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Legends let loose in Cardiff for WBC Night of Champions

Champions including Iran Barkley, Earnie Shavers, James 'Bonecrusher' Smith and Shannon Briggs gather for the launch of the event at Cardiff Castle on Thursday
The champions gather for the launch of the event at Cardiff Castle on Thursday

By Sean Davies

Organising scores of boxing champions is exactly like herding cats.

It was a fact that was proved on Friday morning as I milled around outside a Cardiff hotel with the likes of Earnie Shavers, Jesse James Leija, Zab Judah and James 'Bonecrusher' Smith.

Somewhat surreally, we were all waiting for Roberto Duran to join us for an open-top bus tour of the city, part of the World Boxing Council's three-day Night of Champions extravaganza in the Welsh capital.

'Hands of Stone' eventually showed up, followed by fans and his entourage - then left us waiting for another 10 minutes as he popped up to his hotel room.

Even in such bruising company, there was nobody rushing forward to berate the Panamanian legend.

Rumour has it that he had been upset when he tried to order a beer in a local pub and misheard the barman when he said "No Bass".

The great Roberto 'Hands of Stone' Duran in Cardiff for the Night of Champions
The great Roberto Duran in Cardiff for the Night of Champions

But that's just a cheap gag at the expense of the jovial and approachable greatest lightweight of all time, whose actual words at the end of his second Sugar Ray Leonard fight were not "No mas" but "No quiero pelear con el payaso" - "I do not want to fight with this clown".

As we eventually boarded the bus it seemed that the overcast Cardiff skies held few attractions for current middleweight king Sergio Martinez, the Argentine spreading himself across the downstairs back seat like one of the bad boys on the school run.

Braving the grey clouds, I took a seat upstairs where I found myself next to John Mugabi.

The larger-than-life 'Beast', whose savage war with Marvin Hagler has entered the annals of ring history, seemed to pay little attention to the views of the Welsh capital as he held court about life, the universe and his frayed relations with boxing promoters.

As we began a second lap of the city and the champions started hollering for lunch, there were a few times when I began to question my grasp of reality.

When I had tried telling people that I was covering the event this weekend, the most common question was 'what is it'?

It wasn't easy to explain...

WBC boss Sulaiman hails Cardiff event

The first and only previous Night of Champions was held four years ago in Cancun, Mexico, the intention being to "unite the global boxing community to celebrate and acknowledge lifetime achievements, unsung heroes, and boxing's contribution to developing youth and the wider community".

It was brought to Wales with the help of Cardiff Council and the British Boxing Board of Control, which is based in Cardiff.

"We wanted to celebrate champions in the historical home of boxing, the UK," stated WBC secretary general Mauricio Sulaiman.

"The city of Cardiff opened its arms and has been great, so hospitable, we're so thrilled to be here."

At the launch in Cardiff Castle on Thursday, the likes of Carlos Zarate and Alfonso Zamora - the Mexican greats who faced off in 'The Battle of the Z Boys' - revelled in the anonymity they so rarely receive on their home soil.

Briggs on Klitschko and Haye

Meanwhile, the imposing and magnetic Shannon Briggs drew the crowds, children hugging his legs as if grabbing hold of a tree trunk.

The New Yorker himself got to grips with all the hospitality the Welsh capital could offer, his presence a unique show-stopper even on the city's notoriously Bohemian St Mary's Street.

Although we tried to explain, the man targeting Vitali Klitschko could not quite grasp why the Welsh public seemed to think he was related to Jason Lee and thought he had a pineapple on his head.

The carnival mood continued at Thursday's world premiere of Risen, the film of the life of Welsh boxing great Howard Winstone.

Friday night's amateur boxing saw Team GB draw 6-6 against a high-quality Rest of the World squad made up of fighters from Sweden, the United States, Ireland and China.

Avoth on Winstone and Risen

A host of champions including Duran, Zarate and Shavers sat ringside throughout, thrilling the youngsters as they presented the awards at the end of the bout.

The visiting stars also devoted themselves to a string of charity events and good causes, including a trip to the Children's Hospital for Wales and visits to local boxing gyms in Ely, Fairwater and Llanrumney.

Few will argue that they earned their reward in Saturday's glittering closing event, the Night of Champions dinner at the Cardiff International Arena, and the city would welcome them back with open arms should suggestions that the event will be brought back to Wales come to fruition.

But it can only be hoped that difficulties with language and accents do not scupper the plans.

On Thursday night, a high-powered group of WBC officials asked a local for a description of the bar they were passing, then entered the establishment when they thought he had said "great".

The Welshman had said another word beginning with "g", leaving the party somewhat stunned when they found themselves in Minsky's Showbar, which has been "wowing audiences for over 14 years with Wales' leading live drag entertainment"!

Vitali on Briggs and Haye

see also
WBC champions weekend in photos
01 Aug 10 |  Boxing
Klitschkos 'scare' Haye - Vitali
31 Jul 10 |  Boxing
Winstone tribute overdue - Avoth
30 Jul 10 |  Boxing
Welshmen Selby & Evans defeated
30 Jul 10 |  Boxing
5. Howard Winstone
11 Apr 02 |  Boxing
Wales' pugilist princes
15 May 09 |  Boxing
Wales' boxing history in photos
24 May 09 |  Boxing
Wales' boxing world champions
25 Mar 08 |  Boxing
Cardiff's greatest fight nights
04 Jun 10 |  Boxing
Get your gloves on
13 Dec 05 |  Get Involved
Vitali on Briggs and Haye
31 Jul 10 |  Boxing
Briggs on Klitschko and Haye
29 Jul 10 |  Boxing
Avoth on Winstone and Risen
29 Jul 10 |  Boxing
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales

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