Cardiff: A history of big fight nights in the Welsh capital

Media playback is not supported on this device

We take a look at the history of world title fights held in Cardiff

On Saturday, Anthony Joshua became the latest in a long line of British boxers to headline a bill in Cardiff.

A city with a rich boxing history stretching back well over a century, the Welsh capital has staged some huge fight nights featuring some of the sport's biggest names.

Some of the bouts featured the great and the good of Welsh boxing, while some, such as the heavyweight showdown between Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno in 1993, showcased Cardiff and its appreciative fight fans as English fighters stepped through the ropes.

None matched the battle between Joshua and stand-in opponent Carlos Takam in terms of ticket sales, but there is no denying Cardiff has already witnessed some all-time classics, including at the Principality Stadium, the latest Welsh pantheon of pugilism.

Freddie Welsh avoids a left hook from Jim Driscoll
Freddie Welsh avoids a left hook from Jim Driscoll

Freddie Welsh v Jim Driscoll, American Roller Rink, 20 December 1910

Two of the greats of Welsh boxing met at the now demolished American Roller Rink 107 years ago in front of a sell-out crowd of over 10,000.

Cardiff boxer Driscoll and Pontypridd's Freddie Welsh had found fame on both sides of the Atlantic and will both be remembered as two of the greatest boxers from Wales, but their clash, on paper a perfect mesh of styles, ended in disappointment for Driscoll and his supporters.

Welsh would win the fight via a disqualification decision following excessive use of the head from Driscoll.

Ike Williams
Ike Williams won 126 professional fights between 1940-1955

Ike Williams v Ronnie James, Ninian Park, 4 September 1946

The first world title fight in the Welsh capital, staged at Cardiff City's former stadium, this was a classic underdog versus champion contest.

After 103 fights, Swansea's Ronnie James landed a dream shot at American great Ike Williams, with the American coming to Wales to defend his title.

Williams, the world lightweight champion best known for bouts with Sammy Angott, Bob Montgomery, and Beau Jack, was the first defending world champion lured to Wales, with over 30,000 fans cramming into Cardiff City's home, Ninian Park, a stadium only just recovered from the damage done by bombs dropped during World War II.

Ten years James' junior, Williams was simply too much for the Welshman, flooring him six times before a body shot ended the contest in the ninth round. James would retire a year later.

Vicente Saldivar v Howard Winstone
Howard Winstone looks to take the fight to Vicente Saldivar during their bout in 1967

Vicente Saldivar v Howard Winstone, Ninian Park, 15 June 1967

Arguably the most famous trilogy of fights involving a Welshman, a generation of fans were enthralled by the rivalry between Vicente Saldivar and Howard Winstone.

Merthyr boxer Winstone had won Empire Games gold in Cardiff in 1958 and, in 1963, had claimed the European title from Alberto Seti, but he had been denied against Mexican great Saldivar for the world featherweight crown at Earls Court in 1965 in the first instalment of this classic pairing.

Winstone's narrow defeat on points led to inevitable rematch calls and Saldivar, widely regarded as one of the all-time featherweight greats, agreed to come to Cardiff.

A night of controversy ensued, with the Welshman seemingly in control for large exchanges. Saldivar scored a knockdown in the 14th round, but many still felt Winstone had done enough to win the contest on points after a strong start, but referee Wally Thom disagreed, despite seemingly being set to walk towards Winstone's corner after a ferocious contest.

Winstone's manager Eddie Thomas called it "the worst decision I have ever seen," with Saldivar beating Winstone again, decisively, in Mexico City four months later.

Winstone would become WBC champion in 1968, but he never again hit the heights he produced in that second fight with Saldivar.

Lennox Lewis v Frank Bruno
The undercard of Lennox Lewis v Frank Bruno featured the debut of a then unknown newly-turned professional super middleweight boxer named Joe Calzaghe

Lennox Lewis v Frank Bruno, Cardiff Arms Park, 1 October 1993

A damp night but not a damp squib of a fight, Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno fought for the world WBC heavyweight title in front of over 20,000 fans at the Arms Park.

After previous defeats by Tim Witherspoon and Mike Tyson, this was the third time Bruno had challenged for a world title, but he was again denied after being stopped in a one-sided seventh stanza.

Almost two years later, Bruno would finally become a world champion at the fourth attempt after beating Oliver McCall, while Lewis became a three-time world champion and is the last heavyweight to lay claim to the title of undisputed champion.

Robinson v Hamed
Steve Robinson had won his world title despite accepting a fight with just 48 hours

Steve Robinson v Prince Naseem Hamed, Cardiff Arms Park, 30 September 1995

Having won the WBO featherweight against champion Ruben Palacios after accepting the fight at very late notice, Wales' 'Cinderella Man' Steve Robinson saw his dreams shattered by a 21-year-old Prince Naseem Hamed when the Sheffield boxer was at the peak of his powers.

Hamed proved to be a class above Robinson in terms of speed and skill, even if Robinson showed extraordinary heart and courage.

Hostile crowds would become a feature for Hamed towards the end of his career but, as a 21-year old, the way he shrugged off the raucous Cardiff faithful was hugely impressive, with Hamed able to show much of his repertoire over eight one-sided rounds.

Joe Calzaghe
Joe Calzaghe retired as a two-weight world champion who never lost a fight professionally

Joe Calzaghe v Mikkel Kessler, Millennium Stadium, 4 November 2007

After his career-defining display of dominance against American Jeff Lacy, Joe Calzaghe, already a champion for a decade, was at a career crossroads, desperately seeking a mega match to captivate a boxing public on both sides of the Atlantic suddenly wise to his immense talent.

Calzaghe stepped through the ropes at the Millennium Stadium, first against American reality TV star Peter Manfredo Jr in a total mismatch, setting up a clash with Dane Mikkel Kessler that would finally produce an undisputed champion after years of talk.

After being boxing's best kept secret, Calzaghe was suddenly thrust into the mainstream.

An estimated 50,000 fans, including around 1,000 from Denmark, poured into the stadium for the hotly anticipated contest, no mean feat considering the bout was staged at 3am to satisfy the American TV audience.

With his father and trainer Enzo in his corner and a nation behind him, Calzaghe produced a masterful display on one of his toughest nights, winning a unanimous points decision over Kessler, who would go on to beat Carl Froch three years later.

Calzaghe would never again fight at super middleweight, meaning the Kessler fight stands as the end point of over a decade of domination of the division.

Top Stories