WHEN Australia’s greatest ever boxing trainer Johnny Lewis made a comparison between his talented young boxer Harry Garside and the legendary former world champion Johnny Famechon earlier this year he knew the gravity of his words.
“When I compared Harry’s defensive skills and movement to the way that Fammo danced around the ring I was paying him the greatest compliment I could ever pay him in his life,” says Lewis.
“For any boxer to be compared to Johnny Famechon is the absolute pinnacle of being appreciated. Fammo was a superstar both inside and outside the ring.”
Famechon’s silky boxing skills and freakish defensive craftsmanship will live on forever within the fabric of Australian boxing and, while comparing eras can be problematic, the great Jeff Fenech has no doubt as to Famechon’s place in the sport’s global history.
“Fammo was Floyd Mayweather before there was a Floyd. He was an absolute master defensive boxer,” says Fenech.
“Nothing ever made me prouder than when my name was mentioned alongside Johnny Famechon and Lionel Rose. And remember Fammo was fighting in the 1960s where you fought every couple of months and got no luxuries – the toughest era of all.”
If there was a Mount Rushmore for Australian boxing Johnny Famechon’s trademark smile would be on it.
The master boxer entered sporting folklore when he became the WBC Featherweight World Champion and lineal featherweight champ by defeating phenomenal Cuban Jose Legra in London in 1969.
It was a performance that ignited major interest in the sport inspired a generation of fighters including fellow world champion Barry Michael.
“Winning the title from Legra was an unbelievable achievement and was an underdog victory the whole world took notice of,” says Michael.
“Fammo was an absolute inspiration. He was the epitome of hit and not get hit and he really did change the game for boxing in Australia as well as motivating people from all backgrounds. He was a legend.”
Japanese all-time great Fighting Harada, featherweight star Johnny Famechon and Lionel Rose, the first Indigenous Australian world champion, on an Australian golf course in 1975.
(📸 Anton Cermak) pic.twitter.com/mh3a8D1LPf
— Boxing History (@BoxingHistory) July 28, 2022
The French-born Famechon received the ‘Keys to the City’ upon his return to Melbourne after beating Legra for the belt and now Michael, Fenech and Lewis are leading the call for the Victorian Government to recognise his passing with a State Funeral.
“He was an immigrant who turned up in Melbourne at five years old with his dad and changed the country and inspired a generation. There’s no greater achievement than that and nobody more deserving of the honour of a State Funeral,” says Michael.
Famechon was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997, was honoured with a bronze statue in his adopted hometown of Frankston in Victoria and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) this year for service to boxing.
“Fammo would not be out of place receiving any honour, whether during his life or now. There have been some massive figures who were given State Funerals in the past and I’m sure not one of them would have objected to the great Johnny Famechon joining the list. He was a superstar and a super guy too.”
The passing of Famechon at age 77 has been met with sadness throughout the boxing world, with WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman describing his organisation’s former champion as an “icon”.
However Famechon’s greatest victory wasn’t his title win against Legra, or the pair of defences against Japanese great Fighting Harada, but rather his return to relatively normal life after suffering brain injury and a stroke when struck by a car at Warwick Farm in Sydney in 1991. He was in a coma for ten days.
“What he did in the ring was amazing – it doesn’t get any bigger than when he knocked out Harada in Japan in their second fight – but what he overcame after his accident and being in a coma to still be the happiest, most lovely bloke in any room. That’s his greatest achievement,” says Fenech.
“They say the word ‘champion’ a lot in boxing but it’s one thing to be a champion for being a great boxer which he obviously was but he was a champion for being an amazing human. Fammo was a champion in life.”
Words: Ben Damon/Follow Ben on Twitter