TONIGHT’S WBC title fight between Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte is being billed as the biggest all-British heavyweight showdown since Lennox Lewis met Frank Bruno in Cardiff nearly 30 years ago. 

An estimated 94,000 crowd – a post-war British record – is expected at London’s Wembly Stadium this evening as challenger Whyte attempts to dethrone the self-styled Gipsy King. 

But on Friday, October 1, 1993 all eyes had turned to the National Stadium in Cardiff, often known as the Arms Park, for what was the first all-British heavyweight world title fight of not only the 20th century but the first since the bare-knuckle days. 

No Briton had held any of the world heavyweight belts since Bob Fitzsimmons in 1899, though there had been ten contenders since, including Welshman Tommy Farr. 

The Rhondda fighter, from Clydach Vale, had taken the great Joe Louis the full 15 rounds at New York’s Yankee Stadium in 1937. 

But the best known of any British heavyweight was Bruno who by 1993 had twice lost as the challenger including against ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson in 1989. 

The National Wales: Lennox Lewis with his WBC Heavyweight belt (left) and Frank Bruno promoting the fight at the National Stadium. Picture: Huw Evans AgencyLennox Lewis with his WBC Heavyweight belt (left) and Frank Bruno promoting the fight at the National Stadium. Picture: Huw Evans Agency

Though Bruno was a household name for his ‘know what I mean, ‘arry’ catchphrase – directed to the BBC commentator Harry Carpenter - his TV commercial and panto appearances, as well as his spirited defeats, it would be Lewis that would finally be crowned world champion. 

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The London-born fighter, who had grown up in Canada and won Olympic gold for the nation in 1988, had collected the WBC title vacated by Riddick Bowe, who retained the two other more highly valued belts, in 1992. 

Lewis defended his title in America earlier in 1993 but caused something of a surprise when he announced his first title defence in Britain would be in Cardiff at the home of Welsh rugby, and donned a Welsh jersey while doing so. 

Lewis and his promotor Frank Maloney, who was seen as having persuaded Lewis being British as a professional would be more lucrative, had announced they were bringing the “fight of the century” to Cardiff. 

Bruno complained a bigger crowd could be accommodated at Wembley, which though larger, was arguably a more outdated venue than the National Stadium which would be demolished to make way for the Millennium Stadium in just four years time. 

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According to Randy Harvey, of the LA Times, writing at the time, Lewis had brought the fight to the capital, fearing Bruno’s popularity in London. 

“Lewis insisted this fight be staged in a venue he considered more neutral, Cardiff. That appeared to have worked in his favor when Bruno’s camp complained, offending the locals,” wrote Harvey. 

“But Bruno quickly made amends, announcing to a crowd that came to see him spar this week that his wife’s mother’s mother was Welsh. In his local radio advertisements for the fight, he boasts of his “Welsh spirit.”. 

The buildup would however turn ugly and farcical. 

The National Wales: Lewis' trainer Pepe Correa used a Cardiff Bay Development Corporation card to cover Bruno's name to make a sign saying 'NO' which he held towards the challenger at a press conference. Picture: Huw Evans AgencyLewis' trainer Pepe Correa used a Cardiff Bay Development Corporation card to cover Bruno's name to make a sign saying 'NO' which he held towards the challenger at a press conference. Picture: Huw Evans Agency

Bruno, who had questioned Lewis’ British credentials, complained that he had been branded an ‘Uncle Tom’ - a slur which clearly hurt the challenger – and insisted it had come from the champion’s camp. Lewis had denied using the term. 

At a press conference at Cardiff’s Coal Exchange a libel writ was served, which Maloney tore up in front of the cameras. 

The spectacle hadn’t impressed LA Times man Harvey who had also used the occasion to travel the 24 miles north to visit the Merthyr grave of the tragic Welsh featherweight challenger Johnny Owen.

“Standing beside the grave on a cold and drizzly September morning, while the wind whistles a haunting melody through the trees, one is reminded that boxing is not merely a carnival huckster’s sideshow. It is a real drama involving real people who face real consequences,” wrote Harvey. 

The National Wales: Frank Bruno stands over Frank Maloney and Lewis at a press conference while the weigh in (right) was held at Cardiff Castle. Pictures: Huw Evans AgencyFrank Bruno stands over Frank Maloney and Lewis at a press conference while the weigh in (right) was held at Cardiff Castle. Pictures: Huw Evans Agency

He paid tribute to the "patience" of the two fighters in sitting through the “so-called news conference”. Even before the libel writ it featured a marching band parading through “Cardiff’s once-bustling, now dingy, docks,” and “cheerleaders dressed in T-shirts and tight shorts”. 

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Maloney complained city officials insisted they could not, as planned, be topless when performing their duties as ring card girls for the early hours fight, but the row had secured “one of the week’s most provocative news stories".  

“'Topless Models Banned From World Fight!'” the placards on the newsstands here screamed after the city fathers ruled that the pin-ups will have to cover up,” reported the LA Times

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Come the big night, capacity wasn’t an issue with 25,000 spectators turning up at a chilly Arms Park for the main event which started at 1am to accommodate American television viewers with rain having fallen for much of the previous day though it held off for the fight. 

Once all the talking was done, it – just as tonight’s big fight will surely do – came down to two warriors facing each other in the ring. 

The National Wales: Action as Frank Bruno, left, faces Lennox Lewis in Cardiff. Picture: Huw Evans AgencyAction as Frank Bruno, left, faces Lennox Lewis in Cardiff. Picture: Huw Evans Agency

While Lewis had been heavily fancied, and there were claims just 12 people across Britain had been willing to put money on Bruno, the champion found a hardened opponent who wouldn’t be put down. 

But when Lewis made his breakthrough in the seventh round it was decisive and Bruno couldn’t respond. The referee had to step in and the fight was called in Lewis’ favour. 

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Lewis would go on to become the dominant heavyweight of his era, and though some thought a third world title defeat may have signaled the end of Bruno’s career, he too would win a world title just two years later. 

The National Wales: After the fight, Lennox Lewis (left) and Bruno with wife Laura. Before the fight Bruno had told spectators Laura's mother's mother was Welsh. Pictures: Huw Evans AgencyAfter the fight, Lennox Lewis (left) and Bruno with wife Laura. Before the fight Bruno had told spectators Laura's mother's mother was Welsh. Pictures: Huw Evans Agency

Neither champion would ever return to fight in Cardiff but the Principality Stadium, that stands on the site of the old National Stadium, hosted successful defences by former WBA, IBF and IBO champion, Englishman, Anthony Joshua in 2017 and 2018. 

And an interesting footnote from the October fight night in 1993 is that it marked the professional debut of Joe Calzaghe. Fighting on the undercard he recorded a first round TKO to gain the first of win of what would be an unbeaten 46 fight career. 

You can read Randy Harvey's 1993 original article for the LA Times in full here.

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