Australian boxing legend Johnny Famechon has died in Melbourne, officials said. He was 77.
The Sport Australia Hall of Fame announced the former boxing world champion’s death on Thursday in a statement that also recognized his contribution to the sport.
“Johnny Famechon was one of the most popular Australian boxers of all time,” Sport Australia Hall of Fame chairman John Bertrand said. “Johnny was our humble, skillful world champion, showing the essence of how we see our heroes. He was described as poetry in motion, a master craftsman.”
He became champion of the world in January 1969 after emerging victorious in a hard-fought contest at Albert Hall in London over Cuban Jose Legra.
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Born Jean-Pierre Famechon in 1945, he moved to Australia from France with his family at the age of five.
Famechon was thrust into stardom at a young age, being the son of Andre, a French lightweight champion. His Uncle Ray was also a French and European featherweight champion. And the young boxer quickly earned his own title.
He started boxing professionally in June 1961 and never had an amateur debut.
Famechon lost that debut fight. His first major win and first title did not come for three years.
In 1964, at the age of 19, Famechon defeated Les Dunn for the Victorian featherweight title. Later that same year, he triumphed over Ollie Taylor, winning the national title.
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After winning the world championship in January, Famechon went on to defend the title against Japanese superstar Fighting Harada in July 1969 at Sydney Stadium. The bout ended with some controversy, however, as it was initially declared a draw but referee Willie Pep awarded it for Famechon.
Any controversy was put to rest when Famechon knocked out Harada during the 14th round of their rematch in Tokyo, just six months later.
The Australian retired from boxing after failing to defend his title in a match with Mexican Vicente Saldivar. He lost the close contest in London in May 1970. He did not fight again.
Famechon retired at age 24 with a professional record of 56 wins — 20 by knockout — six draws and five losses.
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He was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997, and the Australian Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003.
Later in life, Famechon was hit by a car, which caused a severe brain injury. The 1991 incident caused him to remain in a coma for 10 days but the boxer won that fight too, regaining consciousness and battling back from his injuries.
His recovery deepened the admiration of his fans.
Jeff Fenech, a three-time world champion and boxing Hall of Famer said what Famechon “did in the sport and what he did after it, it’s second to none, it’s legendary,” Boxing Junkie reported.
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“He was beautiful to watch, just so skillful. He was like Floyd Mayweather, one of those guys who hit and never got hit,” he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.