By Nick Halling
It looks increasingly certain that former WBA light welterweight champion Gavin Rees is ready to call time on his extraordinary and eventful career. The little Welshman celebrates his 34th birthday on Saturday (10th), and the plan is for him to formally announce his retirement following his return engagement with Gary Buckland in Cardiff on 17 May.
Rees is in bad shape physically, but in great shape financially, and that combination has led to the boxer making the decision to move on with the rest of his life. The only reason he’s going up against Buckland again is that he doesn’t want to finish his career on a loss. Their first meeting in February was a tight one which could have gone either way. Two of the judges saw it narrowly for Buckland: the third, as well as the vast majority of ringside reporters, felt Rees had done enough. Rees wants to set the record straight before signing off.
The diminutive Rees is as tough as they come, but a succession of elbow, thumb and hand injuries have plagued the latter stages of his career, and there is no evidence that these knocks are going to clear up. Rees was nowhere near fully fit when he took on Adrien Broner for the WBC lightweight belt in February 2013. But his characteristically gutsy effort earned the respect of the crowd (and even the normal boastful Broner).
Despite being heavily floored, Rees was still taking the fight to Broner against overwhelming odds, before his trainer, Gary Lockett, correctly threw in the towel.
In many ways, he’s been one of the overlooked stars of the British boxing scene. When he won his world title back in 2007, he was overshadowed in his own South Wales backyard by Joe Calzaghe, and nationally, by Ricky Hatton. His reign was a short one, reduced by an inability to live the life rather than an erosion of his talent. Some thought he would have simply faded away long before now.
Since teaming up with Lockett four years ago, he has applied himself more to the job, winning British and European honours. However, the Broner defeat was followed by a reverse at the hands of Anthony Crolla (another tight decision), and then Buckland. Still rightly proud of his boxing legacy, there’s no way Rees wants to leave the scene on the back of three straight losses.
There’s never a guarantee in this business, and should Rees beat Buckland impressively, there’s always a chance that the Newbridge man might “do a Curtis Woodhouse” and change his mind, but those closest to him reckon this really is the end. Rees owns a gym, and is now also making a success of running a bar. There’s plenty to keep him occupied and out of mischief.
Following the departure last month of Rendall Munroe, British boxing now looks set to lose another entertaining, brave, honest and sometimes under-appreciated warrior. The game won’t be quite the same without him. It promises to be an emotional night in Cardiff next weekend.
Rumours that Andy Lee is to campaign at light middleweight are spot on. The London-based Irishman will be boxing John Jackson at Madison Square Garden on 7 June in what is being billed as an eliminator for the WBC title.
It’s not entirely clear where this will place Lee in the big scheme of things should he win. Victory over the tough Jackson will legitimise his arrival on the light middleweight scene, but a world title fight is probably not just around the corner. It’s not a final eliminator, and for what it’s worth the belt is currently in the possession of Floyd Mayweather. Lee is a quality operator, but nobody is seriously putting him up as Floyd’s next opponent.
With Jackson ranked No 5 with the WBC and No 12 with the IBF, victory for Lee guarantees him a serious ranking at the lower weight with at least one of the sanctioning bodies. The next logical step would appear to be a final eliminator for what will in all probability be a vacant belt.
Jackson, incidentally, is the son of former WBC middleweight boss Julian Jackson, the man who destroyed Herol Graham with one memorable bomb, and still remembered today as one of the division’s most formidable punchers. The son isn’t quite as explosive, but a record of 15 stoppages in his 18 wins suggests that Lee might have to worry about some genetics being passed down the generations.
Lee has campaigned at middleweight with some success throughout his career, so the news may come as a surprise to some. Including the fighter himself. The idea of dropping down originated with his trainer, Adam Booth, who first whispered the notion into a highly sceptical Lee’s ear over a year ago.
However, with discipline in his diet and maintaining a strict training regime at Booth’s South London gym, the weight has been coming off naturally. In last month’s win over Frank Haroche Horta in Denmark, Lee hit the scales at 155 pounds, only a pound off light middle. And that was for a non-title fight: with a belt on the line, that extra pound would have been shifted easily.
Booth, who’s eye for detail is legendary, may have been aware that Lee’s walking around weight is 170 pounds, whereas a typical middleweight walks around closer to 180. Never mind the boxer’s rangy 6ft 2in frame, light middle looks a natural fit, and it certainly throws up some intriguing possibilities. Provided he maintains his power, a 6ft 2in southpaw is guaranteed to be a handful at 154 pounds. It’s too early to tell yet, but Booth might have pulled off another masterstroke.
The departure of Lee from the middleweight division finally kills off the prospect of some classic domestic middleweight battles. Six months ago, IBF champion Darren Barker was king of the hill, with world title challengers Lee, Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray looking to shoot him down.
Now Barker is retired, and definitely not coming back. Lee is a light middle, Macklin is training in Spain and fighting in America, while Murray is boxing for a South African promoter. Prospects of any of them ever meeting in a ring currently look remote at best.
Despite suffering a freak eye injury in his last fight, former WBO cruiserweight boss Enzo Maccarinelli has no plans for retirement. However, the 33-year-old Welshman does find himself in a tricky place.
Maccarinelli suffered the damage in a brave battle for the WBA light heavyweight belt against Jurgen Braehmer, eventually being forced out of action after five rounds. The overall performance was encouraging, but where does he go from here?
Word out of his camp is that there is little to be gained in dropping back down to domestic level. What they want is a return with Braehmer. And given that the erratic and unpredictable German is notoriously difficult to negotiate with, that might take some serious diplomacy to achieve.
Feelers were put out three weeks ago, and positive noises were received in return. Since then, however, the trail has gone stone cold. Braehmer isn’t saying yes, and he isn’t saying no. He’s saying nothing at all. Given the German’s prickly personality, which makes Al Haymon look affable and outgoing in comparison, this isn’t a surprise.
It’s probably not exaggerating the situation to say that Maccarinelli’s future depends on the whims and moods of Jurgen Braehmer. Anyone trying to predict the outcome of this one might be advised to invest in a crystal ball and a set of tarot cards.
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.