By Nick Halling
Don't expect to see former British and European lightweight champion Gavin Rees announcing his retirement any time soon. The Welshman had said that if he lost to Gary Buckland earlier this month, he would call it a career. Rees was edged out on a split decision, but the consensus at ringside was that he was on the wrong end of the deal. Given the overall quality of his performance, Rees still believes he has plenty to offer the game.
“We’re going out for a bite to eat on Wednesday and we’ll go through everything then,” said Rees’s trainer, Gary Lockett. “But I don’t think he has any plans to retire. The fact is, with the greatest respect to Gary Buckland and his team, Gav didn’t lose that fight. When you have 25 media people at ringside, and not one of them scores it to Buckland, that tells you a lot.
“On the night, I thought Gavin had won it by two rounds (a view shared by the majority of reporters as well as Sky Sports analyst Jim Watt). But watching it back, I thought he won it by maybe four, and I always judge it harshly. I had him winning five of the first six, and then after a dip when he was caught with a body shot, he came back strongly and won the last three too.”
The result continued Rees’s recent losing streak. Last year, Lockett pulled his man out in the fifth against Adrien Broner. Then in June, the former WBA light welterweight champion was edged out again on the cards against Manchester’s Anthony Crolla. The Buckland verdict made it three losses in a row, but while he was clearly out of his depth against Broner, both Crolla and Buckland were coin tosses.
That knowledge, combined with Lockett’s realism, enables Rees to believe he can still be competitive in a deep domestic lightweight division. “As a trainer, the only thing I care about is the guy in the ring,” said Lockett. “If I had seen anything in that last fight which rang alarm bells for me, then I would have had a private word with Gavin, but there was nothing to concern me, nothing at all.”
Rees is still under contract to Matchroom Sport, and promoter Eddie Hearn is known to be an admirer. The final chapter in Rees’s story is a long way from being written.
Rendall Munroe isn’t going anywhere quietly either. The one-time world title challenger at super bantam is still seething at the manner of his stoppage against British and European featherweight boss Lee Selby two weeks ago. Munroe was backed up in a neutral corner, with Selby hammering away, but the Leicester man was clearly not in distress. Far from considering retirement, Munroe is looking instead for a chance at redemption.
“My hope is that Selby vacates the British title, and that I get a shot at the vacant belt,” he said. “And if I win that, maybe they’ll give me a rematch with him. I’m certainly going to stay at featherweight. I’m happier, stronger and healthier there. My conditioning for that fight was tip-top.
“Dont get me wrong, Selby is a good fighter, but he’s supposed to be one of the top pound-for-pound punchers in British boxing, right? Well, he came in and threw the kitchen sink at me, and at the end of the day, I was still standing.
“Did he hurt me? Never. Not once. I was in the corner, I saw the ref out of the corner of my eye, and I hit Selby with a head shot. Then I saw the ref move round, and I caught Selby with a body shot. And then he just stopped it. I’m not going to moan and groan about it, but come on, I was robbed! I’m just going to dust myself down and come back stronger. I still love this game, that’s why I do it.
Munroe opted against lodging a formal protest, and believes he has several good years ahead of him. “People are saying I’m 34 next birthday, but what does that have to do with anything. Age is just a number. In many ways I’m still learning the game. I live the life, I don’t smoke or drink, I hardly ever eat junk food, so I’m in great shape.
“There’s nothing to be disappointed, and no reason to think about retiring. I’m gutted of course, but anyone who knows anything about boxing knows that fight shouldn’t have been stopped.”
Celebrations at the Coldwell Boxing gym in Rotherham this week with the news that Nav Mansoori has been named as the mandatory for the British light middleweight belt currently held by Liam Smith.
The 24-year-old Yorkshireman has been gaining a big following on the small hall circuit in the North of England for his crowd-pleasing style. But there is substance and skill to his game too. His manager, Dave Coldwell, believes that if he can get the balance right between technique and tear-up, he could cause a major shock.
“Nav is one of the most exciting prospects in the country,” said Coldwell. “He’s a slick sharpshooter, he can box, he’s got beautiful feet, and he can take a shot. But he cant help standing and engaging too. Fans love him, because he takes chances sometimes, just to please the crowd.”
Mansoori has been a pro for just over four years. However it is his development over the last 18 months which has been truly eyecatching. His progress has earned him the English title, while the only blemish on his record came in the three-round Prizefighter format.
It was after that Prizefighter appearance in November 2012 that Coldwell gave up training the youngster. Coldwell, whose prodigious work-ethic redefines the term “multi-tasking”, simply didn’t have the time to train his boxers any more. He sent Mansoori across the Pennines to work with Oliver Harrison in Manchester. Harrison, one of the best trainers in the game, is slowly but effectively refining his fighter’s skills.
“He’s maturing under Oliver,” said Coldwell. “And he’s been doing a lot of sparring with (world-rated middleweight) Martin Murray, so he’s learning loads. But we all know he cant stand there and have a row with Liam Smith: Liam is too good for that.”
Indeed he is. One of the four Smith brothers from Liverpool, Liam is considered a genuine contender for bigger things. “I certainly rate him,” said Coldwell, “but it’s not as if Nav cant beat him. It will be interesting and exciting, and it’s a fight Nav can definitely win.”
The fight goes out to purse bids and is mandated to take place by the end of May. Logic says Smith defends successfully and moves on. But if Mansoori continues to learn and develop, this may merely be the first of many championship-level fights in his future.
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.