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Liam Williams bids to be 13th world champion from Wales

Liam Williams. Photo from MTK Global
13
Apr

When Liam Williams faces WBO middleweight titleholder Demetrius Andrade at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Hollywood, Florida on Saturday, he will be bidding to become the 13th world champion from Wales.

Williams, who is rated No. 8 by The Ring at 160-pounds, has won British titles at junior middleweight and middleweight but is hungry to join the likes of Jimmy Wilde, Joe Calzaghe and, most recently, Lee Selby as a world champion.

The 28-year-old, who is a 5/2 betting underdog, knows he’ll have to overcome a very difficult opponent to achieve his dream but embraces that.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better opponent,” Williams (23-2-1, 18 knockouts) told The Ring. “If Andrade had vacated his title and it had been [Jaime] Munguia, it would have been a good fight but if I had fought [Maciej] Sulecki or someone a bit further down [the rankings] I wouldn’t have been comfortable calling myself world champion. 

“[I’m fighting] a big name, a three-time world champion and I’m fighting away from home as well. That would be a great achievement and then I would give myself the credit I would deserve and I’m pretty sure everyone else would give me the credit I deserve as well.”

Here we look at the 12 men who have claimed world championship glory from Wales.

Percy Jones

Flyweight (1914)

Jones early years are a familiar tale, born into a coal-mining family in the Welsh valleys. He found his way into boxing and enjoyed a successful amateur career as well as fighting in boxing booths, which was common at the time. He reportedly turned professional in 1911, going (40-0-2, 24 knockouts) before he beat Bill Ladbury over 20-rounds, in January 2014, to become the first Welsh-born fighter to win a world title. He lost his unbeaten record in a non-title bout to future featherweight titleholder Eugene Criqui (PTS 15). However, when they met in a rematch six-weeks later, in a world title fight, Jones bested his French rival. He was beaten by Joe Symonds (RTD 18) before yielding his title to Tancy Lee (RTD 14) in October 2014. He fought on before fighting for the final time in early 1916. His career was side-tracked due to World War I. Jones was a sergeant in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and was shot in the leg in the Somme, he would later have his leg amputated. He was also badly hit by noxious Gas. He was around 56-pounds, when he passed away, aged just 29.

Freddie Welsh

Lightweight (1914-17)

Welsh was also brought up in a mining community in Pontypridd. However, the son of an Auctioneer didn’t have the difficult start to life many boxers do, he was from a middle-class background. After leaving school, aged 14, he was apprentice mechanical engineer. When he was 16, along with three friends, he emigrated to Canada. Things were difficult for him and he raised the money to return home. He wasn’t done with North America and returned to the East Coast, initially working several jobs in New York. A lack of money saw him turn to boxing. He settled in Philadelphia and had his first 26 bouts stateside before again returning to British shores in early 1907 for a brief time. When back in America he continued to progress, showing his impressive boxing skills. He fought highly talented Packey McFarland on three occasions (L PTS 10/ D 25/ D 20) and bested featherweight titleholder Abe Attell (PTS 15). British and European title wins helped position him for a world title attempt against Willie Ritchie in July 1914. “The Welsh Wizard” wouldn’t be denied and won a 20-round decision. He beat Ad Wolgast (DQ 11) and Charlie White (PTS 12) in subsequent title defenses. He also beat Benny Leonard in a non-title fight before dropping to the title to the American. Welsh also served in World War I. In retirement, he bought and owned a farm in New Jersey. He passed away aged 41 from a heart-attack. Welsh was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.

Jimmy Wilde. Photo from The Ring archive

Jimmy Wilde

Flyweight (1916-23)

Wilde grew up in Tylorstown and like the aforementioned Jones and Welsh was from a mining town. Wilde was a pit boy in his formative years. By the time he was 16, he was fighting regularly in fairground booths. Although his diminutive stature (5-feet-2 inches tall and 74-pounds), he had a penchant for knocking out much larger-grown men. By the time he turned professional, he was still under 100-pounds. Although his first recorded bout was in 1911, it is widely accepted his actual debut was as much as four-years earlier. Wilde boasted a remarkable (94-0-1) record, lost for the first time when he challenged for the British and vacant European flyweight titles against Tancy Lee (TKO 17). The following year, “The Tylorstown Terror” stopped Joe Symonds (RTD 12) to become world champion. He knocked out Lee (KO 11) in a rematch and stopped Young Kid Zula (RTD 11). “The Ghost with the Hammer in his Hand” beat all comers, he was always outweighed and undersized, but it was a measure of just how good he was, he not only easily beat them but often knocked them out. He didn’t lose again until he faced former bantamweight titlist Pete Herman (TKO 17) in a non-title bout. After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus he returned and lost his title to rising star Pancho Villa (TKO 7). Wilde retired from boxing and tried several business ventures. Sadly, he was mugged never recovered, passing away aged 76. Wilde, who is widely regarded as the best flyweight in history, was inducted into the IBHOF in 1990.

Howard Winstone

Featherweight (1968)

As a teenager he lost the tips of three fingers on his right hand, in an industrial accident, whilst working at a local toy factory. It impacted Winstone, who has to evolve his style. He enjoyed a highly successful amateur career winning the Welsh championships, the ABA title and Commonwealth gold, all in 1958. He turned professional the following year under the watchful eye of Eddie Thomas, winning his first 24 outings before being matched with 1956 Olympic gold medalist Terry Spinks for the British 126-pound title. Winstone impressively stopped the Londoner in 10-rounds. He went on to add the European title when he stopped Alberto Serti in the 14th round in July 1963. He unsuccessfully challenged WBC titleholder Vicente Saldivar (PTS 15, PTS 15 and TKO 12). When his Mexican nemesis retired Winstone was matched with Mitsunori Seki for the vacant title in January 1968. “The Welsh Wizard” wouldn’t be denied and cut up and stopped the Japanese co-challenger in nine rounds. Winstone would lose the title to supremely talented Cuban Jose Legra, who he held two previous wins over, in five rounds, six-months later. Winstone, who retired aged 29, was later awarded the highly prestigious MBE. He passed away, aged 61, from kidney disease. A statue was erected in his honor in his hometown of Merthyr Tydfil.

Steve Robinson. Photo by John Gichigi/ALLSPORT

Steve Robinson

WBO featherweight (1993-95)

Robinson was a middle of the road amateur, who turned professional, while working a day job at a department store. He regularly had to fight on the road in small hall shows and often came away with little to show for it. Robinson (13-9-1, 7 knockouts) appeared to be going nowhere when he received a phone call to step in at 48 hours notice to fight for the vacant WBO featherweight title. He traveled north to face the favored Jon Davison, in front of the Englishman’s fans. Robinson was expected to be nothing more than cannon fodder to save the show. However, in a modern-day Cinderella story, Robinson, stunned Davison to claim the vacant title in April 1993. It was widely expected that Robinson would quickly lose the title. However, to his enormous credit, he grew significantly after the title win and went on to become one of the best featherweights in the world in the mid-1990s. He turned back a trio of more fancied former world champions Colin McMillan (UD 12), Paul Hodkinson (KO 12) and Duke McKenzie (KO 9) to write himself into Welsh folklore. In total, Robinson made seven defenses before losing to rising star Naseem Hamed (TKO 8). He continued his career for several more years, winning the European title, though never again fought for a world title before bowing out in the early 2000s. Robinson runs a fitness gym in Cardiff and helps train a handful of boxers, including his son.

Robbie Regan

WBO bantamweight (1996)

Regan began boxing in his teens. He was a talented amateur, winning a handful of titles and represented Wales at the 1986 Commonwealth games in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was matched tough from the start of his professional career. He claimed the vacant British title in May 1991. He lost the title due to a bad cut against Francis Ampofo (TKO 11). Regan outboxed Ampofo in a direct rematch (PTS 12) to regain his old title before winning into European title against Salvatore Fanni (UD 12) in late 1992. His promoter, Frank Warren, brought the exceptional Alberto Jimenez to Cardiff to face Regan in June 1995. Although Regan put up a gutsy effort, he was stopped on cuts in nine rounds. When reigning IBF 112-pound titleholder Danny Romero suffered a fractured orbital bone injury, Regan met the highest ranked contender Farid Ben Jeddou for the Interim title. Regan fought like a man possessed and stunned the Tunisian fighter, stopping him in a frenzied attack in two rounds. Boxing politics thwarted his attempt to fight for the full title and he instead jumped to bantamweight where he met veteran two-weight titleholder Daniel Jimenez. A more measured Regan boxed his way to an impressive unanimous decision. Unfortunately, glandular fever side-tracked him and prevented him from defending his new title. When he was ready to return a failed brain scan ended his career. Sadly, life after boxing hasn’t been kind to Regan, he has battled an alcohol addiction and served time in Prison.

Photo courtesy of AFP.

Joe Calzaghe

WBO Super Middleweight (1997-2008), IBF (2006), The Ring (2006-08), WBA (2007-08) and WBC (2007-08).

The Ring Light Heavyweight (2008-09)

The son of an Italian immigrant, rose through the amateur ranks after being bullied in school. Calzaghe won three consecutive ABA titles in the early 1990s. He had hopes of representing Great Britain at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics but wasn’t selected. Fed up with amateur politics, Calzaghe made his professional debut on the undercard of the all-British heavyweight title fight between Lennox Lewis-Frank Bruno, in Cardiff, in October 1993. He won the British title two-years later and was primed to face Steve Collins for the WBO 168-pound title in October 1997. The Irishman decided to retire instead and Calzaghe faced the vastly experienced former two-weight titleholder Chris Eubank. Calzaghe got off to a fast start, dropping Eubank but had to show more than power to conquer the resilient Englishman over 12 heated rounds. He ratcheted up the defenses, but it wasn’t until he brilliantly white-washed Jeff Lacy over 12-rounds to collect The Ring and IBF titles that he gained universal appreciation. He later bested WBA/WBC kingpin Mikkel Kessler to become the undisputed super middleweight champion in November 2007. In total Calzaghe made a joint division record of 21 defenses. With nothing left to prove the quick-fisted southpaw vacated his titles and moved up to light heavyweight and headed to America, edging past the legendary Bernard Hopkins (SD 12) to add The Ring 175-pound strap and easily turned back the faded former great Roy Jones Jr. (UD 12). Calzaghe retired unbeaten and is widely thought of as one of the best British fighters of all-time. Calzaghe became the third Welsh fighter to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.

Barry Jones

WBO junior lightweight (1997-98)

These days you’ll find Barry Jones behind the camera as a commentator. However, he previously forged a very useful career of his own. As an amateur he won silver at the European Junior Championships and competed at the World Junior Championships, in 1992. He turned over later that year and fought his way into contention for the British featherweight title by mid-1995. The opportunity to fight for the domestic crown didn’t come about and Jones instead tried to work his way up the world rankings. As a relative unknown he was matched with Wilson Palacios for the vacant WBO 130-pound title. Jones boxed excellently behind the jab and turned the Colombian inside out to win a wide unanimous decision. Jones was hoping to use his new status as a springboard into the next tax bracket but was thwarted when a brain scan revealed an abnormality. The British Boxing Board of Control revoked his license and he lost his title outside the ring. Jones campaigned hard to get his license reinstated, he succeeded and returned 18-months later with a promise from the WBO of a shot at his old title, which was then held by power-puncher Acelino Freitas. In an interesting sub-plot, Jones (18-0-1, 1 KO) dropped Freitas (23-0, 23 KOs) in the opening seconds of the contest but was ultimately stopped in eight rounds.

Enzo Maccarinelli. Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Enzo Maccarinelli

WBO cruiserweight (2006-08)

Maccarinelli learnt his trade under his father, Mario’s, tutelage in his hometown of Swansea. In his early years, word spread about his vaunted natural power. Maccarinelli turned professional aged 19, with a four-round decision over seasoned hardman Paul Bonson. Although he was stopped in his fourth fight, the gunslingers’ power was regularly in on show. He recovered from a first round knockdown to brutally knockout former two-time world title challenger Bruce Scott (KO 4) with a devastating left hook. Maccarinelli, who had by now linked up with Enzo Calzaghe, continued to pile up the wins, as he closed in on a world title fight. The fun power-puncher was due to face Johnny Nelson for the WBO title in March 2006. However, Nelson pulled out through injury and would never fight again due to back and knee injuries. After winning the WBO Interim title, he was upgraded to full champion and went on to make three defenses. He met David Haye in a unification in March 2008 but was stopped in two rounds. Defeats to Ola Afolabi (TKO 9) and Dennis Lebedev (TKO 3) suggested Maccarinelli had seen better days. However, he was able to impressively win the European title against Alexander Kotlobay (TKO 1) on the road in Russia. He surprisingly dropped down to light heavyweight and where he unsuccessfully challenged WBA titlist Jurgen Braehmer (RTD 5). Never was Maccarinelli’s power more evidence than late in his career when he knocked out former pound-for-pound great Roy Jones Jr. (KO 4).

Gavin Rees

WBA junior welterweight (2007-08)

Rees trained out of the same gym as Joe Calzaghe. He turned professional as a super featherweight in September 1998, he stayed unbeaten but was unable to gain any significant foothold in the sport and jumped around a couple of different weight classes. In his ninth year as a pro, he was offered a shot at WBA junior welterweight titleholder Souleymane M’Baye in July 2007. “The Rock” got off to a good start and surprised the favored defending titlist, using his superior work rate and was always a step ahead winning a wide unanimous decision. The underrated Rees lost the title to Andrei Kotelnik (TKO 12) in his maiden defense. Rees wasn’t done and in an interesting turn of events dropped down in weight to lightweight where he won British and European titles, scoring impressive wins over the likes of Andy Murray (UD 12), Derry Mathews (TD 4 / TKO 9) and Anthony Mezaache (TKO 7). He earned a shot at then well-regarded WBC 135-pound beltholder Adrien Broner, which proved a bridge too far, stopping Rees in five-rounds. He rounded out his career with a series of excellent fights with Anthony Crolla (L MD 12) and Gary Buckland (L SD 12/ SD 12). Rees now trains several fighters.

Nathan Cleverly. Photo by Press Association

Nathan Cleverly

WBO light heavyweight (2011-13)

Cleverly was influenced by Joe Calzaghe from a young age, the two remain close to this day. Cleverly appeared on several Calzaghe undercards and was trained by his father, Vince and Enzo Calzaghe. In his 13th outing he used his superior size, reach and youth to beat Tony Oakey (UD 12) to win the Commonwealth title. He went on to add British and European titles. Cleverly, who has a Maths degree, won a world title eliminator, impressively stopping Karo Murat (RTD 9). When the turbulent life of Jurgen Braehmer caught up with the German and he was unable to defend his WBO 175-pound title against Cleverly, the Welshman picked up the Interim title and was subsequently upgraded to full champion. He went on to beat future WBC cruiserweight titleholder Tony Bellew (MD 12) in his rivals’ backyard and fought in America before losing his title to Sergey Kovalev (TKO 4). Cleverly made a brief run at cruiserweight but after losing a rematch to Bellew (SD 12), he elected to drop back down to 175-pounds and claimed the WBA ‘regular’ title against old rival Braehmer (TKO 6) [Editor’s Note: The Ring doesn’t recognize The WBA ‘regular’ title, we only recognize the most senior of the WBA titles, which in this case was held by Kovalev]. Cleverly lost to Badou Jack (TKO 5) on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor and retired shortly afterwards.

Lee Selby

IBF featherweight (2015-18)

Selby found his feet fighting on small hall shows, under the radar. He received his big opportunity, as a rank outsider, when he met Stephen Smith for the British and Commonwealth featherweight titles in September 2011. It proved a coming-out party for Selby, who knocked out the heavily favored Smith with a left hand in the eighth round. Selby defended both titles until he added the European title by stopping former junior featherweight title challenger Rendall Munroe (TKO 6) in 2014. His long-awaited world title opportunity came when he beat IBF titlist Evgeny Gradovich (TD 8) in May 2015. He made four defenses, notably outboxing former three-weight titleholder Fernando Montiel (UD 12) in America. He lost his title to Josh Warrington (SD 12) in May 2018. Selby had long struggled to make 126 and decided to move up in weight, skipping junior lightweight altogether, reappearing at 135. He won two fights, including one over former three-weight champion Ricky Burns (MD 12) before dropping a contentious decision to George Kambosos (SD 12) in October 2020.

 

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright

 

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