Newport gym "major winner" at boxing comeback

First published in Sport
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ST Joseph's gym in Newport was the major winner on Saturday evening as big time boxing made a comeback in Wales.

A capacity crowd at Cardiff's Motorpoint Arena were enthralled as Lee Selby added European honours to his British and Commonwealth titles as he made a massive statement after a lacklustre end to 2013 by stopping Rendall Monroe.

But it was an even better night for stablemate Gary Buckland who edged an incredibly close all-out war with ex-world title holder Gavin Rees, winning by a single round on a split decision following a bloody and brutal battle that is already earning rave reviews on social media.

Even on the first day of the second month of the year, it's a safe bet that the all-Welsh showdown between two Gwent-trained fighters is certain to be in the mix when it comes to naming the fight of the year for 2014. It may also be the last time we ever see Rees box.

However, on the whole, it was an evening that provided exhilarating shot in the arm for Welsh boxing, the biggest night we've experienced since Joe Calzaghe was last in the capital, back when he defeated Peter Manfredo over five years ago.

The Cardiff Arena was packed to capacity and it was a proper boxing crowd, raucous and respectful in equal measure.

While it is Rees and Buckland who will be talked about longest, the headlines were for Selby who added the European featherweight title to his British one with the Commonwealth crown also captured (and since vacated).

The Barry boxer is becoming a star, selling over 1,000 tickets and displaying a ring awareness and if we're honest, a touch of showmanship and arrogance that is hard to ignore.

Selby has been taken the distance in his last two outings and looked somewhat frustrated, but he was a cut above Monroe from the first bell.

That's quite a statement when one considers Monroe had lost only three previous fights, two of which were at world level for super bantamweight crowns (the other, tellingly, was at featherweight). The former bin man was a great barometer by which to measure Selby's progress and the answers we got were hugely encouraging.

Selby's speed and combinations beguiled Monroe and the Barry boxer won each session before blowing away his opponent in the sixth round.

A stiff left to the midriff opened up Monroe and Selby piled in, firing two right hands and a left hook to Monroe's head as he tried to cover up pinned back to the ropes.

Selby knew the end was near and there was a touch of Ali as he gestured for Ian John-Lewis to take a closer look and halt proceedings after another Monroe was pinned into a corner taking punishment for a full 40 seconds, shot after shot landing on his cranium.

"I called the ref to stop it, a bit of an Ali move, but I didn't want to really hurt him, the fight was over at that point, it's just a bit of showboating," Selby told the Argus afterwards.

"I believe I'll be a world champion. I am being built slowly but surely and that's great."

Selby is being tipped for a world title but his manager Chris Sanigar, who built Glenn Catley into a world champion, is keen patience is shown.

"Lee is my third European champion and I believe he'll go all the way, but in time, after we pick the right fights and build him up as a superstar, an all-time fighter, not just a quick world champion.

"Lee can do what Prince Naseem Hamed did and go to America and do it all."

The world level is familiar to Newbridge's Gavin Rees, but he'll be considering his options are heartbreaking defeat to sparring rival Buckland.

Rees off the back of two defeats said he'd quit the sport if he lost to Buckland and after an absolutely incredible effort it was so harsh for either fighter to lose.

Rees started imperiously but was slowly worn down by Buckland's relentless style, both boxers holding ground in the middle of the ring and trading shots in a manner than was at times uncomfortable to watch, such was the brutality.

How you were scoring the fight was almost entirely subjective with shots thrown, landed and periods of dominance and pressure all split with a cigarette paper.

I scored the contest 115-114 in Rees' favour, but couldn't really contest the three cards, 116-113, one for Rees and one for Buckland with Terry O'Connor scoring it 115-114 to Buckland.

The Tony Borg trained fighter will now challenge for the British lightweight title, and at 27-years old and now back to winning ways, Buckland's earned his redemption the hard way. He was too bruised and battered to speak in the dressing room afterwards and was wisely whisked away to see the doctor for amongst other things, a damaged hand.

For Rees, 33, it could be the end of the line. However, there will be many who desperately hope he fights at least once more in 2014. His last eight fights have produced six brilliant contests and he could easily have left Cardiff with a win at the weekend. His attitude is better than ever.

If his body is willing, another fight and a win setting up a potential rematch for the British title with Buckland would be a treat for British fight fans. But if Rees is to bow out now, what a courageous note with which to finish.

Elsewhere on the undercard, Olympic super heavyweight gold medallist Anthony Joshua showed more encouraging signs in the paid ranks by notching up win number four over Dorian Darch.

Game Darch, who had Newport's ex-champion fighter Sammy Sims in his corner, had no answer to Joshua's prodigious jab and sound strategy to compliment his almost super human frame.

Darch was busted open above the eye in the first round and a series of heavy handed left hooks in the second was enough for the referee and rightly so.

Swansea's Chris Jenkins won the International light welterweight championship in a close affair with France's Christopher Sebire and Lockett-trained Dale Evans from St Clears beat Erick Ochieng in his first outing since Prizefighter.

Merthyr's former European champion Kerry Hope beat Paul Moffett and Tobias Webb, nephew of Enzo Maccarinelli, proved too strong for Nathan King despite the Mountain Ash man forcing a knockdown in the first session.

And Maesteg's Jason Cook ended his career at 38 by winning the Celtic welterweight title with a fourth round KO victory over Tony Pace.

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