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All about Welsh Boxing

It is all about Wales this week.  Matchroom ran their first show of the year at the weekend in Cardiff, and it proved to be as entertaining as it promised beforehand on paper.  Then early this week we got the news that former WBO cruiserweight champion Enzo Maccarinelli, from Swansea, had been awarded the opportunity of winning a championship belt in a second division, as he challenges German Juergen Braehmer for his WBA light-heavyweight crown this coming April.

Eddie Hearn’s show gave terrific entertainment to the patrons attending on the night and also to Sky Sports viewers, who enjoyed five and a half televised hours of the show.  In the main event, Lee Selby predictably proved too much for veteran Rendall Munroe, who was never a factor in the fight, being outpunched in every round until the referee stepped in to stop the fight in the sixth round.  The stoppage may have been a bit premature, but the eventual outcome of the fight was never in doubt.  Selby is a fringe world contender in a very strong featherweight division, but boxes with great confidence and, with the support of promoter Hearn, will surely receive a title fight sooner rather than later.

The highlight of the show, and without doubt what will be one of the highlights of the year, was the magnificent British lightweight title eliminator between the two Welsh fighters, Gavin Rees and Gary Buckland.  Both of these amazing warriors fought themselves to a standstill before Buckland was awarded the split decision after 12 of the best rounds that will be boxed anywhere in the world this year.

Another outstanding fight took place on the undercard as trainer Gary Lockett’s protégé, Dale Evans, put forth the best performance of his career to edge out former English light-middleweight champion, Erick Ochieng.  The latter was moving down to welterweight for the first time but, unfortunately for him, this backfired as the determined Evans was just too strong and persistent for him.  Ochieng had a chance for victory in the seventh round when he stunned Evans to his boots with a right hand, however, he was unable to finish him off and the battle was lost.  Evans only trains for three days a week due to logistical reasons.  If he were to go full-time professional, he could well be a major contender for British title honours.

Also on the card, Chris Jenkins stepped up to the 10-round distance for the first time and well outpointed game Frenchman, Christopher Sebire, for the WBC International title.  Jenkins has plenty of talent but may lack the pop to go too much further.  He will require an incessant work-rate in order to compensate for his lack of power, but clearly slowed in the second half of Saturday’s fight.  Had he been in with a more competent opponent he would have paid a price for this.

With fighters of the ilk of Lee Selby, Nathan Cleverly and Enzo Maccarinelli keeping Welsh boxing going at top level and the likes of Dale Evans, Chris Jenkins and the Frank Warren promoted triumvirate of Craig Evans, Lewis Rees and Liam Williams coming up fast, Welsh boxing would appear to be in good hands.

Over and above all these names though is someone else who will surely play a huge part in the future of boxing in Wales, ex-middleweight and now top young trainer Gary Lockett.  Lockett currently trains three of the above-mentioned prospects, Dale Evans, Lewis Rees and Williams, and is also guiding the fortunes of Maccarinelli and Gavin Rees.  As a professional boxer Lockett had a good career but just fell short of reaching world class, despite fighting Kelly Pavlik for the world title in 2008.  As a trainer, so far he has been a revelation.

Whilst not being privy to what goes on in the gym, the most obviously impressive thing about Lockett is his work in the corner during fights.  His advice to his fighters is calm, clear and concise but it is the way he manages his fighters through the tough rounds and encourages them to keep going which is so impressive.  In Maccarinelli’s last fight against Ovill McKenzie, Enzo admitted afterwards that he was not following the game plan.  Rather than scream at his fighter, who was losing the fight and looking very dejected in the corner, Gary kept cajoling him and repeating what he needed to do to gain control of the fight.  Eventually he got the response he wanted and Maccarinelli got the knockout.  Enzo has a big ask now, going to Germany to try to dethrone Braehmer, but with Lockett in his corner do not be surprised if these two fashion a fairytale victory.

Saturday in Cardiff should have seen a double celebration for Lockett.  After guiding Dale Evans to his terrific victory, Lockett had to rush back to the dressing rooms to finish preparing Gavin Rees for his make or break match-up with Buckland.  Lockett had his work cut out yet again in this fight as Rees looked exhausted during the whole of the second half.  Lockett’s powers of persuasion came to the fore again in the corner and Rees saw the fight through to the end, finishing like a train in the last two rounds to outwork the younger man.  Unfortunately, it was not enough as two of the judges’ cards went against him.

This brings me to the one sour point of the show, the fact that Rees, whose career was on the line as he had been quoted before the fight as stating he would retire if he failed to win, had victory unfairly taken away from him.  Watching the show on Sky Sports, this writer had Rees a 116-112 winner and was bitterly disappointed when the verdict went the other way.  This is in no way meant disparagingly towards Gary Buckland, who fought a tremendous battle, but Rees clearly won the fight.  The excellent Bobby Hunter, @thefightscore, who collates press scores each weekend, which are printed on the Boxing News website every Monday, collected scores from 25 journalists and writers after the fight.  Out of those, 23 had Rees winning the fight, and 2 had scored it a draw.  Not one scored the fight for Buckland.  The average score of Press Row was 116-113 for Rees.  How is it then that two of the three people whose score actually counts had Buckland winning?

The frustrating thing about this is that it happens almost every weekend.  Barely a word was said about Rees’ misfortune on the night, as everyone was raving about the fantastic entertainment which the two boxers had given us.  Of course that is correct, but Rees intimated afterwards that he would follow through with his previous statement and would likely retire.  Judges have boxers’ careers in their hands.  They cannot continue to be allowed to make these errors.  In any other sport, this would have been dealt with years ago, but in boxing nothing ever changes.  There is no independent governance of the sport and, until there is, things will continue in the same vein.

Stepping away from the Welsh theme, but continuing with the scoring controversy, I feel the need to point out something which happened on the Sauerlands card from the previous Saturday.  The main event featured Marco Huck’s dominating defence of his cruiserweight title against Firat Arslan.  However, an interesting chief support saw the Sauerlands’ Austrian middleweight prospect, Marcos Nader, lose his unbeaten record against Italian Emanuele Blandamura.  Nader was so comprehensively outpointed by the fast punching Italian that at the end of the fight, the usual histrionics were absent from the home corner.  Everyone looked downcast, aware of the fact that their man had been well beaten.

When the judges’ scorecards were read out, the fight was announced as a split decision victory for Blandamura.  The one dissenting card, which went completely unmentioned by the BoxNation team on the night, was handed in by Britain’s Richie Davies.  Davies had scored 115-113 for Nader, whilst the other two judges got it right, with scores of 117-111 and 115-113 (too close), for Blandamura.  It was disturbing that Davies’ dissenting card went unmentioned, whereas if it had been put forward by a “foreign” judge, said judge would have been castigated for his disgraceful and laughable score in favour of the home favourite.

Davies is a fine referee, possibly the best in Europe, but as a judge he needs to be watched.  Davies was also one of the judges who gave Arthur Abraham a lifeline when the latter struggled down to the wire with Willbeforce Shihepo in August of last year on a previous Sauerland show.  Most neutral observers had the fight slightly in favour of Shihepo, but all three judges predictably had Abraham a clear winner.  After all, he had the rubber match with Robert Stieglitz, a sure-fire moneyspinner, virtually signed and sealed.  With these two performances, our Richie has virtually guaranteed himself another all-expenses-paid trip to Germany in the near future.