Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Saturday, 19 April 2008 13:03 UK

Viva Las Vegas for Calzaghe fans

By Sean Davies
BBC Sport in Las Vegas

Joe Calzaghe

For a country whose boxing heritage was founded on a nation of chapel devotees, the Sin City of Las Vegas is a somewhat surreal proposition.

The bad craziness of the neon-hued Gomorrah in the desert seems to have walloped the travelling Welsh fans like the truest of right crosses.

But, in a sign that may prove heartening to Joe Calzaghe ahead of his clash with Bernard Hopkins at the Thomas & Mack Center, his countrymen have sprung quickly to their feet and come back for more.

"I went to see Calzaghe v Kessler in Cardiff and I've watched plenty of fights in the Afan Lido [Port Talbot]," said Gavin Reddy from Swansea, wandering down the Strip with his topless form exposing glaring white skin to a city that thought it had seen it all.

"But it's fair to say that this is a bit different! We flew in on Thursday and haven't slept since.

"The build-up is incredible, they know how to sell a fight. We've been hanging out in Planet Hollywood, seeing all the fighters and big names.

We came to Vegas for Hatton v Mayweather last year, but this time Joe is going to 'spank the Yank'
Jamie Davenport, Calzaghe fan
"I bought [legendary US boxing writer] Bert Sugar a drink in there last night, Enzo Maccarinelli was there, and I shook Roy Jones Jr's hand - you don't get that in Port Talbot!"

The build-up of Welsh rugby jerseys and proud beer paunches around town is slowly proceeding, but local taxi driver Jorge was surprised not to see more.

"For Ricky Hatton v Floyd Mayweather, the English [sic] were here all week, partying and drinking beer - it was crazy," said Jorge, who claims to have seen hundreds of big fights in his 40 years in Vegas.

"But where have they been this week? They weren't here. I think this fight will build Calzaghe's profile, maybe raise him up to the level of Hatton.

"That's my opinion of his standing, but as a boxer... yeah, he's good. Joe will win this one."

Welsh fan Aaron West
Calzaghe fan Aaron West is one of 4,000 fans from Wales at the weigh-in

Further evidence that chapel standards are slipping seems confirmed by the quality of the singing of the travelling fans.

Supporters of Jim Driscoll, Jimmy Wilde, Johnny Owen, Colin Jones and the other Welsh greats to fight across the Atlantic would most likely be heard singing "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau".

But the refrain rolling around the Nevada day/night (how can you tell?!) proclaims - somewhat less poetically - "There's only one Joe Calzaghe... walking along, singing a song, walking in a Calzaghe wonderland."

Calzaghe's travelling fan base is far from limited to Wales, though, and at least that tortuous tune provides some sort of rallying point.

On the advice of my attorney, I sauntered along the Strip to the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino, where I encountered a group of eight travelling fight fans from London. "We came to Vegas for Hatton v Mayweather last year, but this time Joe is going to 'spank the Yank'," said unofficial group spokesman Jamie Davenport.

"It's great to get behind the British fighters, I think the fans have always done that. "We've watched Joe for years and he's the real deal.

"We saw the Robin Reid fight when we were supporting the Englishman - and I still think Reid won that one - but since then Joe's won us over.

"I was in Manchester for Jeff Lacy and Cardiff for Kessler. The boyo's done good and he's got too much for old Poppy [Hopkins]."

The chapel ministers back home may bewail the antics pursued overseas by their lost sons and daughters in the name of entertainment.

But even they may hope that the greatest of sins are pounded out from the end of Calzaghe's gloves.

Coverage: Radio 5 Live, Radio Wales and BBC Sport website from 0300 BST.


SEE ALSO
Wales the winner in Las Vegas
21 Apr 08 |  Boxing
Hopkins just too old - Calzaghe
15 Apr 08 |  Boxing
How to stop Joe Calzaghe
15 Apr 08 |  Boxing
Wales' greatest US fight nights
13 Apr 08 |  Boxing
Vegas to show Calzaghe pedigree
12 Apr 08 |  Boxing

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