The Selby: The Bearable Weight of Excellence

By Terence Dooley

Such is the talent of Lee Selby, 17-1 (6), that he goes into tonight’s British and vacant European featherweight title fight against Rendall Munroe, 27-3-1 (11), with a bit of a point to prove.  The 26-year-old Welshman bubbled on the backburner throughout the early days of his career before exploding onto the wider British boxing consciousness with a sensational eighth-round TKO win over British and Commonwealth champion Stephen Smith in September 2011.  The odds against Selby were set at 5-1 on Paddy Power, with 100-1 available if you predicted the correct round, and the dominance he displayed in his upset win marked him down as one to watch.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Selby then demolished the seemingly indestructible John Simpson with a body shot in his following fight, a fifth-round win in December of the same year, before wiping out Ghana’s Patrick Okine in five to open 2012.

A subsequent seven-month layoff ended when he decisioned Martin Lindsay in Belfast in February of last year and the Barry-based boxer racked up three more wins in 2013: Corey McConnell (TKO 5), Viorel Simon (W12) and Ryan Walsh (W12).  However, despite an impressive level of dominance, or maybe because of it, more on that later, Selby has not quite hit the heights in recent outings.

The Smith and Simpson results are part of the problem.  They were a pair of jaw droppers and catapulted Selby from a secret, but not “The Secret”, into that rarest of beasts, a British fighter who appears to have real top-level potential, if developed correctly.  Now part of the Matchroom and Sky TV stable, Selby goes into tonight’s fight eying a new title, which always brings out the best in a fighter, and the scalp of a former world title challenger — Munroe challenged Toshiaki Nishioka for the WBC Super bantamweight title in Tokyo in 2010 (L12).

A pitch perfect win will go a long way to justifying the claims made on the headliner’s behalf; if he meanders on points or looks listless then there could be a sweeping reassessment of how far he can go.

Eddie Hearn believes that he has a potential “superstar” on his hands.  Selby also views himself as the heir apparent to the rich boxing legacy left by fellow Welshmen such as Joe Calzaghe.  He said: “It would be nice to have the recognition of Steve Robinson, Robbie Regan and Joe Calzaghe who all fought a lot in Wales and did amazing things for the sport and the country.  This (show) is big-time boxing and this is what Wales needs.

“Being on top of a Sky Sports show is something you dream of as a kid.  I don't feel the pressure so it'll be nice to have the fans behind me.  It will be nice to be cheered into the ring instead of booed.  It will be nice to be built up in front of my home crowd and build up a good following in Wales.

“Rendall was a great fighter.  I remember boxing on the undercard of him and Kiko Martinez [February 2009]. I watched the fight and I thought it was brilliant.  But he has been at his best and I think it is my time now to take over.”

Selby has set a high bar for himself, now it is simply a case of going out there and establishing this level of excellence, in every round of every fight, until his world title dream is an undeniable reality.

The problem, though, is that Selby might be too good for his own good.  He looks brilliant when everything comes together, but can also look bored, has showboated a little too often when he should be punching and looks so far ahead of the chasing pack that he runs the risk of plateauing at domestic or European level.

Hearn has taken steps to make sure that this is not the case, a hometown headline slot against a solid domestic name and with a new title on the line is just the fillip Selby needs at this point in his career.  Simion and Walsh were both undefeated, but were also relatively untested, this isn’t the case with Munroe, who did well at European level and did not disgrace himself in his world title tilt.

After almost two-years on the road, Selby comes back to Wales as a conquering hero, ready to join the nation’s roll call of tough yet talented fighters, with a growing number of fans certain that he can rise to the top.

With the scene set, the opponent in place and the EBU belt waiting, Selby must ditch the showboating and make another statement.  A win will help move him towards where he needs to be, a stoppage would be a welcome return to destructive form against a quality name, and with the show being carried in the U.S. by AWE TV it would certainly help his wider profile and propel him towards his ultimate goal of a world title.

Indeed, and it is a cliché, but Selby’s biggest opponent is the treadmill of contention.  Many fighters have struggled to move beyond British level simply because every challenger for the title raises his game in pursuit of the cherished Lonsdale belt.  An EBU run can be equally as draining and you have to start mixing in International names to increase your ratings and profile — a road that often leads to burn out.

Another aspect to consider is the psychological “treading water” effect, especially for fighters who are prodigiously talented, as they have to keep their motivation high while taking on opponents who, rightly or wrongly, they feel they are a level below them.  Ennui and hubris are the key dangers in this scenario; you also run the risk of letting the cracks slowly creep in.

A fighter might decide that he can ease off the gas for a few rounds in one fight whilst still racking up a win.  Then this carries over into the next fight.  Next thing you know, it infects your training and eventually you reach the point where your ability to switch the bursts of virtuoso boxing off and on is lost and an upset becomes an inevitability.

Some are all graft and little or no brilliance; others have style and no real substance; plenty pop up with the odd peak performance then drop back into the chorus line.  Others, and I include Selby in this category, can turn their brilliance off and on, seemingly at will, but eventually you reach the point where you can’t do it anymore.  You cannot summon the water, the well runs dry — this is something Hearn will be keen to avoid while painstakingly guiding Selby to the top.

Having a potentially top-class prospect is an exciting burden and Hearn has to plot a careful path to a world title, one that keeps both the fighter and his fans excited without bringing his career to the boil too quickly.  Talent is an encumbrance if it leads to complacency, so, in giving Selby something to get excited about tonight, Hearn has given his charge the impetus he needs to put on a show.


Selby dropped Robbie Regan’s name earlier this week.  It was a blast from the past for some older fans as well as a timely reminder of how quickly things can change in this sport.  Regan flew up the flyweight rankings in the 1990s; he picked up the British title, the European title then fell short against Alberto Jimenez for the WBO title in 1995 (L RTD 9).

Remarkably, Regan’s second European title defence — a decision win over Luigi Camputaro — turned out to be one the most brutal, uncomfortable fights you will ever see, or not see in this case as the most horrific aspect of the night was hidden from sight.  Regan’s boots were a loose fit — and he later revealed they were new — so the friction quickly produced blisters, which soon popped, became sores and ripped away the skin from the soles of his feet — feel free to wince.

Even more remarkably, Regan bit down, fought through the pain barrier and defended his belt.  In all my years watching the sport, it is still the most horrific sight that I’ve never seen.  It is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about brave, tough boxers who have to add a sliver of steel to their undoubted skill.

It certainly made a lasting impression on Dr. Ray Monsell, he was the ringside physician that night and could still recall the injury when speaking to in 2010.  “It was a horrible sight,” said Dr. Monsell.

“I asked Robbie what made him do it.  He was in terrible pain from the second round.  He replied that he couldn’t stop, that he had to win.  He just didn’t think about the pain.  That’s why boxers are special athletes.”

They certainly are, undeterred by both this and his defeat to Alberto Jimenez, Regan jumped up to bantamweight to challenge Daniel Jimenez for the WBO bantamweight title at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff in April 1996.  Regan won the fight to set up a potential clash with Wayne McCullough, but injury, withdrawals (Jorge Eliecir Julio withdrew from a scheduled defence that was due to take place at the London Arena on December 19 1997) and a mystery illness, later diagnosed as Epstein Barr Viris, blighted him and his comeback attempts eventually came to naught.

Sadly, Regan was deemed unfit to fight by the BBBoC’s doctors on the eve of his bout with Jorge Julio in 1998 and his career ended before he could defend his WBO title.  Dai Gardiner, his manager and trainer, summed it up succinctly when talking to The Independent: “It’s heartbreaking”, he said.  

Selby has more talent than Regan, but he has yet to come through his Camputaro moment — a crisis, seen or unseen, in a big fight.  It will come at some point, and he how responds to it will give us the answers to lingering questions about whether he can join the likes of Jim Driscoll, Percy Jones, Jimmy Wilde, Freddie Walsh, Howard Winstone, Steve Robinson, Joe Calzaghe and Enzo Maccarinelli in the pantheon of Welsh ring wizards.

Please send news and views to [email protected] or Twitter @Terryboxing.

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