Nicky Piper (b. 1966) was a well-respected Commonwealth light-heavyweight champion who fell short in three brave tilts at world titles.
The Culverhouse Cross man joined Charlie Pearson‘s Penarth gym at the age of 18, and as an amateur won five Welsh schoolboy titles, four Welsh ABA titles at three different weights, and a British ABA belt.
In 1990 he chose to turn professional with promoter Frank Warren rather than compete at the Commonwealth Games.
His early professional victories built the excitement around Piper, who carried exciting knock-out power. The hype was helped by the fighter’s academic skills – he was a Mensa member with an IQ of 153.
Perpetual bubble-burster Carl Thompson ended his unbeaten run when he stopped the Welshman in three brutal rounds, although Piper had been persuaded to concede 9.5lbs to the ‘Big Cat’, who had been drafted in as a late replacement.
The Cardiffian was still able to secure a December 1992 shot at the formidable Nigel Benn’s WBC super-middleweight belt.
His confidence cannot have been helped in the build-up when he was heavily floored in sparring by a promising young amateur called Joe Calzaghe.
But Piper made an excellent start against Benn at the Alexandra Pavilion, and one judge had the challenger ahead as they entered the 11th round. It would be the last round, though, as the ‘Dark Destroyer’ finally caught up with his prey and stopped him.
“I was genuinely frustrated,” said Piper of the fight. “I showed I had the boxing ability to beat him, but I got slower and slower and he caught up with me. Had I made the weight more comfortably, I might have beaten Benn.”
The Welshman rebuilt his career, and in January 1994 secured a hometown world-title shot at Cardiff National Ice Rink.
He would again be trying to dethrone a formidable champion, though, as he challenged Kronk Gym hard-man Leonzer Barber for his WBO light-heavyweight crown.
This time Piper made an even better start, and at the end of eight rounds the champion was badly bruised and cut, and was well behind on points. Barber’s corner sent him out with the message that it was his last round before they pulled him out – but he stopped Piper in the ninth.
“I did lose concentration,” said Piper. “But it was because I was getting tired. I used to have problems with cramp, particularly in my shoulder, and I wish now that I’d taken proper medical advice about it.”
Piper lost a British title challenge, but then won the Commonwealth belt against Noel Magee in 1995, a support bout to the big Steve Robinson v Naseem Hamed showdown at Cardiff Arms Park.
In the meantime, Barber had lost the WBO crown to the formidable German-domiciled Pole, Dariusz Michalczewski. The new champion had won all 34 of his professional fights when he gave Piper a shot at the crown in Hanover in October, 1997.
It always looked like mission impossible for Piper, and the Welshman was sent to the canvas twice in the first round – the first knock-down coming after just 10 seconds. The challenger somehow made it to the seventh when Pearson stopped him on his stool, and Piper announced his retirement immediately afterwards.
“I took the fight for the money,” admitted Piper later. “I’d fallen out of love with boxing then and was cutting corners with my training. Mind you, Michalczewski was a great fighter and the two knock-downs in the first didn’t help!”
Piper stayed intimately involved in the sport through media work, as the founder chairman of the Professional Boxers’ Association, as an administrator on the British Boxing Board of Control, and with the Sports Council for Wales. He was made an MBE in 2006.