The first major British boxing card of the year went off in Cardiff last night, and it went off well.
As reported by the BBC, Gary Buckland shaded a split-decision, 12-round points victory over Gavin Rees to win the chance to fight for Martin Gethin's British lightweight title. Then Anthony Joshua fought before a Welsh crowd for the first time, bombing out Dorian Darch in two, thus making it four KO wins from four fights.
Lee Selby then topped the bill and added the vacant European featherweight title to his British strap, when referee Ian John-Lewis stopped his fight with Rendall Munroe in the sixth round.
Selby, who turns 27 soon, improves to 18-1 and will hope to box for a world title this year. Munroe, 33, goes to 27-3-1, losing for the first time at featherweight since a previous British title shot in 2006, after a career largely spent down at super-bantamweight.
At the weigh-in on Friday, Munroe looked in excellent shape, and it was possible to buy into his rhetoric that he was dead at the weight at super-bantam and refreshed and revitalized at feather.
By fight night, however, Munroe looked like a man from a smaller weight class, and Selby was able to bully him in the ring, controlling the distance with a range-finder left-hand, much in the style of Wladimir Klitschko.
Selby is able to put on between 10 and 12 pounds between the weigh-in and the fight, a massive amount at the 126-pound class. Whilst Munroe was a small featherweight, Selby's ability to rehydrate so dramatically should put him at an advantage against anyone in the division.
Adrien Broner recently forfeited that asset when he jumped two classes from lightweight to welterweight, and he came a cropper against Marcos Maidana. Now that he's bulked up, it is unlikely he could get down to lightweight again.
Fighters are often tempted to go up in weight, because in general purses increase through the weight classes. Selby would do well to ignore that siren song and make full use of his size advantage in the featherweight division.
Lee Selby got the stoppage win against Munroe, but not in the most satisfying of styles. Having stung Munroe with a big right, Selby unloaded on the ropes—throwing a fast flurry of nondescript punches, most of which Munroe blocked on his gloves.
Yes, the referee stepped in, and it went right on the night. All the same, against the kind of world-class opponents Selby will soon be hoping the mix with, he would probably have let them off the hook.
It is not uncommon for fighters to lose their heads when they have their opponents in trouble, and therefore they fail to follow up to their best advantage. It's a flaw that can be difficult to correct, because you can't replicate the excitement of the crowd and the drama of the situation in the gym, so how can you learn to overcome those hurdles?
It ultimately comes down to mental discipline and concentration. Another time, Selby would do well to try to slow things down a little rather than just throwing shot after shot, thus giving himself the chance to pick a few power punches that could really bring down the curtain in style.
Lee Selby made his name by traveling to Liverpool and beating Stephen Smith in his own backyard to claim the British title. After that he improved his record with tough fights in London and Hull.
Last night's bout was Selby's first significant one in his native Wales, and a good crowd turned out for him. When Munroe had some success with a couple of big shots in the fifth round, the fans rallied behind their man.
Selby then got the advantage of some hometown officiating with the stoppage, having used an old Chris Eubank move, waving the referee over with his man on the ropes.
Eddie Hearn's Matchroom Boxing have sent a fair few fighters overseas for world-title shots, and without much success. Selby is a fighter you envisage winning global honours in the right circumstances, and that may necessitate bringing a champion or a vacant title fight to Wales.
You could see how much Selby reveled in the hometown atmosphere, and he rose to the occasion in the sixth round. For his sake and for that of Welsh boxing, may there be more nights like that.
Rendall Munroe looked over the hill in his last fight at super-bantamweight when he was stopped by rising star Scott Quigg in Round 6.
Top middleweight Matthew Macklin went as far as to suggest Munroe was finished, tweeting:
I thought Munroe looked shot when he fought Scott Quigg. Still, good win for Selby but needs tougher fights now.— matthew macklin (@mattmacklin) February 1, 2014
Despite the defeat, Munroe looked far more convincing against Selby, riding out the first three rounds when the younger man dominated with his speed and reach advantages and having some success in the fourth and fifth rounds.
Munroe is not going to be challenging for a world title again like he did in his heyday, and he looks like a domestic-level fighter now. But whilst he is faded, he is not shot—and can still be an effective gatekeeper, separating those who belong on the international stage, like Quigg and Selby, from those who don't.
Although Munroe is 33, he made good use of his experience and savvy against Selby, blocking many of the younger man's shots on his gloves. The Leicester fighter has not taken serious beatings in his career, so the thought of him continuing is not anxiety-provoking. This is a long way from a Danny Williams situation.
Talking to Sky Sports after the fight, Munroe summed it up with a smile and the words—"Do I look like I'm finished?" Well, not quite yet, Rendall.
The highly controversial ending of the Froch-Groves fight put British refereeing in the spotlight, and in particular, the phenomenon of the "British stoppage"—refs leaping in to stop fights prematurely.
Caution should always be exercised when criticizing boxing referees. Theirs is a huge responsibility, and with fighters' health on the line, they can be forgiven for erring on the side of caution.
One of the most important aspects of refereeing is that of consistency, and Howard Foster failed that test with Carl Froch-George Groves, stopping Groves at the first sign of trouble, after Froch had been given the chance to fight through deeper waters.
Last night's referee, Ian John-Lewis, was heavily criticised in 2010 for allowing Vitali Klitschko's dominant win over Shannon Briggs to go the distance. Klitschko landed more and more as the fight wore on, and Briggs seemed to have virtually zero chance of turning it around. Briggs would later be hospitalized with his injuries.
Since then John-Lewis has flipped the other way, receiving heavy censure from Ben Carey at BoxRec for his handling of Enzo Maccarinelli's first fight with Ovill McKenzie.
Rendall Munroe had been hurt last night, but he did not look in serious trouble, and he was still with it enough to block most of Selby's assault. Like Groves, he immediately protested the stoppage, and his eyes looked clear.
Furthermore, Munroe was a proven world-level operator in perhaps his last major title fight. And yet John-Lewis didn't allow him even a fraction of the opportunity he afforded Briggs to turn it around.
Sometimes the "British stoppage," whilst premature by international standards, can be justified, for example when protecting an obviously out-of-their-depth fighter. That wasn't the case with Munroe, and he was unfortunate not to get a little more time to work out of his difficulty.
When Joe Calzaghe, talking to Sky Sports, in Wales, after a Welsh fighter has won, remarks that, "you could make the case that the stoppage was a little premature," you know it was.
There are lots of talented fighters out there and only a few superstars. Rendall Munroe has quality wins over world-championship winners Victor Terrazas and Kiko Martinez, and he won the European title himself. But that was not enough to capture the public's imagination, nor propel him into the big leagues.
Lee Selby has the potential to make that leap into stardom. He has a healthy following in Wales, he boxes with some style, and his KO record is improving. If promoter Eddie Hearn believes Selby can cross over into mainstream sports coverage, that could have a huge effect on the kind of opportunities with which Selby will be presented.
As a package, Selby is not so much missing an ingredient as containing an additional one—the questionable protrusion on his upper lip. It seems to have been growing forever and yet still doesn't look quite fully formed. Mark these words: Selby will not become a major star without a facial hair rethink. Even the moustache-beard combo would be an improvement.
Not even Evander Holyfield could become undisputed heavyweight champion until he rid himself of the whiskers. Admittedly, who would ever have had the guts to tell him otherwise?
The final word goes to Mr. Tom Bowden:
Its always the first week of Movember in Lee Selby's house!— Tom Bowden (@2footshaft) February 1, 2014