Eddie Thomas (1927-97) was a boxer of substance whose pursuit of titles captivated Wales, but who went on to even greater glory as a trainer and manager.
In his early years the Merthyr man, combined working down the mines with an outstanding amateur career that began in his hometown’s ex-serviceman’s club.
A razor-sharp left jab took him to the ABA lightweight title in 1946 and made him a hot prospect when he turned professional later that year.
The Welshman took the British welterweight title from Henry Hall in 1949, then – on 13 September, 1950 – defended against local boy Cliff Curvis at St Helen’s, Swansea, in the first British title fight held between two Welshmen in Wales.
Thomas had his jaw dislocated in the fourth round, but it was re-set and the valleys man went on to a deserved points victory, a decision that infuriated the local crowd.
The Empire and European belts were added to his collection in 1951 following wins over Pat Patrick and Michele Palermo, but he lost the European crown four months later to Charles Humez in Porthcawl.
The Humez bout was a world-title eliminator, and the occasion had seemed too much for the champion.
Thomas controversially lost his British title to Wally Thom in October 1951, a defeat that also cost him a Lonsdale Belt.
That opponent would come back to haunt Thomas later in his career when the Merthyr man was training and managing Howard Winstone.
Thom was a referee by this point, and it was he who awarded the controversial decision against Winstone in the Welshman’s second world title challenge against Vicente Saldivar.
After the loss to Thom, Thomas’s career never again reached the heights.
Injuries kept him sidelined for long periods, while he endured weight problems and took time to build his mining career. After some indifferent results, he retired in 1954.
Thomas would put his boxing nous and experience to great use as a trainer and manager, though, guiding the likes of Winstone and Ken Buchanan to world titles, and others like Colin Jones and Eddie Avoth to major belts.
In 1971 Thomas was responsible for one of the most lauded pieces of corner work in ring history, during Buchanan’s first defence of his world lightweight title against Ismael Laguna at Madison Square Garden.
The champion was caught under his problem left eye at the start of the second round and the injury immediately began to swell into a grotesque bulb.
In the corner, Thomas told Buchanan to hold onto the ropes as he slit the lump with a razor blade, releasing an obscene amount of blood onto the Garden’s famous canvas.
Hiding the injury from the referee when he came to check on the bloodied champ, Thomas was able to buy his man time, Buchanan capitalising to claim a famous 15-round points win.
The scarlet-splattered incident was the inspiration for one of the most famous scenes in the Rocky movie.
Despite such brutally deft corner work, relationships between Thomas and his fighters were often far from harmonious.
There were frequent arguments over cash, and many felt that – as a promoter – the Welshman could be exploited by some of the major players from London.
Until his death in 1997, though, Thomas remained a stalwart of the Welsh fight scene, a prominent businessman, and a local politician as Mayor of Merthyr.