David Pearce came from a renewed South Wales boxing family. His dad boxed, and six of the seven Pearce siblings became professionals – but everyone could see David had a special talent.
Bomber: Newport’s Rocky, the concluding part of the BBC Wales documentary series Mavericks: Sport’s Lost Heroes, did a good job of explaining Pearce’s humble origins on the tough streets of Pill in Newport.
Following his 1978 pro debut, which he won by a knockout in a matter of seconds, his dedication, determination and bravery soon had him marked out as a rising star of the UK boxing scene.
In September 1983, ‘The Bomber’ blitzed reigning British heavyweight champion Neville Meade in a blockbuster title fight which ended with Pearce’s fellow Welshman out for the count, held up only by the ropes.
Newport’s favourite son looked set on the path to stardom and world title challenges when he was given some devastating news.
While preparing to fight for the European title, a routine brain scan revealed an abnormality which was to ultimately end his career in the ring.
In the meantime, Pearce kept training and flew to France in 1984 to meet Lucien Rodriguez. He fought bravely but lost, having suffered a hand injury in the build-up and slept rough the night before the bout because no-one had booked him a hotel.
He then received confirmation that the British Boxing Board of Control were removing his licence – a decision he fought, getting ‘second’ opinions from no less than 14 consultants – but it was one he could not overturn.
As one member of his family said in the documentary: “He couldn’t let go, [boxing] was his life.”
Deprived of his livelihood, and having spent all his money on battling the board’s ban, Pearce fell into depression, and then began exhibiting the signs of epilepsy and Alzheimer’s presaged by that scan. He died in May 2000, aged 41, at his home in Newport.
The Welsh boxer had 22 professional fights, winning 17 of those, with 13 knockouts, losing four and drawing one. More than 2,000 people came to say their last goodbyes on the day of his funeral.
His nephew Luke wanted to keep pay tribute to his uncle’s life and launched a campaign to pay for a bronze statue of ‘Newport’s Rocky’. It ended up raising £61,000, and the sculpture now stands by the river in the city.
With vivid and touching testimonials from his family and friends, this emotional 30-minute programme reflects the emotion and passion that still surrounds Pearce’s name, and the impact he had in his community – an impact that keeps his memory alive.