After an uneventful 2016, Barry’s Lee Selby is likely to get the New Year going for Welsh boxing on 28 January at the grandest stage in the sport, Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. It will be a consecutive mandatory defence of his IBF featherweight belt, this time against Argentina’s world level yardstick Jonathan Victor Barros.
Ireland’s man of the moment, Carl Frampton, headlines the Showtime televised event in a WBA title rematch with Mexican chainsaw Leo Santa Cruz. Should the stars align and both Europeans win on 28 January, the healthy relationship between their respective handlers will help cement a stellar unification contest.
A lot of details have to be lined-up and if they are, an outdoor summer occasion in Belfast would be the most significant outing involving a Welshman since Joe Calzaghe saw off Bernard Hopkins for the lineal light-heavyweight rights in 2008.
Frank Warren has staged two shows in Cardiff in the last six months and it was encouraging that they grew from the Bay’s 3,500 capacity Ice Arena to the city centre’s larger 5,000 seater Motorpoint Arena. The success means that Wales’ fight scene will be a key stakeholder when broadcaster BoxNation link up with BT Sport in 2017.
Most importantly, Warren’s recommitment to Wales facilitated the birth of Clydach’s super-welterweight Liam Williams as a headline attraction. At some point or another, the Hall of Fame promoter has been involved in our last seven world champions, from Steve Robinson to Joe Calzaghe, those in between and afterwards. There are genuine hopes ‘The Machine’ will be our 13th belt holder.
Currently rated third by the WBO, Williams will be in prime position for their vacant title if Mexican icon Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez heads six pounds north. Warren has publicised his desire for a match-up with Liverpool’s ex-champion Liam Smith. ‘Beefy’ has always seemed dismissive of the fight… until now, likely due to the attraction of Williams’ ever-swelling fan base and his lofty ranking.
One man who knows about a South Wales vs. Scouse rivalry is Cefn Fforest’s Nathan Cleverly. The 29-year-old only fought only once in the last calendar but in causing Juergen Braehmer to bail, he saved his 11-year career with the most important win yet. Thanks to a contract clause wisely inputted by Sauerland Promotions, its likely Cleverly will return to Germany to do the double on 8 April.
It’s certain to be back in Germany and it doesn’t seem like Cleverly’s WBA Regular light-heavyweight belt will be enough on its own to bring Eddie Hearn back here. Hopes of Matchroom returning to Wales will be boosted if Olympian Joe Cordina turn professional with the Essex outfit, as expected to happen, to add to their Welsh clientele.
Like Cordina, Cardiff’s Craig Kennedy is another Llanrumney Phoenix Boxing Club alumni and he’ll be interested in the envelopes due to be opened at the British Boxing Board of Control’s [BBBoC] headquarters in mid-January. The contents will determine the details of his cruiserweight clash with Blackpool’s Matty Askin, with the vacant Lord Lonsdale belt up for grabs.
The broadcasting landscape is altering all the time with new opportunities emerging from BT Sport, ITV and Channel 5. Kennedy and Askins, who sparred together in 2015, could gel together for a fight that would be very worthy of wider coverage.
Another up-and-comer who now needs major backing to make it to the next level is Andrew Selby. ‘The AC Superstar’ has taken to the professional code in the same fashion that helped establish him as Wales’ best ever amateur. However, his almost limitless switch-hitting skills are banging on doors that now need to be opened outside of the ring.
The British flyweight title wasn’t enough to tempt domestic rivals to fight and unless Selby becomes a number one contender, no world champion would be well advised to grant him a voluntary shot. Having turned 28 on Christmas Day, I’ll use Andrew’s birthday wish on his behalf and hope that a willing foe can be found. Sanigar Events have teamed up with Cyclone Promotions to keep him busy and now he deserves to be on centre stage as the main attraction.
It would be refreshing to see super-lightweights Chris Jenkins and Mitchell Buckland, from Swansea and Cardiff respectively, busier than they have been. The pair are both talented enough to contest for domestic honours but have found themselves suffering extended absences. It’s been due to varying reasons that are out of their control and Tom Doran, the leading light for North Wales, is another who has been inactive, making it just four fights for the trio in 2016.
There is a crop of quality prospects about to graduate from their apprenticeships, too. Swansea’s super-flyweight Jay Harris, Maerdy’s super-middleweight Alex Hughes and Aberdare’s light-heavyweight Morgan Jones have done the business against the usual suspects and are ready for sterner tests.
There are avenues opening for those in the earlier stages of development, too. Many up-and-comers will benefit from S4C’s creation of the Y Ffiet programme. It will showcase the small hallers and provide potentially valuable terrestrial exposure.
One thing that worldwide boxing can happily go without in 2017 are more reminders of how serious the sport can be. It has been a truly horrible year for serious brain injuries and two of the most high profile incidents have come very close to home.
Honorary Welshman Nick Blackwell is on the road to recovery again. It feels like a long time ago since ‘Bang Bang’ was placed in an induced coma shortly after losing his beloved British middleweight belt to Chris Eubank Jr. Staggeringly, Nick recently started sparring in secret, only to obviously suffer another similar, yet more serious injury. The road to recovery will be a longer one and those who indulged his misguided ambitions should not be seen near any gym or ring in the future.
St Clears’ Dale Evans will also have Wales’ support when he returns to take his place in the queue of challengers for Bradley Skeete’s strap. ‘Big Boy’ will target the British welterweight title and he aims to win it in Mike Towell’s memory, something I’m sure we’d all love to see in 2017.
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