25th May 2012

Lee Selby

Where
had Barry’s Lee Selby been hiding prior to his valedictory British and
Commonwealth featherweight title win over Stephen Smith last September?

The
cocksure 25 year old Welshman from Tony Borg’s flourishing St Jo’s
stable in Newport proved a revelation by comprehensively outboxing, then
felling, the former European amateur medallist in his home city of
Liverpool.

Selby then consolidated with an equally impressive wipeout of John Simpson before the year was through.

Prior
to making a second defence of his Commonwealth strap against Patrick
Okine at the Newport Sports Centre tomorrow night (Friday 25th May), the
richly talented switchhitter spoke at length to boxing writer Glynn
Evans about his career thus far and his future aspirations.

How did you first become interested in boxing?
My
dad’s a huge boxing fanatic. You get quite a bit of trouble in the town
where I live (Barry), some real rough places, same as everywhere. But
I’ve never had a street fight. From a very young age, I was always in
the Rhoose ABC gym where (ex British and Commonwealth welter challenger)
Michael Smyth boxed. He’s kind of related to me, my uncle is his
stepdad. After we left the Rhoose gym to join the Splott Adventure gym
in Cardiff, he never spoke to us!
What are your memories of your amateur career?
I had my first bout a couple of days after my 10th
birthday. All told I’d have had about 90 bouts, lost about 20. I won
the Welsh (title) every year including three Welsh seniors but didn’t
get many international vests. They kept picking the kids I’d beat ahead
of me.

I
did box (Scotland’s former British champion) Paul Appleby twice in the
Four Nations. First time he beat me by a point and I was robbed. Second
time he beat me fair and square. But I weren’t very dedicated as an
amateur, hardly trained, just messed around.  I fought up at
lightweight- I still only walk around at about 10 stone – and I regret
that. Because of my style, I could’ve been a great amateur. Today I’m
far more professional, both in style and my attitude.

The
only blip on your 13 fight pro record is a four round points loss to
Hull’s former ABA finalist Samir Mouneimne in your fifth start. What
went wrong that night?
To
be honest, I don’t know how I passed the doctor. I had lumps around my
throat. Still, I thought I beat Samir. First two rounds I just messed
around but I had him out on his feet, third round. However, back then, I
lacked the experience to finish him off.  I definitely won round four
but they gave it him in a bad decision. If we boxed again now, I’d
definitely knock him out.
The
St Joseph’s gym in Newport where you train under Tony Borg is fast
emerging as one of the best in Britain. What makes it tick?
It’s
the boxers that make the gym. There’s top class kids like (reigning
British superfeather champion) Gary Buckland and his younger brother
Mitchell, my brother Andrew and Fred Evans (both 2012 Olympians), Joe
Cordina and Sean McGoldrick (both Team GB members), plus good pros like
Frankie Borg and Lee Churcher.

We’re
all talented boys, all get along, work together. There’s a great team
spirit here. We’re very competitive in the running and circuits, and we
punch lumps out of each other in the sparring ring. We all want to be
the best.


We
mix the sparring up so that we get plenty of fast sharp stuff with the
amateurs and rougher, heavier stuff with the pros. I’ve only been
dropped once, by (Britain’s 2012 Olympic welter representative) Fred
Evans in the gym. I was giving it him and he caught me coming in with a
hook. I just knocked out a few press ups and climbed back up!

There’s
not any good professional gyms in Cardiff any more. That’s why I travel
about 20 miles each way to train with Tony three or four times a week.
He’s a really excellent coach, the best in Britain. Tony’s a really good
guy to get along with, never puts himself above you. But there’s no
easy sessions at this gym. If you’re not prepared to put the work in,
Tony won’t bother with you and that’s how it should be.

Of
course, he did it all himself as a top amateur and ex-pro. He’s an
excellent pad man, always focuses on correcting your mistakes, improving
you rather than telling you how fantastic you are.  To be honest, he’s
the only coach who’s really shown me much, taught me to hide my chin
behind my shoulder. I’m naturally unorthodox, most of it’s just
instinct. Ali was my hero, hence the showboating but I’ve cut down on
that now, become more professional.
Despite
winning Welsh and Celtic titles you’d not been past six rounds when you
challenged Scouse amateur star Stephen Smith for his British and
Commonwealth belts last September. You were also forced to go to his
home city. How confident were you going into that fight?
 I’m
confident going into every fight because of all the quality sparring I
do with far heavier boys at Tony’s gym.  After taking it to
middleweights in sparring, I find it very easy when I’m in against kids
who weigh the same as me. I’m very big for featherweight and, now I’m
getting proper notice to make the weight properly, I’m very, very
strong. Before, at just one or two weeks notice I was only showing half
of myself.

Going
in, I wasn’t given much of a chance because no one had really seen me.
I’d not been on TV or even on the internet much. I was sent up there to
get beat. Being in his home city, I knew that if I outboxed Smith,
they’d still give it to him on points.


The
hostile crowd certainly never bothered me.Two fights previously, I’d
fought at the same arena, stayed at the same hotel and that helped.
Compared with Smith, I’m very big at the weight. I’m also very fast.
Every shot I landed, I could feel the strength draining out of Smith. I
knew he was going to go. Sure, he can have a return but I’m not sure
he’d want it. I was hurting him every shot I hit him.
You’d
only registered two stoppage victories in 11 previous gigs yet the
scything left hook that ironed Smith out in round eight was a strong
candidate for British Knockout of the Year. Did you surprise yourself?
Not
at all. I always have been a puncher but, earlier in my career, my
manager Chris Sanigar advised me to get the rounds in the bag. He told
me that journeymen are there to learn from, not to knockout.  Now I’m at
championship level I’m allowed to let the shots go.

People
don’t realise how hard I hit. But every title fight, when my opponent
has had to get down to my weight, I’ve stopped them. When I boxed Dai
Davies for the Welsh superfeather, he was ‘out’, gone from one punch,
just like Smith was. Now I can knock ‘em all out.


You
proved the upset over Smith was no fluke when you wasted teak tough
Scot John Simpson with a body shot (rsc5) in your maiden defence at the
York Hall, three months after.

That’s
right. I was extremely confident going in because I’ve always been able
to box the heads off the shorter, compact types. After the sparring I
do, there’s no chance these little nine stone fellas are going to push
me back.

I
wasn’t shocked at all that I won but I was a bit shocked that Simpson
fell so early and so easily because he’d never been stopped before. It
wasn’t really a hard shot but must’ve just landed in the right place. I
think I’m frightening off all these little British featherweights.
Last
year, your younger brother Andrew ripped up a few trees by storming to
the European amateur flyweight title and qualifying for London 2012 by
making the final at the world amateur championships in Azerbaijan. How
significant have Andrew’s successes been in helping you focus on
realising your own potential? What role will you play in his Olympic
preparations?
It
definitely gave me a bit of a kick up the arse. I’m very proud of him.
He’s definitely the best medal prospect in Team GB and I think he’ll win
the gold.

Andrew’s
just over a year younger than me and, growing up, we always trained
together and sparred together. We weren’t overly competitive, we always
got on well. It was always me who ended up with the black eyes cos he’d
hit me so hard!


We
still spar and he still likes to have a go. He’s a very good boxer and
we learn off each other. He’s improved my defence. We sparred before the
Smith fight at home, in the kitchen!
When
he’s home from (the Team GB training base in) Sheffield, we’ll run and
spar together and we work together very well with each other on the
pads. I’m hoping to be ringside for him but he only gets two comps per
bout and the whole family will be scrambling for ‘em. Two tickets ain’t
enough.
Friday
sees you defend a major title for the first time back in Wales. Are you
looking forward to the homecoming or does it add unneeded pressure?
For
a start it’ll be nice to enter an arena where the fans clap me rather
than boo me. I was given 120 tickets and I should do the lot. Hopefully,
I’ll be able to please all my family and friends but I’ll not be going
out to be a hero. I’ll just be going out to win the fight and keep my
belt. If the kayo doesn’t come, I certainly won’t be disappointed.
You
spent a week of your preparation over at the Mayweather gym in Las
Vegas. How did that opportunity materialise and what did you hope to
gain from the experience?
My
manager Chris Sanigar is good mates with Cornelius Boza-Edwards from
their time boxing together at the Fitzroy Lodge gym in London. Chris
wanted me to have a taste of what life’s like at the very top and Boza
arranged accommodation and sorted out sparring and everything for us. Originally,
we’d hoped to spar (WBA and IBF feather king) Yuriorkis Gamboa but we’d
just missed him. However, I did get quality sparring with Joel Brunker,
an Australian who’s number three featherweight with the WBO, and Kevin
Johnson, an amateur light-welter from the Mayweather gym who was good
but not as good as me! I also sparred a Canadian welter who was 15-1.
Getting the better of top boys like them gave me a lot of confidence.

At
the Mayweather gym I got to watch Floyd Jnr train and spar. 50 Cent was
there plus guys like Andre Ward and Zab Judah. The most impressive
thing about Floyd is how he takes his time and wastes nothing; lands
almost every shot. We had a photo taken, shook hands and he wished me
well with my career. His uncle Roger took me on the pads, showed me some
defence and said he was impressed with me.

I
really enjoyed it and would love to return sometime, hopefully to
challenge for a world title at the MGM Grand. I’m only about 18 months
off, if I’m kept busy and keep winning.

What do you know about your Ghanaian opponent Patrick ‘The Mallet’ Okine?
He’s got a good record (11-1-1) with a very decent knockout percentage (nine stoppage wins, including his last five fights).

Africans
are usually very tough and, from what I’ve seen of him on You Tube,
he’s very strong and not scared of letting his punches go. But he’s
nothing too special technically. I’ve
not boxed for over five months yet I’ve been in the gym for almost
every day since and, for the last eight weeks, I’ve been at it, flat
out. I’m feeling very sharp and ready to go.

Finally, if you prevail on Friday, what are your plans for the remainder of 2012?
I’d
like a Lonsdale Belt and my (British) mandatory is up next. I’m unsure
who it is but there’s some good fighters in the division such as Smith,
Martin Lindsey and Joe Murray. I’ll oblige any of them. Fighting away
really doesn’t bother me at all. I’d happily fight Martin Lindsay in
Belfast if the money’s good.

I’m
also mandatory for the European which is held by a kid (Georgia’s
Alexander Miskirtchian)who lost on points to Paul Truscott so he can’t
be too clever. However, some of those (contenders) behind him are very
good boys and when I land at that level I want to be ready for any of
‘em. I’ve only had 13 fights. I’m still a novice, still learning. www.frankwarren.com

*SELBY v OKINE WILL BE LIVE AND EXCLUSIVE ON BOXNATION (SKY CH. 456/VIRGIN CH. 546) FROM 7PM. JOIN AT WWW.BOXNATION.COM*