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Cardiff's greatest fight nights

By Sean Davies

As promoter Frank Warren plots the return of big-time boxing to Wales with European champions Nathan Cleverly and Enzo Maccarinelli, here are some of the biggest bouts to have been staged in the Welsh capital.

FREDDIE WELSH v JIM DRISCOLL

American Roller Rink, 20 December, 1910

Freddie Welsh v Jim Driscoll

Two of Wales' all-time greats clashed in front of a sell-out crowd estimated at over 10,000 in Westgate Street's now-gone American Roller Rink.

The huge, corrugated iron building had been opened in 1908, the venue for Cardiffians to learn to waltz on roller skates as a brass band played.

If local tear-ups were not uncommon on Saturday nights there, the fight the rink staged on 20 December, 1910, was something else altogether.

When Cardiff's Jim Driscoll squared up to Pontypridd's Freddie Welsh it was a bout featuring two boxing superstars who would each win their places in the sport's Hall of Fame.

Both had found fame across the Atlantic but the two men had very different styles, Welsh championing the US style with an emphasis on in-fighting against Driscoll's classical British stance in a lightweight division second in prominence only to the heavyweights.

But in front of a fervent crowd of over 10,000 the styles failed to gel, Welsh eventually triumphing in the 11th after a disappointing, dirty fight when the usually unflappable Driscoll was disqualified for a head-butt.

An unseemly brawl between the cornermen resulted that ended on Westgate Street.

The American Roller Rink was dismantled in 1919 and rebuilt in Mill Road, Ely, only to be demolished in the early 1920s.

JACK PETERSEN v HEINE MULLER

Ninian Park, 15 May, 1933

Whitchurch's Jack Petersen enjoyed a remarkably scientific development for a boxer in the 1930s that soon took him to the British light-heavyweight crown.

The big money was in the heavyweights, Petersen stepping up to win the British title and Lonsdale belt in front of huge crowds in London.

With football and rugby in something of a slump in recession-era Wales, the gamble was taken to see if 21-year-old Petersen could fill the sporting gap.

The Welshman was set to pit his 22-fight unbeaten record against tough German Heine Muller, a veteran of over 200 bouts who had mixed in the highest European and US class.

An estimated Ninian Park crowd of 40,000 thrilled at the occasion - but the fight was over virtually before they had taken their seats.

After two minutes of the first round Petersen caught his opponent with a left to the body followed by a perfect right to the head, the fans left in awe as Muller lay draped across the ropes.

Another huge Ninian Park crowd saw Petersen defeat George Cook just one month later, but the Welshman's future mega-fights were staged before even bigger hordes in London.

IKE WILLIAMS v RONNIE JAMES

Ninian Park, 4 September, 1946

Ike Williams in training to face Ronnie James

After 103 fights, Swansea's hugely popular Ronnie James landed a dream bout when the great Ike Williams was lured to Ninian Park.

Williams' world lightweight crown was on the line, making this the first world title bout to be held in Wales.

The match was made after James had drawn an estimated 30,000 fans to a bomb-damaged Cardiff Arms Park for a 1944 British title win over Eric Boon.

Promoter Jack Solomons nearly saw the Williams bout washed away by torrential rain in the fortnight leading up to the event.

Williams, 23, was lax in preparations, and had to run laps of Ninian Park to make the weight.

Hopes were high for James, but the Welshman was nearly 10 years older, had not made lightweight for two years, and was badly over-matched.

He was knocked down six times before Williams' devastating bolo punch to the body finished it in the ninth - and effectively ended James' distinguished career.

JOE ERSKINE v JOHNNY WILLIAMS

Maindy Stadium, 27 August, 1956

Joe Erskine, who grew up two doors away from Billy Boston in cosmopolitan Tiger Bay, was always a Cardiff favourite.

The point was never better illustrated than when the heavyweight - who floated like a butterfly but also stung like one - drew huge crowds to the dowdy Maindy Stadium for two Welsh derbies in 1956.

The municipally owned open-air arena was on the site of a filled-in clay pit, the land reclaimed in the depression to be used for athletics and cycling.

On 7 May, Newport's Dick Richardson arrived to challenge Erskine in a British title eliminator.

In a true clash of styles before a crowd estimated at 30,000, Erskine was put down and cut in the fifth by the crude, heavy-hitting brawler.

But the Cardiff man's silky skills saw him to a clear 10-round points win, champion Don Cockell's retirement then opening the way for the Maindy Stadium to stage Wales' first British heavyweight title bout.

Erskine was pitted against Barmouth's former British title holder Johnny Williams on 27 August.

Torrential rain at the open-air arena did not deter another enormous crowd.

The veteran Williams soon opened another cut on Erskine, but the younger man's boxing ability again carried him through, the Cardiffian claiming the title with a comfortable 15-round points win.

VICENTE SALDIVAR v HOWARD WINSTONE

Ninian Park, 15 June, 1967

1967 - Winstone v Saldivar

The second of the thrilling trio of Vicente Saldivar-Howard Winstone fights was brought to Ninian Park.

The popular Merthyr man had won Empire Games gold in Cardiff in 1958, and in 1963 had drawn the crowds to the Maindy Stadium when he claimed the European title from Alberto Seti.

Winstone's rise saw him challenge Mexican great Saldivar for the world featherweight crown at Earls Court in 1965, the Welshman losing a narrow points decision after an epic showdown.

The quality of the bout meant a rematch was inevitable and Saldivar agreed to the fight in Cardiff two years later.

The Welshman seemed to win the first 10 rounds comfortably, but the unshakable Saldivar came on strong down the stretch against a tiring Winstone who had struggled to make weight.

Saldivar dropped him heavily in the 14th, but most still thought Winstone had done enough to win.

There was an outcry when referee Wally Thom - an old adversary of Winstone's trainer Eddie Thomas - raised the Mexican's hand in victory.

LENNOX LEWIS v FRANK BRUNO

National Stadium, 1 October, 1993

Lennox Lewis v Frank Bruno

Promoter Frank Warren brought the all-British clash for the WBC heavyweight title between Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno to the National Stadium at Cardiff Arms Park in front of over 20,000 damp fans.

Bruno started strongly, but an out-of-sorts Lewis caught up with him in the seventh round.

The ever-game Bruno again showed the survival skills of a lemming, allowing Lewis to reclaim his treasured belt.

The fight programme reveals a certain "Joe Calzache" (sic) making his debut on the undercard.

STEVE ROBINSON v PRINCE NASEEM HAMED

Cardiff Arms Park, 30 September, 1995

Wales' "Ciderella Man" Steve Robinson's dream rise to glory peaked at Cardiff Arms Park on 30 September, 1995, in an Anglo-Welsh battle that gripped the nation.

Prince Naseem Hamed proved to be a class above the brave Welshman, though, dismissing the jeers of a hostile 16,000 crowd to take Robinson's WBO featherweight title after eight one-sided rounds.

JOE CALZAGHE v MIKKEL KESSLER

Millennium Stadium, 4 November, 2007

Mikkel Kessler v Joe Calzaghe

Joe Calzaghe had already treated his Welsh fans to many a memorable Cardiff fight night against the likes of Charles Brewer and Byron Mitchell.

The Newbridge man's career was taken to a new level after his stunning destruction of Jeff Lacy in Manchester in 2006, a performance that woke the US market to the true depths of his talent.

A showpiece fight was arranged at the Millennium Stadium against American reality TV star Peter Manfredo Jr, Calzaghe despatching the over-matched Yank in the third round before 35,000 fans.

That paved the way for a true mega-fight at the same venue, a unification bout with devastating Dane Mikkel Kessler that defines Calzaghe's career as champion.

An estimated 50,000 fans poured into the home of Welsh rugby, and in the early hours of Sunday morning saw their hero rocked by some devastating blows from the unbeaten Dane.

But 35-year-old Calzaghe used his boxing brain to work out his younger foe, the speed, variety and quality of his work bamboozling the Viking warrior, who was badly shaken by Calzaghe's body attack.

The masterclass gave the Welshman a comfortable victory over 12 rounds, Calzaghe going on to conquer the States in his final two fights.



see also
Wales' pugilist princes
15 May 09 |  Boxing
Wales' boxing history in photos
24 May 09 |  Boxing
Driscoll v Welsh: 100 years on
11 Dec 10 |  Boxing
Wales' greatest US fight nights
25 Mar 08 |  Boxing
Wales' boxing world champions
25 Mar 08 |  Boxing
Boxing & Madison Square Garden
04 Nov 08 |  Boxing
Who's the greatest British boxer?
22 Nov 05 |  Boxing
Who is the greatest of them all?
13 Jun 05 |  Boxing
BBC pound-for-pound world rankings
31 Aug 10 |  Boxing
Get your gloves on
13 Dec 05 |  Get Involved
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales


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