Why my son wins – Sean O’Hagan

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The ex-pro and head honcho at the thriving St Joseph’s gym in Newport insists defending IBF champ Lee Selby is several rungs above Josh Warrington in terms of talent, ahead of Saturday’s salivating Featherweight world title fight at Leeds United’s Elland Road, shown live on BT Sport and BoxNation.

“When Lee’s dad brought him to me, to look after him as a pro 10 years ago, he was already possibly the best technical boxer at the gym. But he was a long way from the fittest.

Lee came from an area where kids hung around doing nothing, drinking lager. He told me he didn’t do circuits! He just wanted to punch the bag, spar his brother Andrew then go home. No hard graft.

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Among my small squad, Lee came sixth or seventh in the ground work drills but he dug in deep and within nine months had pulled himself to the front of the pack. Now he can’t wait to get to the gym. He loves his training. It’s a fact that he’s not drunk alcohol since he had a bottle of lager to celebrate defending his Commonwealth title against an African in Newport six years ago. Now he celebrates his title wins eating cheesecake!

Believe me, Lee is anything but cocky. He’s pretty serious, very laid-back. However, in the changing room for an hour before he fights, he becomes very ‘edgy’, a bag of nerves, constantly repeating himself, doubting himself. Then when the call comes to fight, when the lights go on and the music starts, he completely changes. Suddenly, he’s in the ‘zone’, buzzing with confidence, a true gladiator. He just looks cocky!

And he’s going to thrive on walking out at Elland Road to all the hostility. He can’t wait. He loves attention. He always trains hard but if a stranger walks into our gym he instantly ups his game to impress.

I remember taking him to Belfast to defend his British and Commonwealth titles against Martin Lindsay. Martin was from the Falls Road and his fans were proper tough, hard guys; very intimidating at the press conference and weigh-in, and during Lee’s ring walk. But when Lee ducked between the ropes, he just winked at me and with this huge grin he says: ‘This is wicked!’ The Belfast boys booed him into the ring, whistled at him throughout the fight but gave him a big ovation afterwards.

Whereas I view Lee as an elite world class fighter, Josh Warrington is just a very good British level kid. I see Josh’s strengths – his fitness and determination – proving his downfall against Selby. He’ll keep coming. For the first four or five rounds, Lee will use his height and reach, capitalise on his excellent jab and start to mark Warrington up. He’ll then aim at those targets. By the time Warrington gets close, when we allow him to get close, he’ll be very sorry he got there!

Lee has fought these super-fit, strong men types many times before and seen them all off. Stephen Smith fell in eight, Corey McConnell wilted in round five, Evgeny Gradovich round eight, Joel Brunker stopped in nine…All viewed Selby as a tall, skinny boxer-type but he can be a spiteful, nasty b*stard. Latterly, he’s not needed to engage in hard wars because he wants a long career so he can unify all the titles. But if Josh Warrington’s team think he can’t dig deep and hasn’t got gears, they’ll be painfully mistaken.

If the fight ‘kicks off’ from the start, it’ll be to Lee’s advantage, not Josh’s. Selby’s very sharp and very accurate. Warrington’s dad works his corner and he’ll not want to watch his son take a hiding.

Lee wins because he’s super strong and extremely naturally gifted. He’s got the speed, accuracy and movement to sting Warrington twice then move round the corner while Warrington flaps at fresh air. We’ll make him miss, make him pay…..painfully!”

General admission tickets for Selby v Warrington are available from just £40 per person.

Tickets are available to purchase online via the club’s official website and via the Leeds United Ticket Office on 0371 334 1992
‘When we go through the gears, Selby won’t be able to go with us.’

Father-trainer Sean recalls his Yorkshire terrier’s unimpeded rise to tonight’s stadium IBF title fight in Leeds and reveals why the Tyke’s are so confident they’ll emerge triumphant.

“People often ask if it’s emotionally difficult to coach my own flesh and blood in this hard game but we’re from a tough council estate in Leeds where people clobber one another at school and on the streets on a daily basis. I’d much rather see Josh whacked with leather gloves in a ring, than with a cricket bat on the pavement!

People seriously underestimate Josh’s toughness because of his laidback manner. Selby’s side started this Twitter war and it started to get a bit personal so Josh had a pop back. But by nature, he’s soft as owt; a real humble, relaxed kid who goes out of his way for everybody, hence his popularity.

Josh doesn’t know how to be nasty and, you know what, neither does Lee Selby. They’re just two decent kids who desperately want to win a world title fight on Saturday. At the end of the day, its just 36 minutes boxing and, whichever way it goes, I hope both come home safe.

I personally like Lee Selby. He’s an ordinary guy like we are and a very, very good fighter. I’m a fan of boxing at every level, not just my own son, so you have to admire Selby’s class. We’ll be mindful of his ability to control the pace, his accuracy and his movement. He’s good all round but I don’t think his recent opposition has been brilliant. He’s had an easy ride as world champion.

I don’t really buy into these ‘Selby has fought in better class’ or ‘Selby hits harder’ lines. Josh has stopped six of his last 11 at title level, Lee has stopped just three of his last 11 and I believe Josh has faced more ‘live’ opposition. The Selbys have been riding off the back of that stoppage win over Stephen Smith for way too long. It was almost seven years ago and we know of reasons why Smith wasn’t himself that night.

Home advantage is a bonus. In Leeds we always turn out and back our own. Josh finally gets his opportunity at his beloved Leeds United with his favourite players, past and present, willing him on from ringside, and his favourite band, Kaiser Chiefs, playing a set to rouse the crowd. For Josh, it symbolises that he’s arrived. It’s going to be a very, very special night.

Several mention that Josh might get carried away with the emotion of it all but that won’t be the case. The First Direct Arena was built for acoustics so the noise outdoors won’t be any more mental than when we’ve fought there. He coped then.

Josh has worked so hard that he fully deserves to enjoy his ring walk and savour the atmosphere. But as challenger, he enters first. The other mob are sure to keep us waiting in the ring as long as possible so that’ll give us time to restore a bit of control and respect. The crowd does get him emotional but, once the bell sounds, his concentration is very good.

Lee’s held his belt so long now, and had such an easy ride of late, I believe that mentally he’s become lax. Complacent. He says all his challengers were ‘easy work’ when, clearly, they weren’t. (Fernando) Montiel enjoyed some massive successes against him and he was a 36 year old ex flyweight!

They’re a complete contrast of styles. Obviously, I’ll not reveal our plan but Selby claims there’s no way we can outbox him. Wait and see!

Josh is so determined. He simply won’t allow himself to get beat but the main reason I’m so confident is because Josh is a natural featherweight whereas Lee is a natural super-feather who trains doing 20-minute rounds in a sweat suit.

While we can focus solely on strategy and improving technique in camp, Selby will have a real struggle just to make weight. Consequently, he’ll not have the reserves we’ll have. We believe that when we go up through the gears, Selby won’t be able to go with us.

I genuinely think that Josh could stop him. Lee can be caught cold, early. Eric Hunter put him on his arse but Hunter’s a lazy fighter and failed to capitalise. Josh won’t have to save any fuel for the later rounds. He’s got phenomenal natural stamina. If he tags Selby, he’ll be over him like a rash.

Lee’s not an aggressive fighter but, at some stage, he’ll have to dig in and he’s never had to scrap a ‘live’ opponent like Josh Warrington. We’ll systematically close him down. Put a tenner on Warrington, rounds nine and ten!”

Very limited General Admission tickets for Selby v Warrington are available from just £40 per person.

Tickets are available to purchase online via the club’s official website and via the Leeds United Ticket Office on 0371 334 1992

Watch LIVE on BT Sport and BoxNation from 7.30pm

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