Las Vegas is considered the birthplace of boxing, and London has had a handful of raucous nights in the past decade, but Cardiff has a boxing carpet as rich as any other city in the world.
From their hometown heroes Freddie Welsh and Jimmie Driscoll battling it out on the American Roller Rink in 1910 to Ronnie James taking on the great Ike Williams at Ninian Park in 1946, the Welsh capital was home to some of the greatest battles of all. the sport of the past century.
More recently, fighters from outside Wales have crossed the Severn Bridge to dance under the lights in Cardiff. Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno battled for the heavyweight title in 1993, while Anthony Joshua defeated Carlos Takam at Principality Stadium in 2017.
Cardiff has a rich boxing background and has hosted some big fights over the years
Yet no fighter has captured the hearts and minds of the adoring Welsh public more than Joe Calzaghe.
The Italian dragon’s considerable talent meant the eyes of the boxing world were fixated on Cardiff, where he became a big name on both sides of the Atlantic after his 2007 win over Mikkel Kessler.
Wales longs for a hero of Calzaghe’s kind to once again come to the fore and next Saturday night, across town at the Motorpoint Arena, Liam Williams will try to inspire the masses against Chris Eubank Jr.
This native of Rhondda has always been a fighter. From the age of 9, Williams began amateur boxing and was briefly a roofer in the valleys before turning pro at the age of 18.
Joe Calzaghe captured the hearts and minds of the Welsh masses during his glittering career
The Italian dragon was lured from the capital of Wales to the United States after 2007
“I enjoyed being with good people, but it was never a lot of money,” he told The Guardian. “It was hard work in all weathers, but nobody has it easy in Rhondda.
“People say it’s a tough place, but to me it’s a very close-knit community. The people there will tell you that whatever I achieve, I haven’t changed.’
With an impressive amateur record and a blistering start to his professional career, Williams was destined to compete with big names from an early age. In fact, he first encountered Eubank Jr at the age of 24, on a night that had almost tragic consequences.
On March 26, 2016, Williams stared at Eubank Jr. from the other side of the ring, but he was not facing the Englishman that evening. Instead, he stood in the corner in front of his good friend and training partner, Nick Blackwell.
Anthony Joshua also defended his former heavyweight titles in Wales, as did Lennox Lewis
Williams assisted his trainer, Gary Lockett, when Eubank Jr won the quick run in the tenth round after a ringside doctor ruled Blackwell was unable to continue due to a large swelling over his left eye.
Just minutes after the fight ended, Blackwell was given oxygen and was stretched out of Wembley Arena where he was then taken to St Mary’s Hospital and placed in a medical coma.
Blackwell was released from a coma after nine days and announced that he was quitting boxing. Just months later, Williams was back in the corner for stable mate Dale Evans against Mike Towell in Scotland. Towell died 24 hours after the fight from injuries sustained in the ring.
“It’s unusual for such a terrible incident to happen in your career,” Williams said. “Only twice—and the second six months later? It was horrible to see what happened to Mike – and Nick is my closest friend. It really touched me.’
Now Liam Williams is trying to evoke the magic of his boxing predecessors in Cardiff
Despite those harrowing experiences, Williams fought on and built an impressive record of 16 wins and one draw from 17 professional fights, lining up to take on Liam Smith for the WBO interim middleweight title.
A razor-sharp contest saw Williams lead by one point on the scorecards, but the Welshman suffered a nasty cut over his eye that severely obscured his vision, leaving Lockett no choice but to take his fighter out of the bout in the 10th round.
“The eye was damaged, it was a decision that had to be made,” Lockett said, explaining the call to protect his fighter.
‘He said he couldn’t see. I can’t let him fight that. It would only get worse. He couldn’t look.’
The former Rhondda roofer ran into Chris Eubank Jr in a near-tragic attack in 2016
Williams drove his friend Nick Blackwell into a corner, who was subsequently put into a coma
The British pair met again in November 2017, with Smith victorious via a majority decision following a close 12-round affair in Newcastle.
Williams went back to the drawing board, taking seven straight wins – all within close range – to put him in pole position for a shot at Demetrius Andrade’s WBO middleweight crown.
However, The Machine was outclassed in 12 rounds at the Hard Rock Hotel in Florida. Despite his relentless pressure, the Welshman was unable to pin down the wily American, who shook him in the first and knocked him out in the second.
The 29-year-old missed the title last time but will try to make it back to the top
“He was a lot better than I thought, a lot more slippery,” Williams admitted.
Now the Welshman is trying to get back on track and can take a huge scalp when beating Eubank Jr.
Love has not been lost between the British rivals, and with his first appearance in his home country since 2018, the 29-year-old hopes to evoke the magic of his boxing predecessors in the Welsh capital.