Sunday, March 15, 2015

Book Review: Reaching For the Stars: The Howard Winstone Phenomenon

The Sunday Book Review by Peter Silkov
 “Reaching For the Stars: The Howard Winstone Phenomenon. In And Out Of the Ring “   By Brian Hughes

 “If I could find a boxer as good as Howard Winstone, I would make millions. He’s the nearest I have seen to the great Willie Pep. -Angelo Dundee”

Howard Winstone
“Reaching For the Stars: The Howard Winstone Phenomenon. In And Out Of the Ring “ is a lovingly put together biography of Welsh featherweight boxing legend Howard Winstone. Perhaps no British boxer since the WW2 has mastered the art of the sweet science to such an extent as Winstone. He was quite simply, a wizard with the jab, and had a marvelous defence.  Winstone could also fight on the inside and could go toe-to-toe when he needed.  In fact, Winstone was as close as a fighter can be to being a complete boxer. His only deficit at world class level was a lack of a true knockout punch and this was due directly to an industrial accident he suffered as a teenager that cost him the tips of the fingers on his right hand. The fact that Winstone was able to adapt his style after such a serious injury, and turn himself from an aggressive brawler, into a highly skilled boxer with a rapier left hand, is a testament to his courage and dedication.

Born on April 15, 1939, in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, Howard Winstone fell in love with boxing at an early age and was already a highly regarded amateur before he injured his right hand. Ironically, after his accident, Winstone was to transform himself into an even more formidable fighter; a master boxer.  Winstone won a commonwealth gold medal at bantamweight in the 1958 Cardiff Games. He then turned professional in 1959, for what would be an illustrious 9-year career, that would see him posting a record of 61(27koes)-6.

Howard Winstone and Vicente Saldivar
Winstone fought at a time when world titles usually belonged to one person and one person only. He also fought at a time when the Featherweight division was over flowing with outstanding talent, both at home, and abroad. Despite this, it is probable that Winstone would have dominated the division, and had a substantial reign as world featherweight champion, save for one man who stood in his way, that being the legendary Mexican, Vicente Saldivar.  Saldivar was a boxer-fighter of the highest degree, and during the mid-1960s, Winstone (who was by now the British and European champion) challenged Saldivar three times for the world featherweight crown. Although he lost all three fights, Winstone and Saldivar’s rivalry has gone down in boxing lore as one of the greatest ever seen in the featherweight division’s history.

Author Brian Hughes gives us a great portrait of Howard, both as a man, and as a fighter. This was someone who loved to box, but was uninterested in the trappings of fame and celebrity. When he was out-pointed by Saldivar in their second contest, despite many thinking he had done enough to win, Winstone refused to be bitter about the defeat.

Hughes takes us through Winstone’s life and boxing career, follows his early amateur days, overcoming the severe injury to his right hand, and his rise up the professional ranks. Winstone’s trilogy with Saldivar is written in great detail, from the build-ups, to the fights themselves, and the aftermath.  We also get an insight into how the sacrifices that a dedicated boxer has to make can affect his personal life.  By the time Winstone met Saldivar for the third and final time, his marriage was falling apart, at least partly due to his dedication to his boxing career.

Howard Winstone
Winstone did eventually win the World featherweight title, following the retirement of Saldivar, but his world title reign was almost anticlimactic. The wars with Saldivar had drained him and he was visibly not the boxer he had been.  Winstone held the title for just six months before losing it in his first defence, and never fighting again.

This book is a fascinating analysis of Winstone’s life, primarily his life as a boxer, and the highs and lows which he experienced, both in and out of the ring. We see clearly the price that boxers have to pay for their dedication to their trade. Also, the different effects of victory and defeat and how Winstone built a reputation as a modest and gentlemanly boxer who was admired by all who came into contact with him.

Howard Winstone
Taking into account Winstone’s ability as a boxer and his gentlemanly personality outside of the ring, it is surprising that he did not have more recognition from the boxing world in his retirement. Unfortunately, Winstone seems to have been more or less forgotten by most of the boxing world outside of Wales by the time of his death in 2001, at the age of 61. It seems to be a cruel oversight that a boxer of Winstone’s brilliance is so seldom talked about today.

The cover of this biography carries a quote from legendary boxing trainer Angelo Dundee regarding his views upon Winstone’s fistic ability:

“If I could find a boxer as good as Howard Winstone, I would make millions. He’s the nearest I have seen to the great Willie Pep.”

“Reaching For the Stars: The Howard Winstone Phenomenon. In And Out Of the Ring “ is a carefully crafted biography, which should go a long way to restoring the name Howard Winstone to the minds of today’s boxing followers. This is also a chance to relive the days in boxing when the best fought the best, and to be world champion you really needed to be the best.

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to 

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