While meandering around the world wide web, I more often than not discover things written about myself, this website and/or people I know well, on countless websites, forums and social media accounts.
As regular readers of the Outlaw are undoubtably aware, the greater majority of what I read about myself (and this website and it’s patrons), and published by any number of those who believe themselves to be ‘Anonymous’, (but who’s identities are in fact known to me) and by those who have elected to post online without feeling the need to hide behind a fake identity …. is complete, unadulterated garbage.
One of the less offensive terms used to refer to me, and surprisingly is seen by some as being a somewhat derogatory and insulting term, is the word ‘Boyo’, which seems to some who reside in the south-east of England and Wigan and its environs to be side-splittingly funny, and is used in almost every reference they make to me.
The ‘Boyo’ moniker, is without doubt used by them because I hail from South Wales; a few short miles north of Cardiff, and despite a small assembled cast of uneducated morons’ insistance that ‘Boyo’ is a degrading and insulting term, it would be remiss of me if I did not attempt at least, to explain that where I come from …. it means something completely different.
In the South Wales valleys, the word ‘Boyo’ means ‘Little One’ or ‘Dear One’ and is reserved for those in the community who are highly respected, greatly admired and endeared by all the people fortunate enough to know them.
It’s usage became widespread outside of South Wales, due in no small part to it being the name given to Henry George ‘Boyo’ Rees, a name which was to become known throughout Welsh (and ultimately world) sporting history in the first half of the twentieth century.
‘Boyo’ Rees could fight you see, and fight extremely well – and by the spring of 1929, at the ripe old age of 17, he set out to make a name for himself in the toughest arena of all sporting achievements …. the square ring of the professional Prize Fighter.
From what I am able to acertain, there was no history of boxing in the Rees family, they were known as being gentle folk as opposed to bruisers, and apart from Boyo they were all physically big people posessed of a quiet, seemingly reserved disposition.
Boyo was a lightweight, posessed of a slim, but athletic appearance, and a compact powerhouse of pure pugilistic fury.
His grand-parents came to the village of Abercwmboi from the west of Wales sometime during the mid-1800’s, and like his father and brothers, Boyo worked in the local colliery, but unlike the rest of his family, found himself drawn towards the square rings which were plentiful in the pubs and clubs and town squares across South Wales, matching himself on a daily basis against all comers in the only activity that held any real interest for him.
It was a tough life, the training mainly consisted of participating in real fights against anyone who was prepared to have a go, regardless of their size and weight and their ability.
Photograph of Henry ‘Boyo’ Rees from my personal image collection
Boyo had no worries on that score, he was a naturally gifted fighter who possessed great natural instincts, and combined with the ferocious punching power he carried in each fist, he made a formidable opponent for anyone who stepped into the ring to face him.
It was a combination of these abilities, which he displayed in more than 300 known fights, that made him an idol among his own people as well as catching the eye of all of those who knew real potential when they saw it.
South Wales in those days, positively brimmed with fighting talent, and much of the talent that had emerged from the seething cauldron of activity that the coal mining valleys had become, went on to reach the very pinnacle of the sport.
Wales, especially in the south of the country, had become the Mecca of Boxing by the 1920’s and produced fighters of every weight, and boasted more British, Empire and World champions than any other country during that time.
Boyo’s Professional Boxing Licence, issued by the British Boxing Board of Control in 1929 was Number 38820, which shows that Rees was the thirty-eight thousand, eight hundred and twentieth boxer to receive a fight licence in Britain since it was set up in 1900.
That figure alone showed the staggering number of active professional fighters at the time, with a large proportion of those operating out of South Wales.
So to become a Welsh champion, as Boyo ultimately did, and to remain undefeated for a full ten years was no easy feat, and it certainly places him among the very best of his era, and a fighter that was a very much loved and respected figure wherever he went.
His first big contest was against the Belgian Champion Louis Saerens, whom he knocked out in the second round at the Victoria Hall, Nottingham, then before his home crowd in Mountain ash Pavilion he outpointed the well respected Nobby Baker of Trealaw, no doubt with one eye on what he considered to be his ultimate aim – the Welsh lightweight crown.
Along that road, however, lay the Northern lightweight champion Douglas Parker, who he mercilessly pounded to defeat over six bloody rounds in Bristol’s Colston Hall in December 1933, and George Reynolds of Wolverhampton and Young McManus of Plymouth, both of whom he easily beat that year.
By that time, he had fought the greater part of the best of the established boxers that were around, often knocking them out in the early rounds, and his victories kept coming until he was considered eligible to fight for the Welsh lightweight title, and before his home crowd too.
15,000 people packed the Mountain Ash Pavilion the night he stepped into the ring to face Billy Quinlan of Ammanford in October 1934, and from the first bell it was a furious affair right up until the ninth round, when Boyo’s favoured right hand caught Quinlan in the stomach, letting Boyo become what he had always wanted to be – a champion of his home country.
He did suffer a couple of set-backs when he was knocked out by the American Phil Zwick in the second round of their fight at Liverpool stadium, and shortly afterwards at the same venue, he lost to Jimmy Walsh of Chester. He recovered quickly though, and recorded sensational wins against Johnny Scullion of Newcastle, Ted Ferry of Bethnal Green, whom he knocked out of the ring in the fifth round causing Ferry to retire in the sixth, and Jimmy Thornton, also of Bethnal Green who he beat on points for the second time within a year.
Fighting so often also meant travelling considerable distances, and although he was doing well financially, he donated most of his prize money to charity, which endeared him to many people outside of Wales as well as at home, although he did raise a few eyebrows in Mountain Ash when he became one of the first people in the Cynon valley who owned a motor car, nobody could deny that he had earned it though.
During many of his fights, Boyo had to concede any advantage he had to opponents who were often much taller than he was, but he usually wore them down by his unrelenting levels of skilful aggression, and one of these bouts where this was very much on display, was against Alby Day of London, a top-of-the-bill fight at Smethwick Stadium.
Halfway through the fight he was well behind on points, but his onslaught during the final two rounds was such, that there was nearly a riot when the judge declared the fight a draw, when it was clear to almost everyone who witnessed the fight, that Boyo had won with relative ease.
Boyo always fought well, very hard, very often for charitable causes and almost always brought the watching crowds to their feet with his demoniac punching rates, and became a guaranteed ‘crowd puller’ whenever his name appeared on a fight poster.
Later in his career he recorded victories over the great Jamaican, known as ‘His Satanic Majesty’, ‘Lefty’ Flynn, Billy Hardy of Barrow, Bert Taylor of Birmingham and Robert Disch the Dutch lightweight champion. In what was probably his greatest fight, Boyo was narrowly outpointed by Canadian Danny Webb over eight rounds at Bristol.
Webb, who only a week earlier had defeated the former world flyweight champion Jackie Paterson from Glasgow, had an impeccable pedigree. He was considered the best lightweight around, yet could not get close enough to the hard-punching south Walian to make an impression.
The verdict of the fight was a surprise, however, and was accompanied by loud booing from the crowd, as Webb was awarded the decision despite his wild, innacurate swings which were countered masterfully with lefts and rights from Boyo, tactics which had by all accounts, easily won him the fight.
Abercwmboi, Mountain Ash in the 1920s
Boyo was disconsolate afterwards, and for good reason and it was also the only time he had lost a fight at the Colston Hall.
Towards the end of his remarkable fighting career, Boyo fought the man who was considered to be the greatest lightweight in the world at the time, the original ‘Fen Tiger’ Eric Boon of Chatteris, Cambridgeshire.
By all contemporary accounts, the fight was a complete farce, and everyone in attendance at the Mountain Ash Pavilion that night, spoke of how after being counted out in the middle of the fight, Boyo, who was resting on one knee, got up at the same time the referee said “Out!”, winked to his corner and then grinned as he sat down.
The entire population of Mountain Ash remained suspicious of the result of the fight, and believed Boyo did not even attempt to fight, and their scepticism did not diminish when immediately following that fight, Boyo beat the great Jake Kilrain at the Town Hall, Leeds, over 11 rounds, and the much-fancied Peter Clarke of Liverpool a few days later.
*It emerged sometime later that Boon had requested the fight as a stepping-stone to the world title*
The second world war saw the end of Boyo’s career in the ring, and having fought so often for various charities, he was not a wealthy man but did have a comfortable retirement until his death in 1955, aged only 43.
Huge crowds gathered in the streets of Mountain Ash to pay their respect to the undefeated lightweight champion of Wales.
So many had turned up that extra police were drafted in to control them.
As his coffin was carried from his home at 34 Dover Street, many sports personalities were spotted watching the procession – from the Boxing world Jimmy Wilde, Jack Petersen and Dai Dower, countless other sportsmen and many civic dignitaries.
All had come to pay their respects to a man who had given so much of himself to others, his fight against Jake Kilrain alone had raised £1000 for charity, which would have made him a wealthy man had he kept the purse for himself.
Boyo Rees scorned wealth and it’s trappings. He fought for the pleasure of it and for the obvious pleasure his God-given ability in the square ring brought to those who had the privilege of watching him ply his trade.
Despite his relatively small stature, he was a ‘giant’ not only among the legendary sportsmen produced by the notoriously tough coal-producing areas of South Wales, but by almost everyone who knew of him …. and his name, like everything else he achieved, will be remembered with fondness for generations to come.
So, can I assure you that being referred to as ‘Boyo’, by a few knuckleheads, in a world so full of personal hatred, spite and jealousy as this one has become over the last few years – is a rare honour indeed and I embrace it wholeheartedly ….