The Selby brothers: Family business

Paul Zanon
07/04/2016 3:29pm

As the Selby brothers battled with traffic from Barry, Wales, to the Bristol Boxing Gym, Boxing Monthly was given an extremely warm welcome by the Sanigar family. A warm smile and a firm handshake from boxing veteran Chris Sanigar (who manages the Selby brothers with son Jamie) was swiftly followed by a guided tour of the brand new premises. In his other hand, he held a massive mug of what looked like pond water. Walking and talking, Chris explain, “Coconut water, broccoli, spinach and loads of other stuff. You chuck it into the NutriBullet and it’s ready in no time. Tastes great (whilst motioning the mug over to offer a sip – which for the records was declined). Treat your body well and it will treat you well.”

Chris then pointed to a long list of champions on the wall whom he’d worked with over the years and, just as he started to praise his current cohort, on cue - in walked Lee and Andrew Selby.

With smiles on their faces and handshakes which made you genuinely feel that you were welcome in their training home, Boxing Monthly sat on the ring apron and got cracking with the interview.

The boxing brothers from Barry had a strong boxing influence from an early age – namely their father. Lee Selby Sr has been an avid boxing fan and historian from as young as he can remember and was the man who encouraged them to first lace the gloves. Lee Jr explained to BM. “Growing up, it [boxing] was always on the television. As soon as we were old enough, dad sent us to the local boxing gym. My brother Michael went first as he was 18 months older than me then, when I was old enough, I followed and then he [Lee looks over at Andrew] followed about two years after I joined.” Lee walked into the gym when he was eight years old and by 10 he had his amateur debut. However, it seems the three brothers were also pretty active outside of the ring.

When posed the question, “Did you ever fights as brothers?”, Lee and Andrew both smiled. Lee responded to BM, “All the time!” A discussion then followed between them as they discussed scars on their heads where they’d thrown various objects at each other such as knives and axes as kids. The No.1 in the Hall of fame of domestic scraps was between Lee and his late brother Michael. “We were just kids. Dad was driving doing about 40mph and Michael pushed me out of the car!” 

Lee Selby Sr: “I didn’t actually notice straight away. We were driving down a main road and I heard this scream, then pulled over the car. Thankfully he was okay. Just a bit of concussion.” 

BM asked the brothers their respective memories of their amateur debuts. Lee explained, “I remember walking to the ring and saw my opponent, then looked down at his feet and saw he wasn’t wearing boxing boots, just a pair of old smelly trainers. I thought I might be in for a good chance of winning.” And he did win. Little did he know that 18 years later, his winning streak would culminate in being crowned the IBF 126lbs world champion. 

Brother Andrew then shared his experience. “I was fighting some kid who was at school with me. He had an earring, so I thought he was tough. But I stopped him in the first round.” This was the first step to a glittering 200 fight amateur career, during which he picked up the European crown twice (2011, 2013) and a silver at the 2011 World Championships. Not to mention fighting at the London 2012 Olympics, where he reached the quarter-finals.

A few weeks after Lee won his second fight as a professional in 2008, the Selbys were dealt a very rough hand, as older brother Michael tragically fell into a ravine and drowned. Lee particularly took it badly and explained to BM how close he was to going off the rails. “There was only three years between the three of us, so we went to the same school and had the same group of friends growing up. So yeah – we were pretty close.

“I went on a drink binge for a few weeks after it happened, trying to blank it out. I could have easily gone down the wrong path, but thankfully I choose the right one. I started to knuckle down with the boxing, with a mentality of make it or break it.”

As both brothers sighed and looked at the ground thinking about that period in 2008, it was time to fast forward and lift the spirits by discussing the positivity these two have brought to the sport of boxing to date.

However, before discussing Lee’s recent world title highlight, BM decided to discover the reason behind the only loss on his record, against Samir Mouneimne, in May 2009. With a smile on his face and a brief laugh, Lee explained “I’ve got a list as long as my arm why I lost! I had shingles, although I didn’t tell my manager.”

Chris Sanigar chipped in – “No, you certainly didn’t tell me! The result was still debateable, but that’s the problem when you have a four-round fight because there’s not a great deal of time boxed to base a decision from. I try to get my fighters six-rounders at the minimum – so in that way, if they’re beaten on points, fair enough.”

Lee continued, “I also had no money at the time and desperately needed to fight. Looking back though, I think that loss gave me more opportunities. When it came to boxing for the British title [in September 2011], I was offered the voluntary defence against Stephen Smith and Stephen had beaten Al Hamidi in the ABA finals, so probably thought I was going to be an easy touch. Turns out I wasn’t that easy.” Lee handed Smith his one and only professional loss and stopped him in eight rounds.

Lee picked up both the British and Commonwealth titles that evening and, in the next three years, added the European crown to his collection – not to mention winning the Lonsdale belt outright. After systematically pulling tough Australian Joel Brunker to pieces over nine rounds (in September 2014), Lee earned himself a title shot at Evgeny Gradovich’s world IBF crown.

Lee explained to BM, “Gradovich was a similar fighter to Brunker – which looking back, made Brunker the perfect opponent for me to have fought in advance of fighting Gradovich for the world title.

“It went to plan – almost perfectly. He came at me with aggression, attacked in straight lines. I’d prepared with the perfect sparring partners in America. The likes of Jesus Gutierrez.”

Chris Sanigar jumped in, “He knew what to do. As Gradovich marched up, Lee was to hit him and step to one side.”

A clash of heads had the fight stopped in the eight round, giving Lee the win by technical decision. Not the way he wanted to win, but he was ahead by a very wide margin on all the scorecards at the time of the stoppage, handing Gradovich his first and only loss.

There’s similarities with the start of Lee’s world championship reign that mirror that of fellow Welsh former champion Joe Calzaghe. The immensely talented Calzaghe struggled to win the crowds in his early fights, simply because those bouts weren’t electrifying. As time passed and the calibre of opponents improved, so did his performance. It took time to win the media over, but when he did, he became British boxing’s sweetheart. Lee has the capacity to do the same, but is experiencing a similar road to Calzaghe.

Lee reflected on his recent world title defence against Fernando Montiel, which although he won by a landslide points victory, didn’t set everyone on fire. “I think the British media didn’t know a great deal about Fernando Montiel and what he’d achieved. Just look up his record. He was a three-weight world champion over a 10-year span. To win one world title, you’ve got to be good, but to win world titles at three weights is something else. He’d fought 20 world title fights, whereas this was only my 23rd fight – in total.

“The media didn’t give him the credit he deserved in that fight and I didn’t get the credit I deserved for beating him.”

Chris Sanigar added, “The thing with Montiel, he didn’t actually open up. If he’d had opened up to try and put it on the line and win the fight, then he would have opened himself up and Lee could have got to work more.”

Lee continued, “Montiel made the distance quite awkward. He was sitting back out of range and made it difficult to land shots on him. I was hoping he was going to be a typical Mexican fighter and come forward, but he was clever on the back foot.”

Thankfully, Lee has a strong team around him who not only guide him, but act as the catalyst for further great opportunities ahead. Tony Borg trains, Chris and Jamie Sanigar manage, and Al Haymon acts as the advisor.

BM decided to ask Lee how Al Haymon came on board. Lee responded by saying, “Over to you Chris,” whilst pointing to Sanigar.

Chris explained, “It’s to do with opportunities. Gary Russell Jr, Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares – all those fighters are involved with Al Haymon, so those fights can be made at a later date.”

With these contacts at Haymon’s fingertips and, with the division having all the world title belts currently split up, the potential opportunities to unify the division piece by piece are there for the taking.

Lee then jumped in, “Towards the end of next year, I’d liked to have boxed in two unification fights. Maybe Jesus Cuellar and Leo Santa Cruz.

“However, before I try to declare myself the best in the world, I need to declare myself the best featherweight in Britain. There’s some saying out there that [Josh] Warrington can beat me, so obviously I need to prove my worth.”

Lee takes nothing for granted – especially his shift in lifestyle. Very proud of where he comes from, Lee explained how new opportunities outside the ring have given him the capacity to achieve new highs, mainly without the gloves on. “Becoming world champion has changed my life – a lot in fact. But in a positive way. A number of charities have asked me to come on board because of my popularity through boxing. If there’s any way I can help, I’m straight on it.”

The original date for interview with Lee and Andrew was cancelled at the eleventh hour due to what was called a ‘social engagement’. Lee’s shyness and warm-hearted nature, toned down what was actually a great deed he was doing at the local hospital. It turned out Lee had taken a day out of his hectic schedule to deliver presents to children on a cancer ward, spending time chatting and having photos with them. Lee expressed on his Twitter account, “I visited the Children’s Cancer Ward today and gave out Xmas presents to the kids. Strongest fighters I been around!”

Ensuring brother Andrew also got credit for his charitable efforts, he continued to explain, “After delivering presents at the cancer hospital, in the evening me and Andrew went out in our local area where we grew up in Barry, on Santa’s sleigh, giving out sweets and collecting for charity. Any way me and Andrew can give back to our community and those in need – we’re on it.”

Having sat next to brother Lee patiently for around 20 minutes, it was time to discover more about the 112lbs whirlwind Andrew, deemed by many, including Boxing Monthly, to be possibly the biggest prospect of 2016 in Britain.

With a very decorated amateur career, it came as a surprise to many that Andrew did not decide to turn professional after the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Andrew helped clarify the reason for the move into the pro ranks. “I was fed up fighting the same people in different tournaments all the time. I did almost everything as an amateur, so felt the time was right to move on.”

Andrew has won four out of four fights. His third victory was against Nicaragua’s Everth Briceno, who had only been stopped once in 11 years and that was by Leo Santa Cruz. Andrew explained to BM the reason for fighting someone with this kind of pedigree so early on. “We picked that guy [Briceno] because of how tough he was. They [the Sanigars] wanted me to get some rounds in, instead of just stopping people. He’s not the guy he used to be, but he was still tough, which meant I had to keep 100% focused, otherwise he’d of counterpunched me and knocked me out. Out of 35 wins he had, he’d knocked out 26 of them. I was concentrating on sticking to the professional game, planting my feet and not bouncing around like an amateur fighter. It worked.” 

As a novice in the professional game, there is already an immense amount of media pressure on Andrew to follow in footsteps of brother Lee and many have the belief that Andrew could win a world title within 10 fights.

Chris Sanigar stepped in with a few words about the speed and direction of Andrew’s future. “He’s gonna go the old style. We’re going for the British title first, then hopefully European and world title. If that can be done in 10 fights, then so be it.” 

With a number of unbeaten prospects in the current British flyweight rankings, including the likes of Charlie Edwards, Prince Patel and Kevin Satchell, BM asked Andrew who he has his sights set on. He explained, “I’d rather fight Kevin Satchell as he’s won all the titles, has more experience and is the bigger name at the moment. However, whoever they throw in front of me I won’t be dodging.”

Satchell won the Commonwealth title after eight fights, British after nine and European after 13. A fight with Satchell down the not too distant line could make for very good viewing.

Brother Lee added, “I think he’s more talented than all of them [British flyweight fighters] and those at world level in fact. Put them in the ring with Andrew for four rounds and I bet he beats them. With the experience of being professionals for a 12-round fight, that’s a different story. That’s just down to experience at the moment. But over four rounds, I’m confident he’d beat them.”

The brothers are generating the kind of attention boxing needs. One is world champion and heading into unification fights within the next 12 months and the other is being touted as a future world champion in a division which doesn’t usually have a great deal of limelight shone on it. Andrew Selby has that genuine ability to add excitement into the 112lbs division and is a bookies favourite to join his brother for world honours, but in a more timely fashion. I highly doubt they will ever fight in the same weight category, as did the Klitschkos, but as brothers, with age on their side and an abundance of talent to boot, the Selbys are a great boxing story to follow into 2016.

IBF featherweight champion Lee Selby fights mandatory contender Eric Hunter at the O2 Arena on Saturday night (9 April).

Andrew Selby will contest the vacant British flyweight title against Louis Norman at the Ice Arena, Cardiff, on 14 May.