Welsh Champion from the heart, Lee Selby leads the way as ever, “a force to be reckoned with” and one of the great talents in Boxing today as he continues his upward progress as a title fighter. We catch up with him in the gym, to hear his story.
Lee Selby won his title belt for IBF Featherweight Championship, defeating Russian Evgeny Gradovich to gain his title crown. As the former British, Commonwealth and European featherweight champion he is back in his stride and back in the fight in the 02 Arena on the undercard of the David Haye and Tony Bellows fight. Selby, ever ambitious to fulfill his potential and reaching for the boxing accolades dizzy heights he is, as ever, intensely focused as we catch up with him at St. Josephs Gym.
Selby has been in an intense training regime, still fit and indestructible from his training boot camp for Vegas. He has continued straight back to training in St. Josephs Gym Newport with Tony Borg his trainer after his major disappointment in Vegas.
Las Vegas, the Mecca of boxing, was visited by Selby for his fight with Jonathan Victor Barros at The MGM Grand Las Vegas in January, only to harbor disappointment for Lee, ready and willing to fight and who was about to weigh in for his fight with Barros, when he was given the news that Barros had failed to meet the licensing conditions of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and therefore not cleared to fight the title fight with Selby. That left Selby at the altar on fight night in January this year.
While Selby awaits the decision from the IBF legal department before he can take on another title fight he is turning disappointment into victory, training again for his next fight. We dropped in to St. Josephs Gym in Newport to find Selby warming up and looking strong. Tony, his long term trainer who trained him to victory against Gradovich and they are at it again and their rapport is strong showing a familiarity and respect that is “old school,” in this “old school gym” with time served training strategies.
The friendship and connection is warm and friendly at first with Tony and Lee until we step into the next session of hardcore and ferocious sparring with the British Champion Gary Buckland. As fists fly Selby is fit, fast and in great condition. He moves swiftly, defending nicely and showing that “Lighting Lee” is still very much on form showing strength with his “mean” punches. Selby is an intense boxer and an instinctive fighter, who Tony understands and works well with; this fighter instinct combined with thinking prowess makes a great mix.
Never overbearing and always attentive, Tony offers advice, fine-tuning every detail with encouragement as the session heats up round after round, as the athletic dance of sparring and defense takes place. The action is enthralling as the speed picks up the pace and punches fly between Selby and Gary. Tony looks happy with his performance as Selby’s strategy and precision are followed through correctly.
“Lightning Lee” just turned 30 and is a family man, proud of his Welsh heritage, and is symbolic of how Welsh roots and a working class background can turn hard work into success. He is an icon to his fans, who can relate to his humble start in life and with this in mind we find out what makes this fighting champion work so hard and so intensely. He is a quiet, confident man but one who knows his own mind.
What do you think makes you stand out to the public and fans?
Well, I come from humble beginnings, on a council estate in a small town and most people relate to me. I pass on to friends and fans that hard work and dedication in life can achieve anything. Not just in sport but in life in general, in your work or school life this means you can get anything you want and that I am proof that you can succeed, if you put in the hard work. I have done it against all odds, no one has giving me a hand, definitely.
I have been invited to schools including where I went to school and numerous schools around Wales and I just pass on the message on that hard work and dedication, can get you the rewards from the hard work put in.
Lee loves to support many youth based charities hands on to give back to the community and is the ambassador for Empire Fighting Chance, a charity based in Bristol working with disadvantaged young people and those most in need in the community. It is a charity based on supporting youth becoming champions in the ring and life. By raising their aspirations and confidence they may make good life choices, free from crime. This reflects both Lee’s fighting heart and his heart for the people.
I understand your late brother spurred you into boxing?
Yes, he was the eldest, he was two years older than us, me and Andrew and he got into boxing when he could at eight and I then followed two years later and then my younger brother followed me. Yes, he was the first one to do it and when he passed away I went through a spell of drinking and hanging around with idiots, to the point where it was “make or break” to choose the right road or go down the wrong one. That’s when I started dedicating myself and my life to boxing.
So from your point of view it’s always been the passion and form of your life then!
Lee’s younger brother Andrew has a very respectable list of boxing credentials too under his belt and under the coaching of Tony, Team Selby is a tight team.
Lee took up boxing when he was eight and was strongly encouraged by his father AKA as Lee Selby, whose love for boxing has always been there, weaning the young Selby boys on stories and watching boxing matches with the greats such as Muhammad Ali. It was only when Lee’s late brother Michael had a fatal accident that Lee took up the gauntlet to take boxing seriously after a period of time where Lee lost himself to alcohol.
Coming out the other side, his dad urged him to take up fighting seriously and he went on to become a professional boxer. Lee won his first title of 2011 – the Welsh Featherweight – with a second round knock-out of Dai Davies. He then took the Celtic Featherweight title after a fifth round knock-out against James Ancliff and then onto the British and Commonwealth titles, knocking out champion Stephen Smith in the eighth round in front of the Liverpudlian’s home crowd. Winning the World IBF Champion Featherweight title in 2015 beating Gradovich – A force to be reckoned with and has earned his place with the fans and public at large as the Welshman with heart.
This Welshman is proud to have kept his training in Wales with his kindred spirit, a Cardiff born trainer and former boxer Tony Borg, who has reared other champions and who knows his form but is down to earth as many Welshmen are showing that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Selby holds his own, as a Welsh boxer, who has international fame and this is met with the same humbleness that we have come to expect from Lee Selby.
When did you realize you had the potential to be a world champion?
I always thought it from the beginning. I think I was the only one and I remember my dad mentioning you could win the British Commonwealth championship and I always believed in myself!
You’re very dedicated to boxing and so what’s an average training day for you? What sorts of days do you have leading up to a fight?
The sort of day I have leading up to a fight is a minimum of twice a day, six days a week. Sometimes I train three times a day and one session will consist of a run a minimum of five miles to eight miles and another a strengthening and conditioning training, which lasts for about 60 minutes. Another in the boxing gym strengthening and conditioning this is usually three days a week and on alternative days I will do cardio work in the gym instead of the strength session.
Who are your boxing icons that you admire, past and present? Who is your favorite and why?
It has to be Mohammed Ali, he was one I always watched growing up with my father and he was the one always on TV! Well, I had no choice but to watch him and admire his form. It was either, enjoy it or don’t enjoy it! I decided to enjoy it – He was the best!
Obviously you went to Vegas and your dream was to go to Vegas and box there in America which we all know. What did it feel like to have that fight taken away at the last minute, the rug pulled from underneath you?
I was devastated in the way they told me, they let me know as I was just about to go on stage to weigh in literally; like 15 minutes before I was supposed to go on stage in front of all the fans, do the weigh in and they came in and told me that the fight wasn’t going to take place. So of course I was devastated, all that training, everything leading up to that fight. That’s the main dream in boxing from wherever you are from; to be fighting for a world title in Las Vegas, from whatever country you come from it’s the Mecca of boxing. So to have it taken away last minute was just devastating for me and my fans.
Do you have plans to get back to Vegas to give us the show promised last time?
Hopefully yeah if all goes to plan! Keep winning and no doubt I will be back there and hopefully be headlining the boxing card soon and be a headline act.
You have a fight coming up, can you tell us a bit more about that?
I am going to be fighting March 4 and it will be a non title fight with Andoni Gago undercard to David Hayes’s heavyweight showdown against Tony Bellew. My last fight, my one in Vegas was against my mandatory, my number one contender for my IBF World Title. The IBF won’t allow me to defend my title until this issue with Barros and the situation is sorted out, so the IBF are allowing me a ten round non title fight, which is in the 02 Arena March 4th between me and Andoni Gago.
Some people have claimed you have not fought enough in the last year and haven’t done enough. What would you say to that?
I probably have to agree, a little bit unfortunate as we were in negotiations to fight my boxing mandatory April 9 2016 and he had option to fight another British fighter at the last minute he pulled out of the negotiations and that left me literally a fight behind. The next mandatory came up, Jonathan Barros, the fight was going to take place in Las Vegas and again literally last minute the fight got cancelled. Now, I am two fights behind so I am hoping to get this fight out the way March 4 and hopefully come out unscathed and ready to take on a big fight then and to make up for the two I lost out on.
You are currently the holder of the IBF Featherweight World Championship, who is the next contender for this belt and fight?
I am going to have to see what is going on with my mandatory situation and I am not to clear with Jonathan Barros, but I know it’s with the lawyers trying to work something out. If he is made mandatory again I would have to fight him, if not the next in line are Josh Warrington and Ronny Rios No. 1 and 2 so would have to fight off in an eliminator to become mandatory to become the challenger of the title.
How did you meet Tony your fighting Trainer?
When I decided to turn professional, there were two main coaches in Wales, two pro gyms in Wales Tony Borg and Enzo Calzaghe, so I had to make the choice of who I was going to go with Calzaghe or Borg. So I come up to this gym and had a look around, had a training session it worked. I didn’t bother to go to the gym so I stayed here it felt right and lucky I did.
You very proud of Team Selby, what do you think the secret success of your teamwork is?
Well there is a lot of experience with my coach and Chris, my manager who is one of the most experienced, if not the most experienced manager in the country. Tony Borg is one of the most experienced trainers in the country, its all of our hard work and commitment and working closely together, we make a good team, we have a good formula away on training camps and away on boxing trips and we get close, understand each other. In the gym every day, with Tony and the understanding has been like that since day one. I started my professional career with them. I started in Wales and had my first fight across the road in Newport Leisure Centre. I had no TV backing, no money and I worked my way up to the top and to work your way up from Newport Leisure Centre to MGM Grand Las Vegas from a little leisure center, to the Mecca of boxing that’s an achievement in itself!
You have to sell your own tickets, there is no money in it for us boxers at the beginning, you have to be a self starter and you have to sell enough tickets, to cover your purse and your opponent’s purse and the promoters cut and of course this means you have to have a passion.
You love and respect your fans so when you were in Vegas you were very concerned about your fans traveling there and supporting you with a “no show” fight, what would you like to say to them?
Just to thank them for the support so far and continuing to support me as I dedicate my life to boxing and give my best so I can be a role model to inspire others too especially in my home town, in Wales and in the UK, because I didn’t have one and if I can be ‘one’ to them it would mean the world to me..
If you retired from boxing would you be happy with your achievements?
What do you mean? I wouldn’t retire. Or say if I was injured, once my career is over I want to be financially stable that I would never have to work again with my children’s future looked after as well. Although the accolades I have won in boxing I am proud of, I have won the Welsh title, British and Celtic and Welsh featherweight title, British and Commonwealth titles, European titles, two WBC International featherweight title Championship and IBF world title that’s all of them except for the other world titles. Boxing wise I have achieved everything I want too but financially there a bit more cash to collect….
By Chris Hartery
Chris Hartery is a writer and publicist who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.