They were a Newport family of seven brothers who were all successful boxers with another finding fame on the West end stage. But the career of one was to brush with greatness before ending tragically. MARTIN WADE tells the story of David ‘Bomber’ Pearce and his boxing brothers.

The inspiration for this Newport boxing dynasty was the eldest brother Walter 'Bimbo' Pearce, who won five amateur titles, from Light Welterweight to Heavyweight, including beating four British champions in bouts during the ABA exile. In more than 122 bouts as a schoolboy, junior, youth and senior he fought international opponents notably Andrew Bonniface, Trevor Kerr, Gary Blanks, Trevor Lewis, Steve Symons, Cliff Fields, Philip Gethin and Mike Pembridge.

Bimbo represented Wales and claimed the WABA Heavyweight title in 1973 at the age of 19 before turning professional and defeating the Light Heavyweight Central Champion also in the same year.

Luke Pearce, a relative of the Pearce family, says ‘Bimbo’ set the bar for the rest of the brothers and was to be their inspiration. "All the other brothers looked up to him" he says.

Bimbo himself was taught by his father Wally Pearce, a boxing booth fighter who often fought at Shaftesbury Park fairground booth. He also won the Army Boxing Championship.

Gary Pearce fought for the Welterweight, and Light Middleweight Titles. He narrowly lost to the European champion the Dane Hans Henrick Palm, even knocking the champion to the floor in the 7th round in his home country. He became Welsh Light Middleweight Champion in 1981.

One of Gary's fights typifies the courage showed by his brothers in the ring. He was at a boxing show as a spectator when the promoter Frank Warren asked if he would fight the No.1 ranked British Welterweight Gary Knight because his opponent that night had pulled out. Gary accepted the challenge and had to borrow kit from other fighters that night. He narrowly lost the 10-round contest by half a point.

Raymond Pearce, a middleweight, fought the three-times WBC world champion Dennis Andries.

Nigel and Ronald Pearce were both professional boxers, with Nigel having five professional fights. The seventh brother Simon bucked the family trend and became a dancer, starring in West End productions such as Starlight Express, Cats, and Mousetrap.

But it was David who was to see the greatest success. Dubbed by many as 'Newport's own Rocky' the ex-steelworker had his first professional fight in 1978. He followed this with a succession of wins before he, like his brother Raymond, took on Dennis Andries in 1981. Andries went on to become the three time WBC Light-Heavyweight world champion and fought such legends as Thomas Hearns. Pearce knocked him out in the seventh round. Pearce had laid down his marker and showed what he could do.

Two years later another high point would come at St David's Hall in Cardiff in 1983 when David fought Swansea's Neville Meade to become the Welsh and British Heavyweight champion - a title he never lost in the ring. Now the coveted heavyweight Lonsdale belt was his. Always proud of his home town, David said at the time: "I did it for Newport”.

Luke says this fight was typical of David. “The people he fought at heavyweight were always three or four stone heavier and he still would stop them. If he had campaigned in the cruiser-weight division, he would have become a world champion.”

Another episode which highlights this and the grit that David showed again and again was his bid for the European heavyweight crown in 1984. Although it is unthinkable now, because the promoter had not arranged somewhere for David to stay, he had to sleep on a park-bench before the fight in Limoges, France. As if that were not enough, he went in to the fight with broken bones in both his hands.

It would be a controversial contest. David knocked down opponent Lucien Rodriguez twice in the eighth round with both counts going over 10 seconds - the first to 13 and the second to 17 seconds. The ring at Palais des Sports de Beaublanc was made as large as was allowable. This made it easier for Rodriguez to keep clear of the smaller Pearce. Luke says: “Because of his smaller size, David would keep his opponents close and in range, but the larger ring made this task even harder.”

He lost in a controversial points decision, due to the long counts. But afterwards Pearce merely admitted he "had a few problems", adding: "I won't go into them, Lucien Rodriquez is a marvellous fighter, and I would like to thank the French crowd for the overwhelming support shown towards me". They gave him a standing ovation and followed him from the stadium chanting his name. He came within a whisker of beating a world title challenger and taking the European title.

His career was to end in sadness and controversy. Later that year while the ‘Bomber’ was linked to fight Frank Bruno, the British Boxing Board of Control took away his licence to fight after he underwent a compulsory brain scan which revealed irregularities. The heavyweight champion had his title declared vacant. He had lost it, not with a punch but at the stroke of a pen.

Then there were lucrative offers to fight bare-knuckle fighters like Bartley Gorman, the undefeated champion of Great Britain and Ireland. Another bare-knuckle fighter Lenny 'the Guvnor' Mclean, actually declined to fight him. But David and his manager decided not to put his campaign to get his licence back at risk by taking part in these contests.

His time out of the ring meant he lost many chances to fight for bigger prizes.

A chance later came when he was scheduled to fight James ‘Buster’ Douglas in America but Pearce was pulled out three hours before the fight. He did spar with the likes of Lennox Lewis and Joe Bugner at this time.

When David finally went back into the ring seven years later, he was not the fighter he once had been. Luke says: "He wasn't in shape, no fighter in world boxing could come back after seven years and give five and a half stone away to an opponent."

The fight in Michigan against Percell Davies saw David show huge determination and heart, before the referee stopped it. The TV commentator said: “You would normally only see such bravery on a battlefield."

Luke believes it was this contest which did it for him. "He kept taking unnecessary punishment in that fight, but he wasn't the ‘Bomber’ of 1984, who was ferocious in attack and such a dangerous puncher.”

This was to be his final fight. Soon after, David became ill, developing epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease. He took to coaching youngsters at Alway Amateur Boxing Club. Although his own career was cut short, he still wanted to pass on his love of the game.

On Saturday May 20 in 2000, David was found dead at his home in Newport. He was just 41-years-old. On the day of his funeral on Stow Hill around 2,000 people came to say farewell to a great champion and a Newport boxer whose life was cut too short. The hearse needed a police escort to make its way slowly through the crowds.

Luke is in no doubt about how inspirational David ‘Bomber’ Pearce was. "He was the first and still the only fighter from Newport and Gwent to win the British Heavyweight title and the Lonsdale belt.

“To do what he did inspired me to want to go on and achieve what I have done”.

Luke has served in the Welsh Guards, taking part in ceremonial duties at Buckingham Palace and then later in the Royal Air Force in Afghanistan working in prison security. He recently became an officer in the RAF. Keeping with the family tradition, he too is a boxer and has won the tri-service boxing title.

But there is a sense of what might have been with David’s career. “If he had been a boxer now, he would have been a promoter's dream. He was charismatic, and had the looks." Luke says.

"David was knocking out heavyweights, so cruiserweight would have been no problem for him. His quality was never in doubt" he adds.

He is beginning to be recognised Luke says, adding proudly: "Steve Lillis, a top British boxing writer recently put him the top 10 underrated British boxers of all time. Which is quite a tribute."