By John Hargate
A late change of date to a Wednesday night two weeks before Christmas meant that Lee Selby defended his British and Commonwealth titles against Scottish hardman John Simpson live on BoxNation in front of a surprisingly small and subdued York Hall crowd.
Welshman Selby, 24, wanted to make a statement against Simpson to prove that his impressive breakout win over Steven Smith in Liverpool on the night he won the titles was no fluke or freak performance. Selby managed to squeeze in the domestic ‘upset of the year’, ‘performance of the year’ and enter a strong contender for ‘KO of the year’ all in one night so had set the bar high for himself. (No such awards are actually on offer at the time of writing but word has it that the WBA are looking into viability of creating separate belts for each).
Simpson, on the other hand, has fought just about every decent featherweight in the country over the last few years, has been on the wrong end of what looked like terrible decisions on more than one occasion in other people’s backyards, and has caused his fair share of upsets - as he did the night he tore the British featherweight title from unbeaten Martin Lyndsay inside the Kings Hall in Belfast in 2010.
Selby, 8st13lbs and looking enormous for a featherweight, took the centre of the ring from the off and established a fast, sharp jab. Whenever Simpson looked to close the distance, Selby would fire in flashy uppercuts and hooks, move out of harm’s way and then resume his attack. It was mature and sensible boxing by the young Welshman.
After landing with a clean solid right hook in the second which Selby took well, Simpson got down to work with his dangerous, short hooks from both hands and began to back Selby up little by little. Known in my house as the ‘small, white, Scottish Glen Johnson’ (a bit of a mouthful but an accurate enough description of the Scot none-the-less), Simpson continued to press with increasing success through the third and fourth rounds.
The fifth round began with Simpson looking positive and managing to get closer to Selby. As Simpson began another one of his assaults, Selby wrapped his long left arm around the advancing Scotsman and snapped a vicious left hook up and under Simpson’s ribcage. Simpson dropped to his knees in obvious distress, head on the ground, sucking for air. He managed to valiantly drag himself from the canvas, wincing in pain, but referee Marcus McDonnell did the right thing by waving proceedings off at 2.02 of the round.
Selby, who moves to 12-1 (4), becomes the first man to stop Simpson and looks to be one of the country’s brightest prospects. He is without doubt the British find of 2011. Trainer Tony Borg, who has had an equally successful year with amateurs Fred Evans and Andrew Selby (Lee’s brother) and British super-feather boss Gary Buckland, deserves his fair share of praise too.
Selby acknowledged afterwards that stopping iron-man Simpson was impressive. “It shows I’m serious,” he smiled in his relaxed, easy going manner. “He’s a tough fighter and no-one’s ever stopped him. I’m the first one to do it.”
I asked if going to the body was a specific part of the game plan and Lee nodded. “We’ve been working on the body shots in the gym.” Sparring friend Gary Buckland in the gym looked to have paid dividends as well. “[Buckland’s] a similar size, similar style but bigger and better,” Selby explained.
Simpson seemed understandably down after the fight and appeared to suggest that he was debating his future in the sport. I said to John that I thought Selby had looked impressive against him. “I actually disagree,” he told me matter-of-factly. “I thought the fight was very close, I had it two rounds a piece up until [the time of the stoppage] and I just got caught with a really good shot. Lee can dig a bit.
“If you get caught on the button especially by someone who can punch hard then you’ll go down or you could go down. I’ve been hanging about the domestic scene for a few years, so I’m kind of a bit disappointed that I’m still about at this level but it’s just one of those things you know. I don’t know where I’ll go from here.”
Simpson, who falls to 22-9 (9), is only twenty-eight - despite seeming to have been around forever. I wondered what next year might hold for him. “I’m still young and I’ve got a good few years [left] but I honestly really don’t know what’s going to happen with my career now. I’m undecided about it,” he said despondently.
“I’m going to have a sit down and think about it properly. I don’t want to make any rash decisions. I got caught with a good shot, it happens to everybody - you know what I mean - so you just have either pick yourself up and get on with it or else – I don’t know.”
A final word from Selby who looks set for a blockbuster 2012. “I’ve been told I can fight for the European title,” he beamed. “It’d go to purse bids or something [but] it’d be nice if it was in Wales, on a Cleverly undercard or something."