Exclusive by Rich Jones
Local lad Liam Williams is determined to lead a revival of Welsh boxing ahead of his huge rematch with Liam Smith on November 11.
The pair were involved in a brutal battle in Manchester back in April but Williams was condemned to his first professional defeat in controversial fashion.
He was pulled out by his corner at the end of the ninth round due to a nasty cut caused by a clash of heads missed by the referee.
It means Williams, 25, is now heading into a defining rematch with Smith, with the winner set to earn a shot for the WBO light-middleweight title vacated by Canelo Alvarez.
Based just 10 miles outside Cardiff in the small village of Church Village, he is on the verge of stepping up to world level.
And he is now hoping to be at the forefront of a resurgence of big fight nights featuring home-grown fighters in Cardiff.
“Flying the flag for Wales is a big part of it for me,” Williams said.
“It’s been a hard couple of years for Welsh boxing. It hasn’t been in a great place even though it’s been ticking all the time.
“At the moment it seems to be thriving a bit more. We’ve got some good prospects coming through and some real talent.
“That’s a big part of the journey now, taking that forwards and keeping Welsh boxing on the rise.
“After I win this fight I want to bring some big fights back to Wales with a Welsh boxer as the headline act.”
For the first time in his career, Williams will now be forced to show he can respond to defeat.
His unblemished professional record is now no more – but he is backing the events of last April to serve as added motivation.
“It’s a big fight for me, 100%,” he stated. “It’s not like I’ve got nowhere to go if I was to lose, but don’t get things twisted – I’m definitely going there to pick up the victory and that’s exactly what I’ll do.
“Smith is a good fighter, I’ll give him credit for what he’s achieved so I think it’s going to be a good fight and a crowd pleasing fight, definitely.
“I wasn’t really too disheartened by the first defeat. I was obviously disappointed by it because a loss is a loss, and it’s not nice to have one of those on my record for the first time.
“But I wasn’t too disappointed because of the manner of it. It doesn’t really feel like it was a convincing loss. I didn’t get filled in or beaten up, you know?
“I know a loss is a loss however it comes, but there were a lot of things to feel positive about and on another day it could’ve been a very different outcome.
“It will be quite hard, but I think it’s done my some favours in terms of having that motivation to bounce back and wanting revenge.
“I’m feeling very good. I’m in peak condition, I’m very sharp and I’ve not got much else to say really.
“I’m in top notch shape and it’s at that stage where I just can’t wait to get in the ring and fight now.”
Williams came out firing in the first fight between the pair, leading to him being ahead on all three judges’ scorecards when the bout was stopped.
This time around, he is expecting feisty Liverpudlian Smith to focus on a much faster start – but he has tweaked his own game plan to cope.
“I just think he’s going to come out firing a bit more and start throwing the shots in early,” Williams said.
“I’ve changed a few things myself, which I’m obviously not going to put out there. It’s just little things, and trusty me I’m a lot better and a lot more well prepared for this fight.
“In my head there’s only one outcome, and that’s me being victorious whether it’s by a points decision or by knockout.”
Although he is now closing in on the biggest night of his career so far, circumstances threatened to lead Williams away from this path.
The dangers of boxing are well-documented, but Williams was exposed to this first-hand twice within the space of a few months.
He was in the corner of Nick Blackwell on the night when he suffered serious head injuries which left him in an induced coma following his bout with Chris Eubank Jr in March 2016.
Just six months later, he joined Dale Evans on the night when his bout with Mike Towell led to the tragic death of his opponent.
Seeing such tragedy strike in the ring could have caused many to consider their future in the ring – but Williams insists he has never let it impact upon his mindset.
He added: “I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it clearly hasn’t had a big effect because I’ve fought since and I’ve performed.
“I was closely involved with both incidents in that I was actually in the corner with Nick Blackwell and Dale Evans during those fights.
“You’ve got to take each thing for what it is, and I believe I was just very unlucky to find myself in those positions.
“It doesn’t change me as a fighter or as a person. I’ve always had the same outlook on boxing, and it’s still the same outlook I had before everything that happened.”