Johnny Famechon was one of the most popular and skilled Australian boxers of all time, but it was a brutal accident outside the ring that proved his incredible toughness and gracious spirit.
Jean-Pierre “Johnny” Famechon, 77, has died in Melbourne, leaving behind a reputation as a master craftsman who helped to popularize the sport in Australia.
With silky defensive skills, Famechon was nicknamed “poetry in motion” and his deft craftsmanship exemplified why boxing could be called the sweet science.
Famechon’s greatest life challenge came not in the ring but in recovering from being hit by a car near Sydney’s Warwick Farm racecourse in 1991. He was in a coma for 10 days.
Famechon suffered Acquired Brain Injury and a major stroke but two years after the accident started a special rehabilitation program that returned him to near full health.
“It was a tough time but I am back on track,” he once told News Corp. “I have led a great life and I am thankful for all of it. You have to take the tough times as well. I have seen some incredible things in Australia and abroad.”
He did indeed.
After moving to Australia from France with his family at the age of five, Famechon stayed with his father after his mother and younger brother Christian moved back to France a couple of years later.
Despite never fighting as an amateur, he boxed professionally for over 20 years for 56 wins, six draws and five losses. He retired at age 24 saying “I had had so many fights enough was enough.”
Fellow world champion Jeff Fenech said he received a Christmas card from the featherweight champion every year.
“He lived a great life,” Fenech told Ben Fordham on 2BG. “He never failed to send me a Christmas card and every time I saw him we would laugh and joke. He was such a beautiful man. On top of his legendary boxing record as a human he was second to none.
“He was the perfect boxing chess match player. He would hit but he never got hit. After his accident everything was about living life to the full.”
Fellow boxing champion Barry Michael has called for Victoria to give Famechon a state funeral.
“As a kid living in housing commission and seeing Fammo win a world title it was so inspiring to me and many others,” Michael said.
“I believe a state funeral would be appropriate because of the sportsman and the man he was.
“He was an idol back then. There was always talk of him fighting Lionel Rose, but they were great mates and were never going to fight each other.
“He was super slick, a defensive genius. You couldn’t hit him but he was a pretty good puncher as well. Twenty five percent of his wins were knockouts. “After the accident he was a different person but he was quite cheeky as he would occasionally say things which were not politically correct.
“Prior to the accident he was the quietest, most humble man. He was a student of the game.”
His career contained some memorable golden studs such as his epic world title win against Cuban Jose Legra at London’s Albert Hall in 1969.
The magnitude of the win was such that he received the Keys To The City of Melbourne on returning to Australia and was made the King of Moomba in 1970, a sign of his status as a genuine Australian sporting superstar.
The last fight of his career was a close points loss to the Mexican Vicente Saldivar in Rome, a loss he never quite got over.
In photos after the judge’s decision he wore a beret which was a special gift from a fan.
“I saw a guy a few days before the fight and I told him how much I liked that cap,” he said.
“He told me if I won the fight he would give it to me. I saw him after the fight and he gave it to me and said “this is your mate… you won.
“But I have no complaints. I enjoyed my career.”
Originally published as World Boxing Champion Johnny Famechon passes away