitting him
with anything hard, but cutting the champion over his left eye in the
third round and in the fourth round over the right eye.
At the end of the sixth round, the ringside doctor visited Pintor's
corner to inspect the cuts. In the seventh, Pintor bloodied Owen's nose
but Johnny (117 1/2), came back in the eighth to fend off the charges of
the Mexican champion with accurate counterpunching. Pintor turned the
fight around with one roundhouse right in the ninth round, knocking Owen
down on his backside. From then on, the challenger seemed to fade. The
fight became a cat and mouse game, with Owen lacking the strength to
keep Pintor at a respectful distance from him.
The sold out crowd at the ancient Olympic Auditorium sensed that the end
was coming. Firecrackers exploded in the aisles and the chant of
"Mexico" filled the building. Pintor, who was seeking his 34th
knockout in 50 fights, does not have the great power of former title
holder Carlos Zarate, but he keeps up a steady attack and has worn out
many strong fighters.
It is part of the mystique of boxing to witness a crowd brought to the
edge of hysteria, for that is a tribute to the courage of the fighters
and in the intensity of their battle. But there is always a dark side to
a sporting crowd, and when Owen went down for the second time in the
12th round, in a coma and near death, the partisan crowd became like a
lynch mob. Owen's cornermen were shoved and drenched with beer, and one
hardened veteran of such "flesh peddling" said afterwards,
"They didn't know how badly he was hurt, but I actually got scared
that Owen's handlers were going to be badly attacked. It wasn't
everyone, but this was worse than anything I've seen, even when Cuevas
and Zarate brought them out."
Owen's mother and sister flew in from Wales to be at his bedside. His
father was already in Los Angeles. The family owns a small grocery store
in the south of Wales. Pintor and his manager visited the critically
injured boxer and paid their respects to his family. After a week of
intensive care, Johnny Owen was still in a coma, somewhere between life