Wales Online

The story of 'Newport's Rocky', the boxer who nearly became a world champion

Wales Online logo Wales Online 17/09/2020 13:54:23 Ryan O'Neill

On June 9, 2018, a statue to the late Newport boxer David 'Bomber' Pearce was unveiled in front of hundreds of onlookers in the city centre.

As journalists and boxing fanatics gathered on the edge of the River Usk on that sunny afternoon, it was the culmination of years of campaigning to spread the legacy of an athlete who, despite being a local hero, had largely gone unrecognised in wider quarters.

Since his premature death in 2000, aged just 41, family members and campaigners of David 'Bomber' Pearce had been trying to have a statue built to commemorate a man to whom luck had dealt many a harsh blow, with scuppered attempts at becoming a world champion and a career cruelly cut short.

a person sitting on the floor: David Pearce in action against Belgian boxer Al Syben © PA Archive/PA ImagesDavid Pearce in action against Belgian boxer Al Syben

Born on May 8, 1959, David Pearce grew up in Pillgwenlly with his seven brothers - six of whom would go on to box professionally, with the other, Simon, becoming a professional dancer - and his two sisters.

It was through his eldest brother Walter 'Bimbo' Pearce that David found his passion for the ring.

"Bimbo was the oldest and was moving through the amateur ranks at the time, and so he used to take David with him," says Luke Pearce, RAF Commissioned Officer and David's nephew.

"David was fighting guys aged 10, 11, when he was eight. Everyone knew then he had something special."

Moving through the amateur ranks himself, David eventually turned professional in 1978, aged 19. Here, he drew attention for a string of sensational wins over highly-tipped boxers including future world light-heavyweight champion Dennis Andries.

In 1983, aged 23, David became British heavyweight champion, stopping Neville Meade, a former heavyweight champion who had conquered him three years earlier, in nine rounds in St David's Hall in Cardiff.

To this day, he remains Newport's only British heavyweight champion and, combined with attaining the cruiserweight number one ranking, the victory gave him a shot at a coveted European title.

But the lead-up to the fight against Lucien Rodriguez, a three-time European champion, was a disaster.

"David had to sleep on an airport bench in Heathrow; when they got to Limoges in France, where the fight was being held, no one had booked him a hotel, so he ended up sleeping under a railway covering," Luke says.

a statue of a person in a park: The bronze statue of boxer David 'Bomber' Pearce which was erected on June 9, 2018 near the Usk River in Newport © Luke PearceThe bronze statue of boxer David 'Bomber' Pearce which was erected on June 9, 2018 near the Usk River in Newport

At the time, David had also had a scan which revealed an abnormality on his brain, a setback which would ultimately put a stop to his career.

"He had been told that it was something he was born with, and that he was at no greater risk than any other boxer," Luke says.

"He had all this going on in his head with the scan, and the family had no money coming in. They had to take the fight."

The fight itself would also go down in history; Rodriguez took several long counts after some aggressive fighting from his opponent, but the fight was eventually awarded to Rodriguez 115-114 on the referee's card.

Had the decision gone his way, David would have been in line to fight Larry Holmes for the WBC Heavyweight World title, and would have become the first Welsh person to do so since Tommy Farr more than 40 years earlier.

Frank Bruno et al. posing for the camera: David Pearce (furthest right) with heavyweight boxers Gilberto Acuna, Tunji Banjo and Frank Bruno © mirrorpixDavid Pearce (furthest right) with heavyweight boxers Gilberto Acuna, Tunji Banjo and Frank Bruno

David continued fighting inside and outside the ring; after the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC) removed his licence due to the abnormality in his brain, he tried to keep his career going in the US, but fights against former champion Leon Spinks and future champion Buster Douglas fell through at the last minute.

"David was passed fit to fight Spinks, and it was pulled at 24 hours' notice. Then, against Buster, it was cancelled at three hours' notice while he was warming up in the changing room," says Luke.

David's career was cruelly cut short, as he was medically retired in 1984, at the age of 24.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that he was never able to properly fight in his right division - cruiserweight - which was not recognised by the BBBoC until a year after his retirement.

"He was born in the wrong era. If he'd fought in the '60s or '70s, he'd have been the same size as everybody. He had massive power, so over 15 rounds he'd have got to them," Luke says.

"If he'd fought a couple of years later, he'd have fought in his right division. Even though he was number one in the world, the BBBoC wouldn't recognise it. That's why people say he was the unluckiest boxer of all time.

"If he'd had four more years to fight in his prime, who knows what he would've done. He did it at British and European level, and he never gave up on a chance at a world title, while there was a glimmer of hope."

On May 20, 2000, David tragically passed away aged 41 from sudden adult death syndrome (SADS). His funeral at Stow Hill cemetery was attended by around 2,000 people.

David clearly had pride for his home city; as part of his training, he used to run in Belle Vue Park and up the steps of the Transporter Bridge. He later coached junior and senior boxers at Alway boxing gym before his death.

The family lived in Somerton for a time, where David got to mix with the likes of John Aldridge and other stars who were lining out for Newport County AFC at the time.

"He actually used to train at Somerton Park with the players. Some of them have since said he was the fittest guy they ever met," says Luke, who played an instrumental role in the campaign to fund David's bronze statue in Newport.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Luke with the bronze statue of his uncle © Luke PearceLuke with the bronze statue of his uncle

Luke has been putting together a website for David to continue the celebration of his legacy, and this Saturday at 9am he has organised a walk from the statue in Newport to St David's Hall to raise funds for the David 'Bomber' Pearce Legacy charity which raises funds for amateur sport.

"He was a friendly giant, a legend of the city who I looked up to. He was really proud of his achievements, and Newport was really important to him," he says fondly.

"He was a world level fighter who was very unfortunate in his career. He was a pure gentlemen with the heart of a lion who never gave up."

17. syyskuuta 2020 16:54:23 Categories: Wales Online

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