The vibrant but overlooked tradition of Welsh boxing

A boxing event last Saturday displayed some of the best in up-and-coming Welsh talent. Is coverage of these events the key to elevating Welsh boxing?  

Wales has long had a proud tradition of boxing excellence: how is that continuing now?

In Merthyr Tydfil on Saturday 9 March, a celebration of Celtic boxing was scheduled to take place at the Merthyr Leisure Centre, with live coverage from Welsh national network S4C. As well as an undercard featuring the best in up- and-coming Welsh fighting talent, the event was meant to feature three title fights, most prominently one for the vacant Celtic Light Heavyweight Title between champion and Cardiff local Nathan Thorley and Irish Champion Paddy McDonagh.  

However, a succession of developments occured in the days leading up to the AllorNothing Championship Boxing event. The main fight between Nathan Thorley and Paddy McDonagh was cancelled as Thorley fell ill a few days before. In addition, its two other title fights: Kody Davies vs Morgan Jones and Gavin Gwynne vs Darren Trayner were all cancelled. Kody Davies sustained a foot injury, and Gavin Gwynne, Merthyr’s unbeaten lightweight Welsh champion, injured his knee while sparring, in what event organizer Jamie Sanigar described as “fairly freak injuries.” As a result, Welsh national network S4C didn’t end up showing the event.

The All or Nothing Event in Merthyr Tydfil on Saturday March 9 gave a showcase of some of the best in up-and-coming Welsh boxing talent, even as its three title fights were cancelled.

 The event still went ahead however, and while describing the developments as “unfortunate,” Sanigar called Saturday’s event, even with its shortened line-up, “a good night of boxing.” The show went on with seven fights, with the planned fight between Thorley and McDonagh currently planned to be rescheduled.

Sanigar defended S4C’s decision not to broadcast the event. “I think first and foremost S4C should be praised for promoting Welsh boxing. That hasn’t been done on a regional basis for as long as I can remember really. So for them to invest in boxing has been a major boost over the last few years,” he said. Sanigar described S4C’s decision as a consequence of their limited budget. “It’s not a case of them pulling out or anything like that. They don’t have the resources to cover eight events a year. They have to invest in the two or three that they can.” Sanigar says the “main thing is to keep the boys active” and to prepare for an anticipated big TV event over the summer.  

However, given the importance of S4C in boosting boxing and invigorating the Welsh title, some pointed to its move as bad news for Welsh boxing. Despite the absence of any title fights “there were still some really good up and coming boxers on the show such as Jake Anthony and Morgan Jones who would have done with the publicity to get their name known more with the Welsh public,” said Welsh boxing journalist Tom Prosser. “Morgan Jones ended up losing to Anthony Fox in a big upset. This would have been an entertaining fight to have shown.”  

Wales still has a wealth of boxing talent. One particular area for growth is university boxing, as demonstrated by Cardiff’s Battle of the Diff on March 5. Photo by Josh Lowe.

While the event may not have turned out as planned, it fits into a rich tradition of boxing as a Welsh pastime. Among the many professional boxers to have come out of Wales since the early 20th century, several have become world champions. These include Percy Jones, undefeated World Champion Joe Calzaghe, and most famously Jimmy Wilde, widely known as both the greatest flyweight boxer ever and the greatest British fighter of all time.

Are Wales’ days of boxing glory behind it? “The standard of Welsh boxing is currently really high and promising but the boxers don’t get the publicity they deserve from the Welsh media,” said Prosser. “For example, Liam Williams and Chris Jenkins were both involved in Big British title fights in London last week and both BBC Wales Today and ITV Wales news failed to mention them.” In addition, he considers unified world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua’s two fights in Cardiff, in October 2017 and April 2018, as a wasted opportunity for Welsh boxing, as only two Welsh boxers, Joe Cordina and Morgan Jones, were involved.  

Cardiff University’s Dan Tedd and Elliott Hulme face off in the Battle of the Diff, a demonstration of the potential for university boxing in Wales. Photo by Josh Lowe.

On a much smaller scale, the Battle of the Diff took place between Cardiff University and Cardiff Metropolitan University only a few days before the fight in Merthyr. This was itself covered live by Cardiff Met Sport TV. “This was a great event to cover and amateur shows like this are really important to bring through the next generation of boxers and fans,” said Prosser, who covered the event. “Dan Tedd and Elliott Hulme from Cardiff Uni both really impressed me and the atmosphere was electric. I think university boxing can come quite big, there is certainly a gap in the market for it.”  

As far as names to look out for in the next 12 months, Andrew Selby will soon be fighting in a world title final eliminator, Jay Harris looks set for a shot at either the British or European title and Liam Williams “looks like he is a world champion in waiting” according to Prosser.    

“The standard of boxing is here in Wales, the support of the fans for Welsh boxing is here but the publicity from the press isn’t and that is what is needed to take Welsh boxing to the next level.”