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.

  11. Hayden Kelly says

    Great tribute to a champion in and out of the ring . My 1st memories of boxing go back to being allowed to stay up later than usual on a Friday night to listen to the boxing on a Friday night on the radio brought to you by Score Hair Cream from Festival Hall . I assume Score were trying to take market share from Brylcreem and California Poppy .
    It was 6pm closing days so my old man and his mates would adjourn to the parlour in the family hotel and bet on the fights whilst playing cribbage . I can recall Aldo Pravisani ,Max Carlos ,Kimpo Amarfio and Georgie Bracken as my favourites . I think they may have all won Australian titles . George was very popular as he could also sing and made a few records . He also earned a quid on the side by refereeing and presenting trophies at Police Youth Club boxing nights . It was a big thrill for me when i was maybe 8 to be presented with a winners trophy by George after i won a fight at the Charlton Town Hall . The kid I defeated couldn’t have been much of a pugilist .
    Simpler and arguably better times to grow up in . Thanks for bringing back some memories Dips .

  12. Fabulous memories Hayden. I recall my father talking about George Bracken? Can’t remember the other names though. Way before my time!!

    So you were the 8 year old champion of Charlton? Brilliant.

  13. Hayden Kelly says

    Hardly a champion . I won my 1st 2 fights convincingly which was probably due to ability of my handlers J N Hommelhoff the Wycheproof butcher and Frank Mannix the local copper to pick a an easy opponent . I still have nightmares 60 years on about my 3rd and last fight . I fought an indigenous kid from St Arnaud called Barry Rafferty . Over the course of 2 and a half rounds Barry hit me everywhere except for the roof of my mouth and the souls of my feet .J N threw the towel in half way through the 3rd round and fair dinkum
    I could have kissed him when he did . I promptly retired .
    Later played representative footy with Barry and then to complete the circle he worked for me at Telstra . The 1st day he walked in I recognised him and hid under my desk in my office .Only joking Barry was a good fellow despite attempting to murder me many years ago .

  14. 2 forgotten names that stick in my mind from the TV Ringside era are Hector Thompson and Alberto Jangalay, The Monday night Festival Hall were the pathway to State, National, Commonwealth and eventually World Title fights (for a very select few). We saw all the greats go through the grades.
    Hector Thompson was a lightweight/welterweight (bigger than Famechon and Rose) indigenous boxer who fought twice for World Titles. He lost to the great Roberto Duran in his home country of Panama. “Hands of Stone” Duran went on to fight Sugar Ray Leonard in a memorable series of title fights including the famous “No Man” (“no more”) bout.
    Hector was the most ferocious “pound for pound” puncher I ever saw. He lost to Duran on a TKO, but put him in hospital with a broken rib. The dark side of boxing in those days is that Hector’s punches killed 2 men in the ring (Rocko Spanja in 1970 and Chuck Wilburn in 1976) on the way to the title.
    Alberto Jangalay is one of those names and sportsmen that just stuck in my mind. He was from the Philippines and a lot of Asian and African boxers came short term for the prize money. Alberto had a low hands walk up and take the punishment style – before wearing down or knocking out opponents. We would watch new fighters and predict how many fights they could go before “meeting their mark” and dropping out. Much like in horse racing (early seeds of my destruction).
    Alberto was always bleeding and copping enormous punishment before wearing opponents out. He went far
    further than we ever predicted – even fighting future world champions – but with deadly consequences. South African Anthony Sithole (quaintly given the ring name “Kid Snowball in Australia) knocked him out permanently in a fight in Brisbane in 1971.
    Boxing was a deadly game in those days.

  15. Fabulous memories Hayden and PB.

    Hayden anyone with the courage to step into the ring has my admiration. I never had a bout as such but when I was young the footy team I was with had a bloke come down from the top end to try out. We had training “bouts” for fitness and to sharpen our reflexes. I was teamed up with him. He sat me on my backside almost at will. I couldn’t see where the punches were coming from.

    PB – I remember Hector Thompson. And Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous (one L) Marvin Hagler were just brilliant to watch. For different reasons. I don’t recall Alberto Jangalay. Sounds like he fought a bit like Dave Sands.

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