Lee Selby: Coming to America

Mark Butcher
17/09/2015 3:03pm

There is a suspicion that Lee Selby may be the best boxer in Britain today. The IBF’s ‘champion of the year’ Evgeny Gradovich was left chasing shadows when the majestic Welshman relieved him of his 126lbs title in May and now Selby has the chance to showcase his sublime talents for the U.S. market when he faces three-weight world champion Fernando Montiel on 14 October at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona.

A measure of Selby’s ability is that his dissection of Gradovich caught the eye of influential advisor Al Haymon who subsequently added him to an impressive roster of clients that includes three other reigning featherweight champions (Leo Santa Cruz, Gary Russell Jr and Jesus Cuellar). Career defining and lucrative fights are within reach of the rangy Welsh stylist.

“That’s what I’m in the game for. I want the big fights now. To achieve that, I think you’ve got to box in America,” Selby told BM at the Welsh Centre in King’s Cross, London, on Wednesday. “I’ve teamed up with Al Haymon and he has got three of the other world champions at my weight so the fights are easily made.

“I’ve always associated Al Haymon with Floyd Mayweather and Floyd Mayweather is at the top of the tree. So he says ‘the best ever’ and he’s made the most money out of boxing. So you can imagine what was going through my head. The Welsh Mayweather! I wouldn’t like to tell Floyd that though! He wouldn’t like it, would he?” smiled the IBF featherweight champion.

The first obstacle to future glories is seasoned campaigner Fernando Montiel (54-4-2, 39 KOs). The highly decorated Mexican has won the WBO flyweight, WBO super-flyweight and WBC/WBO bantamweight titles and is undefeated for almost four years. Montiel is, however, now 36 years old and his stunning two-round loss at the hands of Nonito Donaire is still freshly imprinted in many people’s minds.

“I don’t know if I will score as spectacular a knockout as Donaire did. He was still punching on the canvas, I think!” Selby told BM. “Hopefully, I can box to the best of my ability and, if I do that, I will put on a good performance. The crowd should be on his side. He’s a Mexican fighting out in America and in Phoenix there are obviously loads of Mexican fans and they are all going to be on his side. Hopefully, by the end of the fight, they will be cheering my name.

“I’ve got a height and reach advantage over most featherweights [Selby is four-and-a-half inches taller than Montiel at 5ft 8 1/2ins]. He started his career as a flyweight – he’s won world titles up to bantam so I should have the size and reach advantage but he has the experience and probably the power."

Fighting in the U.S. won’t be entirely alien for the 28-year-old Welshman. Selby (21-1, 8 KOs) is no stranger to America having benefited from a number of intense sparring sessions in Las Vegas and Los Angeles in recent years.

“First time I went over there it might have been 2011 or early 2012,” recalled Selby. “I went into the gyms and none of them knew who I was so I had no respect at all. Then they saw me box and spar. Afterwards they’d be asking me for photos. It just changed after one sparring session.

“I first went out there as a contender, but last time I went back I took my world title belt to show all the coaches. They’ve seen me progress from a challenger to a champion. It’s been an invaluable experience and top quality sparring. You’re out of your comfort zone. A spar is like a fight. You just can’t buy that type of experience.”

The sky appears the limit for the skillful Selby whose dazzling blend of box-fighting mesmerized Russian roughhouser Gradovich at the O2 Arena. Even Selby himself is unsure of how far he can go in one of boxing’s most talent laden divisions.

“To be honest, I don’t. Sometimes in sparring sessions I do things and shock myself as a boxer,” confessed Selby. “I’m in there in a clinch and I’m laughing to myself at something I’ve just done in the ring. I don’t know how far I can go. Probably with more threat and better opposition, the better I will be.

“I think I will beat Nicholas Walters. They say he’s so big, but I can’t see him being as big as me. He’s a big puncher, but I’ve got a great chin and he can be outboxed. I can box with the best of them. I’ve got a unique style that some of the other fighters haven’t seen. Like if I was in the ring with Santa Cruz, I think I would bamboozle him.”

The fighting Selbys

Soon the mercurial IBF featherweight king will not be the only Selby dazzling opponents in a professional ring when younger brother Andrew joins him in the paid ranks. A double European champion and World silver and bronze medallist, Andrew will also be managed by the face of Bristol boxing Chris Sanigar and his son Jamie when he makes his debut at Newport Centre on 30 October. Lee modestly believes that former amateur star Andrew can even surpass his achievements as a professional.

“I will be asking him for tips, I think,” said Selby. “He’s brilliant. He’s one of the most naturally gifted boxers I’ve ever seen. I’m not saying that because he’s my brother. I saw him come out for two weeks in America for sparring. I can’t explain how good he was – just outclassing top pros. He makes it look absolutely effortless. He can be better than me.

“Towards the end, I think he just fell out of love with [the amateur game]. He’s been going to all these tournaments twice over. He’s been fighting the same people. I don’t think his heart was in the last couple of fights so now he’s made the decision to turn pro. So it’s a fresh start with new challenges and I think he’ll do really well.”

‘Big L’ in and out of the ring

‘My name is L and I’m from a part of town where clowns get beat down and all you hear is gunshot sounds.’ – Big L.

A striking feature of Selby’s rise to the pinnacle of the sport has been his moody and magnificent ring entrances to the classic 1995 hip hop track ‘Lifestylez ov da poor and dangerous’ by late rap genius Big L. A lifetime love of hip hop began for Selby with a chance discovery.

“In primary school, I remember I found a tape. It was one of the old cassette tapes. A Wu Tang [Clan] one,” recalled Selby. “I must have been nine years of age and from then I was just hooked. From Wu Tang, one thing led to another. I listened to all types of hip hop. Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Big L. All from finding that one little tape.

“Other ring entrances I’ve had include Wu Tang ‘Bring Da Ruckus’ and some Tupac and Biggie Smalls, but I will stick with Big L now. I will always have that [ring entrance music]. ‘Lifestyles of the poor and dangerous’ – because that’s what I was….poor and dangerous to the rest of the fighters.”

Photo: Lawrence Lustig