BACK in November 1979, Merthyr Tydfil’s Johnny Owen travelled to London to stop Paddy Maguire inside 11 rounds and take home the British bantamweight title. It was a belt Owen would proudly parade around Merthyr Tydfil and one he would then go on to successfully defend on three occasions. Now, 43 years on, another boxer from Merthyr Tydfil prepares to travel to London in pursuit of a British title. This time the boxer is Commonwealth lightweight champion Gavin Gwynne and this time, in what will be his third attempt at the British title, he must overcome the threat of Luke Willis at York Hall, Bethnal Green on April 15.

“I think it’s destiny,” Gwynne told Boxing News. “I recently went and sold tickets to [former European champion from Merthyr] Eddie Thomas’ boy, Geraint Thomas, and he was saying Johnny won the title up in London as well, so I just think it’s destiny.

“It’s also third time lucky. I fell short against a great fighter in Joe Cordina, who’s going to go on and win a world title, I believe, and I fell short against James Tennyson, who is another great fighter who boxed for two world titles. They were both beyond British title level, I feel, and this is my time now.”

In addition to emulating Owen, Gwynne, when gracing the ring of York Hall, will be emulating another of his boxing’s heroes, albeit one less obvious.

“To be headlining at the famous York Hall is something special,” he said. “I always said I wanted to box at York Hall because one of my favourite fighters, Johnny Tapia, got to fight there [in 2002].

“I would have loved to have seen Tapia box in person. He was a great fighter; a great entertainer. That’s something I have tried to put in my boxing style as well. I try to entertain the crowd and give them value for money. They are spending their hard-earned cash to support me and I really want to put on a show for them.”

Rather than haunted by his unsuccessful British title shots, Gwynne finds himself instead motivated by them. He has taken lessons from a 2019 points defeat against Joe Cordina, as well as from a sixth-round stoppage loss against James Tennyson, and used these to become a more rounded fighter, one who last year defeated the unbeaten Sean McComb and the 11-1 Jack O’Keefe in impressive fashion. Now, at 31, and at the third time of asking, Gwynne feels he is ready to become British lightweight champion.

“I had a really close fight with Cordina,” he recalled. “There were only a few rounds in it. I started slowly, probably because I’d never boxed on a stage like that before. It was on the [Vasiliy] Lomachenko [vs Luke Campbell] bill and I suffered some nerves as a result. I didn’t get going until round five and was then playing catch up. I think if I started faster, it would have been a lot closer. I also think Cordina is 10 times the fighter Luke Willis is.

“With Tennyson, I was winning that fight. Even Eddie Hearn [Tennyson’s promoter] had me winning. But it was just his punch power that got to me in the end. He had so much power.”

On paper at least, the prospect of meeting Willis – unbeaten at 11-0 (1), yet largely unproven – for the British title appears a far more palatable one than meeting the likes of Cordina or Tennyson for the same belt. Moreover, Gwynne, given all his experience, knows it requires more than an unbeaten record to faze him at this stage.

“Willis is my fourth unbeaten opponent, so I’m not new to fighting these unbeaten fighters,” he said. “I’ve always said I’m an old-school fighter. A throwback. I’ll fight anyone. I don’t care about records. I think if you’re a fighter you’ll fight anybody.

“You get some of these fighters who go to 15-0 or 20-0 without fighting anybody. When I turned over, I never wanted to be one of those fighters. I wanted to fight the best and try to test myself. I think I’ve done that and I’ve only got better since those defeats. I’ve improved since then, as you can see in my last couple of performances.

“It gets you up for training more, too, because you know how painful a defeat feels and you don’t want to experience that feeling again. You put a bit more into training and a bit more into everything. I think a defeat makes you a better all-round fighter, to be honest.”

As for Willis, his next opponent, Gwynne, 14-2 (3), said: “I watched him live against Rylan Charlton and that was a tough night’s work for him. Charlton was just walking after him and throwing nothing but that still gave him problems. I think I’m a 10 times better fighter than Charlton, if I’m honest.

“He’s a decent fighter, Willis. He’s a boxer-mover; a slick southpaw. Other than that, I don’t really know a lot about him. My trainer has been going over the game plan with me and I know what needs to be done. He’s not a perfect fighter by any means and I’m going to try to exploit his mistakes.”

Should these mistakes in Willis’ game be exploited, Gwynne will not only become British champion at the third attempt but will also be able to deliver to his hometown something they haven’t seen since the tragic demise of their favourite fighting son.

“All that’s in my head is a win,” said Gwynne. “I just imagine my hand being raised and hearing the words, ‘Still the Commonwealth champion and now the new British champion.’ I’ll be out running and I get so emotional thinking about that. It goes over and over in my head constantly. I’ll be the first person from Merthyr to bring the title back since Johnny Owen and that’s a bit of history in itself, isn’t it?”