Almanac Boxing: Famechon – A Time and a Place.







The memory plays tricks. I’m sure we watched it. Maybe we didn’t? Maybe we listened on the radio and watched a replay on World Of Sport? I can’t recall. I’ve watched the grainy footage a few times over the years. The viewings blend into each other.


It was July 28, 1969. I was five and a half. The world was still big.


But I remember sitting on the lounge room floor. We had the blue indestructible nylon carpet back then. What a luxury – carpet. The old man must have had a good year. I was listening to the commentary; clipped and urgent. Ron Casey probably. Jimmy Carruthers was on special comments.


“And a left hook by Famechon, and another left, a right cross by Harada to the head – good punch – Famechon evades….”


I remember watching my old man too. His head was involuntarily shifting to the left and to the right, evading the imaginary punches, riding the fight with Fammo. He watched intently. Like he was standing in the ring with them.


I can see Fammo’s lethal left going to work. Like all orthodox boxers Fammo led with his left but used it as his weapon as well. It was the point scorer and the fight ender. Meanwhile his right hand sat perched under his chin as the last line of defence. The glove open outward like it was preparing to swat away flies. Unusual.


“And a left hook be Famechon”. And so it went.


Fighting Famechon would have been awkward. Like facing an orthodox boxer but dealing with a southpaw. And his evasion skills were legendary. In the fight with Harada in 1969 he was cornered several times but simply swayed and danced away as Harada threw haymakers at fresh air.


The fight went 15 rounds. Extraordinary. Fammo was the defending World Featherweight champion. Harada, the Japanese fighting legend, had come to Festival Hall in Sydney to take the title. The crowd was full of men in hats and cigarette smoke. Our lounge room was full of my brothers and our father who was feeling all of Fammo’s hardship.


Famechon knocked Harada over in the early rounds and was ahead on points as his left jab continually connected with Harada and opened up a cut above his right eye. But in Round 11 Harada landed a devastating over hand right that clipped Fammo on the point of the chin and sent him to the canvas. He bounced up. Remarkably the referee didn’t give him the 10 count. In Round 14 Fammo copped a bigger hit. Same punch – over hand right – more impact. This time his legs bowed; his head went back. He was splayed on the canvas like a drunk daddy-long-legs. Somehow, he got up. Harada closed in to finish it but was beaten by the bell. Famechon saw out Round 15 with his trainer, Ambrose Palmer, yelling out, “Stay away from him Johnny!” from the corner.


I remember the final bell ringing. Mayhem.


“Whooppphh” said the old man, taking a breath for the first time in an hour.


I remember men in hats and dark suits looking at score cards. The Japanese contingent seeking clarity.


“There could be a sensation here!” said Ron Casey. “It’s a draw! But there could be an error with the adding up!”


I remember Fammo had his dressing gown back on; a silk gown worn by the champions. He stood in the middle of the ring. He was smiling. Harada was surrounded by his corner, gown back on as well. He raised a gracious hand to the appreciative crowd. There was applause. Hats went in the air. It was some fight.


I remember Mum bringing fried ham and eggs into the loungeroom. But she quickly left. Boxing wasn’t her thing.


“I just can’t watch it.” She’d say.


I remember marvelling at the courage of these two men: Harada and Famechon. Fifteen rounds of combat. Fifteen rounds of endurance, concentration, mutual respect.


Famechon was given the nod 70 to 69. The boxing fraternity immediately clamoured for a rematch. It happened in Tokyo in January 1970. Famechon ended up punching Harada out of the ring to triumph. I’ve watched that one too.


After these fights my brothers and I would put our dressing gowns on, cover our hands with rolled up socks, and have our own World Championship fights on the back verandah. We were Fammo or Lionel Rose taking on the world. We danced around more than we fought. A sock covered fist hurts. Most fights ended in tears and red impact bruises on our chest.


A kid, an old television, and sporting immortality. The grainy film and the commentators saying “Let’s go back to the video disk” when replaying a round. The fried ham and eggs. We were all there. At home. And Johnny Famechon emerged victorious. A legend with the exotic French name who became an Australian icon. A gentleman from all reports. He anchors me to that time and that place.


Farewell Famo. RIP.



Read more from Dips O’Donnell Here


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About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. A fine tribute, old mate.

    RIP Famo.

    Fighting Harada. Has there ever been a better name for a boxer??

  2. The Japanese Tiger!

    He was an amazing boxer. Won titles in three divisions I believe?

    Cheers old Smoke.

  3. Wonderful memories of a time and a man. Thanks Dips. I was trying to rank the popularity of sporting codes in the 1960’s/70’s when we were growing up. I came up with footy/rugby league (depending on state); cricket; tennis; boxing; horse racing. The rest were a long way behind. Shows how much boxing destroyed itself with greedy promoters.
    I was 14 the day before Famechon’s Harada fight. I have clear memories of watching him as TV Ringside was a staple in our house – but not of specific fights like you. I marvelled at how the careers of Lionel Rose and Jean-Pierre Famechon intersected – particularly through Harada. Rose beat Harada at the Budokan (great Dylan live album) in Tokyo in February 1968 to take the World Bantamweight title. I have a clear memory of listening to that fight on a transistor radio in my bedroom as it was in our timezone. Ron Casey’s marvellous call.
    Famechon won the World Featherweight title in London in January 1969 against the Cuban Jose Legra. Not in our timezone so I’ve never seen it. Famechon defended the title 8x including the legendary fights against Harada you describe. Harada had gone up a weight division after the title loss to Rose. Harada won the Flyweight and Bantamweight world titles but never the Featherweight title due to the losses to Famechon.
    Fammo was one of the few smart fighters who “quit when he was hit” after losing to Vincente Salvidar in Rome in May 1970. Amazing to think they fought 15 rounders every 2-3 months in those days.
    Happily Masashiko “Fighting” Harada retired after the Tokyo loss to Fame in 1970 and is a healthy 79yo and President of the Japanese Boxing Association.
    Lionel Rose was not so fortunate, Defended his bantamweight title 6x over 18 months before getting knocked out by Ruben Olivares in LA in August 1969. Going up the weight divisions he fought 10 more times in 70/71 copping a lot of punishment and suffering 3 knockouts. He tried a comeback in 1975 but only won 2 of his final 6 fights.
    The contrasting lives show that success in the ring doesn’t always lead to success in life. You need both luck and knowing when to quit. Only Harada had both.

  4. Thanks PB. We didn’t get to know these athletes much such was the media at the time. They were just heroes. To viewers anyway. Then they went home to their lives and struggles. It was a different type of scrutiny.

  5. Daryl Schramm says

    I remember watching and following those fights. I was momentarily in that lounge room with you Damien, albeit a few years older. A lovely read.

  6. Good stuff PB. TV Ringside was a staple for our family in the late 60’s, into the 70’s. This was a golden era for Australian boxers. Johnny Famechon, Lionel Rose were both world champions, adored by the Australian community. But let’s not forget the records of others like Tony Mundine, Paul Ferreri, Rocky Mattiolli, all of whom challenged for world ranked belts.

    From my youth I have strong memories of Ambrose Palmer, Johnny Famechon’s trainer as well as a top notch boxer, and footballer in his youth. Day in, day out, you’d see Ambrose striding purposefully through the streets of West Footscray, Footscray and Maidstone. Despite his years Ambrose maintained this regime keeping himself fit and active.

    PB, Kostya Tzuyu was like Johnny Famechon, after his loss to Ricky Hatton he decided it was time to move on. As far as I’m aware he’s retained his health, his wealth, with his two sons now following in his footsteps in the ‘sweet science’.

    How horrible was if for some grub to run over Johnny Famechon, leaving for dead. But like the champion he was Johnny Famechon kept fighting. Now he’s gone but our memories of his marvellous career live on.

    Vale ‘Fammo’.


  7. roger lowrey says

    Brilliant stuff Dips.

    My undying memory of that bout is after the result where Ron Casey breathlessly calls “Johnny Famechon champion of the world!”.

    I mean, no room for such important Mitch Duncan type connectivity things as verbs. Some timed you just have to call it out as it is don’t you?!


  8. Kevin Densley says

    Fine, evocative piece, Dips. And a reminder of the popularity of boxing in the Australian society of our youth – we are around the same age. Your piece also reminds me that my father had a successful boxing career (before I was born) – he was a state amateur champion in the late 1950s, and as a kid one of things I remember was the stacks of boxing magazines around our house – I read them avidly.

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    Wonderful tribute Dips. I’ve read more than seen Famechon, but he was certainly someone very much that we as kids in the 80’s & 90’s knew all about. The glory days of boxing. There’s an occasional great moment now but love hearing about the days where that sport seemingly meant so much more.

  10. Thanks for the comments lads.

    Kevin – your father must have been a very good pugger. Being a State champion back then would have meant beating some serious fighters.

    Luke – it was the glory days of boxing. I think it was the glory days because it was as much about the evasion and skills of those in the ring as it was about the fight winning punch. Boxing was “beautiful” if it can be beautiful. Sadly, rogues, thieves and greed has severely damaged it.

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