The razzamatazz of Las Vegas came to Chichester for St Gerards’ annual black-tie dinner boxing event hosted by the Rotary Club of Chichester Priory.
In only its second year, the night was a resounding success with 270 seated diners enjoying nine top-class amateur boxing contests.
The venue was Westgate Leisure and what a display was put on.
A professional lighting rig surrounded the ring and a red carpet was laid for the boxers to walk to ringside as a DJ played the personal ring music of all the boxers.
First on, making his amateur debut, was 12-year-old Will Middleton of St Gerards in a junior contest over three 90-second rounds against Austen Southwell of the Golden Ring ABC in Southampton.
Matchmaker Gerry Lavelle said: “It was a firecracker that would have lit up the desert sky of Vegas. Both youngsters were at it hammer and tongs from the off and young Will sustained a bloody nose.
In the third and final round Will came out all guns blazing, using everything in his armoury, but Southwell’s greater experience won him a close points decision.”
Next up was another junior contest - featuring light-heavyweight Will Atha of St Gerards and Michael Lindsey (Newark ABC) in three two-minute rounds.
This was another well-matched and contested affair with Atha appearing the more accurate in the first.
The second and third were similar but with both lads looking for the big shot that never came,Lindsey was given a close points victory.
The third contest pitted a senior debutant, 17-year old Laurence Houari from St Gerards, against George Lee of Chimes Boxing Academy from Portsmouth.
Houari produced cracking back-foot boxing, making his opponent miss at will, in the first two rounds.
The last round saw Lee pushing relentlessly forward and the result was a close but surprising victory to Lee - to the disappointment of the home camp, who thought Houari had done enough.
Next was the highly-anticipated comeback for Billy Lavelle, returning from the professional ranks to the amateur code.
Head coach Gareth Ferguson said: “What a bobby dazzler for the punters. Billy was coming in as a welterweight moving up two weights from lightweight so we know he had his work cut out, but because of his phenomenal fitness regime, we knew he would come to conquer whoever stood in the way of his comeback victory and he proved us right.”
His opponent was Ben White of Hastings ABC and the opening rounds saw Lavelle push forward and initially overwhelm White with his movement and punching power, winning the first round to applause.
The second round saw Lavelle take over the contest and nearly force White to take a standing count with a big overhand right catching his chin square on.
The last round was a hum-dinger with White firing on all cylinders but Lavelle responding well.
Lavelle took a unanimous decision winning all three rounds from the judges but both got a great ovation.
The fifth contest was a light-middleweight contest between Adam Grigg of Golden Ring and Harry Bambridge of Brighton & Hove ABC. A pulsating affair went to Grigg.
After the interval The Flamboyant One - aka Chris James of St Gerards - faced John Herring of Bexhill ABC.
James and his superior boxing skills came to the fore in the opening round but the second saw Herring smother James with a flurry of punches.
The third round ended with James winning on a very clear unanimous points decision.
Next came debutant Germaine Malcolm of St Gerards facing tough opponent Jack Aitcheson from Horsham ABC at welterweight.
In the first round Aitcheson threw some pretty impressive shots but Malcolm countered well.
The second round saw Aitcheson up the ante and when Malcolm returned to his corner, his camp decided to retire him before the last round.
Next was a heavyweight clash between Mark Chandler of St Gerards and Ashley Mountain of Bexhill.
The first round saw Chandler trying to find his range and Mountain firing off big single blows. The second was similar and the third was Chandler’s best but Mountain was given a clear points win.
Finally, light-middleweights Pete Outen of St Gerards and Craig Slyvester of Littlehampton ABC did battle.
The contest started with both boxers warily circling each other before producing some very good jabs.
Head coach Gareth Ferguson told Outen not to get involved in a scrap - but he did, and Sylvester caught him with a few big shots, forcing him to the floor and he took a count of eight from the referee on his knee.
He carried on but more bruising shots forced the referee to call the contest off.
Matchmaker Lavelle said: “The evening was a roaring success from the boxing angle. We don’t take easy matches in our favour but all of our eight home boxers would have learnt something.
“The night had the glitzy glamour and sparkle of Las Vegas and was well-organised by the different partnerships working together.”
He thanked the ABAE, the Rotary Club, especially Ray Richardson, Karen Beer of Westgate Leisure, veteran gloveman Jack Hood, Bill Middleton, who sponsored St Gerards’ new kit, sponsors, club coaches Jon Mills, Xavier Southerton and Ferguson and assistants, especially Steve Bingham, and young disabled club member Luis Coward, who worked on the gloves between rounds.
Lavelle said: “Finally, thanks to the punters who attended on the night - without their support financially, nothing would happen.
“We want to keep this event going for all its worth in addressing anti-soacial behaviour in the local community.”
Ray Richardson of the Rotary Club said: “The evening went without any major hitches and everyone was amazed at the new lighting rig, supplied by Phil Haddow, who worked all afternoon to get it ready for the show. One dinner guest said it was like ‘Las Vagas coming to Chichester’.
“Phil was the reason it all looked so professional and reminded people of Las Vegas. He supplied and erected a spectacular lighting rig that you usually associate with the big fights on TV.
“It created the atmosphere for the young boxers to perform in and moved the whole event up a few notches.
“Frank O’Donnell, the head official on the night said that it was a really well organised and professional show and a credit to boxing and will lift the profile of boxing in Chichester.
“There were 250 dinner guests who bought auction prizes ranging from gym membership and a Harlequins signed rugby shirt to a parachute jump, a flight in a Tiger Moth and a gliding lesson.
“We raised just over £7,000 (compared to £6,000 last year) and all the money will go to local youth groups. Last year it was just the Boys’ Club and St Gerards but this year we hope to extend it to help as many young people as possible.
“Once again Gerry Lavelle did an excellent job at matching the bouts up - an unenviable job, but one that he is good at.
“We were supported by a large number of local businesses, who gave generously in auction prizes; donations; and advertising and we are very grateful for their help.”
Best home boxer: Billy Lavelle (St Gerards)
Best away boxer: Austen Southwell (Golden Ring ABC)
Best contest: Chris James (St Gerards) v John Herring (Bexhill)