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Page last updated at 10:18 GMT, Monday, 21 April 2008 11:18 UK

Wales the winner in Las Vegas

By Sean Davies in Las Vegas

Joe Calzaghe

There are no certainties in the gambling city of Las Vegas. You buy the ticket, you take the ride.

But despite an intensive 48 hours of gaming therapy in Sin City, the lesson wasn't taken on board by the hordes of Joe Calzaghe fans ahead of the Bernard Hopkins fight.

Almost to a man, they all picked the Welshman to be a clear winner, most thinking it would be on points, many favouring Hopkins to quit on his stool in the later rounds.

The free-riding, carnival atmosphere continued at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Considering it's in the middle of the Nevada desert, the environment was remarkably Taff controlled.

Where else could Tom Jones claim a bigger cheer than Arnie, Willis, Stallone and Beyonce combined after his somewhat dodgy-sounding rendition of the Welsh national anthem?

When legendary US ring announcer Michael Buffer pronounced "Let's get reeeady to ruuuuumble!", a laconic valleys accent behind me retorted "We are, butt, that's why we're here!"

But the easy-win mentality has cost many a naive tourist in Vegas, and Hopkins soon showed that he had the bank's double-zero odds evener, a short, stinging right counter that had put paid to every southpaw he had faced in the ring.

Even after Calzaghe was put on his pants in the first round, though, the crowd seemed almost oblivious, cheering their man's efforts at the end of every round while those at ringside were scratching heads, trying to make sense of scoring a fight that punters and fans will argue over for years to come.

When it became clear that we would have a split decision the arena was incredulous, and only Calzaghe's victory stopped a riot that would have needed the ringside Richard Kiel (better known as "Jaws" from the James Bond films) to quell it.

Wild celebrations began, continued post-fight at the event's host hotel, Planet Hollywood.

Thousands of Welsh fans descended on Las Vegas
Thousands of Welsh fans descended on Las Vegas

The karaoke bar was predictably hijacked by Wales' finest Tom Jones impersonators.

"Jones is just a legend," said Newport's David Best after a particularly lobe-torturing rendition of "Delilah".

"Who else could have got half the words wrong to the national anthem and still have everyone at his feet?"

The crowds flocked to the entrance of the Prive Bar where the post-fight party was held, straining for a glimpse of Michael J Fox.

But they swiftly charged to the opposite escalator as a huge cheer and chants of "Super Joe Calzaghe" heralded the arrival of Newbridge's finest, alongside Sylvester Stallone.

"Oi, Rocky, Joe would beat you, too," shouted one wag.

As the stars were swept away to anonymity, the debates got going in the bars, where the fans were mostly dumbfounded at hearing the media room had been split - pretty much 50-50 - as to whether Calzaghe or Hopkins had won (for what it's worth, I gave it to Joe by four).

"I can't believe that, why are they getting on Joe's back," said Gary Walsh from Worcester.

"He took that clearly. Hopkins was the dirtiest fighter I've ever seen - butting, spoiling, playing for time - and the referee [Joe Cortez] did nothing.

"If he hadn't taken that five minute break in the 10th he would have been stopped, Hopkins was gasping for breath then."

There was less surprise at the news of Hopkins' ungracious behaviour at the press conference, where he refused to accept defeat, gave no credit to "amateurish" Calzaghe, and said he would never have been able to get a fair decision if he had chosen to fight in Wales.

"The man's been acting up all week, it doesn't surprise me and it's why we gave him so much abuse in the build-up and in the fight," said Gary's friend Gareth.

Tom Jones gave his own version of the Welsh national anthem
Tom Jones gave his own version of the Welsh national anthem

"Did you see him when he delayed things in the 10th? He was just lapping up the abuse he was taking from the crowd, he was loving it.

"Why do you think he didn't bring any fans to this fight? It's because he hasn't got any."

But the fans were happier with the news that the smart money is now on the possibility of Calzaghe facing Roy Jones Jr at New York's Madison Square Gardens on 15 November (before you hold me to that, remember what I said about sure things...!).

As the Welsh flags and red jerseys dispersed to the Strip's favoured venues for drinking, cavorting and tumbling dice, many were already dreaming of another cross-Atlantic trip to follow their hero.

Whether or not a second Calzaghe fight in the US takes place, the following he took to Nevada will not be forgotten.

Calzaghe may not have always got the recognition he deserved in his career, and we are still waiting for the promised statue of him in his hometown to materialise.

But he can always carry the memory of a crazy April weekend when his supporters turned Las Vegas into a somewhat surreal corner of Newbridge.

see also
Calzaghe v Hopkins photos
19 Apr 08 |  Boxing


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