Q&A: IBF featherweight challenger Lee Selby
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Lee Selby will attempt to add his name to Welsh folklore by becoming the 12th fighter from Wales to win a world title when he challenges Evgeny Gradovich for the IBF featherweight belt on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London.
Selby (20-1, 8 knockouts) sprang to prominence when, as a rank outsider, he stopped previously unbeaten Stephen Smith in the summer of 2011, collecting the British and Commonwealth titles in the process. He’s since added the European title and climbed ton No. 8 in THE RING’s 126-pound ratings.
He has handed five fighters their first loss and will be aiming to add Gradovich (19-0, 9 KOs) to that list. The only RING-rated featherweight to have taken more 0’s is Jhonny Gonzalez, at six, though most came in the first half of his career and Gonzalez has had more than three times as many fights.
“It gives you confidence,” Selby told RingTV.com at St. Joseph’s gym in Newport last Wednesday. “People like Floyd Mayweather, how many unbeaten fighters he’s beaten? It’s three, not a lot. Less than me. People don’t like to fight unbeaten fighters. I’ve beaten a lot of unbeaten fighters, so it’s nothing new.”
Gradovich-Selby is part of a bumper bill, promoted by Matchroom, headlined by Kell Brook vs. Frankie Gavin, who will fight for Brook’s IBF 147-pound strap. Jorge Linares will defend the WBC lightweight crown against Kevin Mitchell, and Anthony Joshua looks to further his claims of being the best up-and-coming heavyweight in the world when he steps up against veteran American Kevin Johnson. The card will be shown on Sky Pay-Per-View.
Anson Wainwright – What are your thoughts on facing Gradovich?
Lee Selby – It’s a tough fight, obviously, he’s a good champion. He’s coming to my backyard to defend his title, so it shows he’s a true fighter. I’m his fifth defense and third mandatory, so I’m up against it. It’s a tough fight but one I think I can win.
AW – You were at his last fight in Omaha when he fought Jayson Velez. What did you learn from that trip?
LS – I didn’t learn anything new. He fought the same as he usually fights: come-forward pressure fighter, tries to wear his opponents down. He showed he can be out-boxed early on; Jayson Velez out-boxed him for the first four rounds and he wasn’t able to keep it up. Gradovich showed his determination and his will to win coming on later strong and it was a fight I did think he won – it wasn’t a draw – pretty clearly.
AW – As you say, Gradovich comes on strong as the rounds pass. Do you see it as a fight you need to be make an impression and win the early rounds?
LS – He does come on strong in the later rounds and he is a bit of a slow starter. It would be nice to get an early lead. If I can win the first seven rounds he’s going to have to knock me out to win and I’ll be well ahead and he’ll start making mistakes and fall into shots himself.
AW – The fight takes place at the O2 in London. How important is it for you to have home advantage?
LS – That was the main thing with this fight. It wasn’t the money, it was to get home advantage, give myself the best opportunity of winning. I’m glad it’s in the U.K. Hopefully if it’s close the judges favor me being the home fighter because I know if it was out in Russia and it was a close fight that I was winning they’d definitely give it to Gradovich.
AW – Two years ago, Sergey Kovalev was in this very gym doing an open workout ahead of his world-title challenge against Nathan Cleverly. I told you that Kovalev’s manager Egis Klimas also managed Gradovich. It’s funny how things worked out.
LS – I remember you telling me [that] and I remember I went over and I told him I was going to beat Gradovich. I don’t know if he’ll remember it. It’ll be nice to keep to my word and then I’ll jog his memory after the fight. (laughs)
AW – Your fight is part of a bumper bill, including Kevin Mitchell’s challenge for the WBC lightweight title against Jorge Linares, as well as Anthony Joshua stepping up.
LS – There’s eyes all around the world watching this event, it’s the biggest stage in boxing for me to showcase my talents. I’m up against an established champion so if I can beat him and beat him in style it’ll show them I’m a worthy fighter in the featherweight division – a true champion.
AW – Originally this fight was going to take place on April 25. Did the delay impact you at all?
LS – I was training for April 25 and when we flew out to America for sparring that’s when we got the news the fight was pushed back four weeks. When we were out there we just sparred every other day and worked on technical stuff the days in between the sparring. When I came back I had an easy week, just fitness training, no boxing, and then got back on it and now I’m ready to go.
AW – Tell us about this time and your camp?
LS – I always keep myself in shape, I’m always in training. I’m out on the roads with my father, he goes on the push bike and I run alongside him. We train in a gym in Wales. I spar with the Welsh boys, Gary Buckland, who has a similar style to Gradovich, just to get my timing and get myself in shape for when I go out to America. The first trip I went out to L.A, I sparred with loads of different fighters. I went to The Wild Card, I sparred at the Rock gym. I sparred with Oscar Valdez on a few occasions, he’s a good fighter, similar to style to Gradovich – come-forward, aggressive. I got some good work in.
Then the date got changed, I came back, had a week‘s rest, I trained for a week or two and then we flew out to Vegas. We trained in Vegas, stayed around for Mayweather-Pacquiao. We worked out at the Pound-for-Pound gym, mainly with Jesus Gutierrez (13-0, 4 KOs). Again, he was similar to Gradovich – come-forward, non-stop aggression. He gave me good work in Vegas.
Since I came back I sparred with Commonwealth gold medalist Sean McGoldrick and Gary Buckland. And I’ll finish off my last session Friday with Sean McGoldrick and my brother (Andrew, a two-time world amateur championship medalist). Everything has gone well, no injuries, weight‘s good. I’m always fit.
AW – Being around Mayweather-Pacquiao, did that motivate you further being at such a big event?
LS – I think that’s part of the reason my manager, Chris Sanigar, takes me over there, to open my eyes to see what I could achieve on the big stage. We went to a few shows in Vegas, the Top Rank and Mayweather Promotions show, and we’re seeing the top stars and it gives you inspiration and gives you something to work for.
AW – Your last fight was an impressive dismantling of previously unbeaten Australian Joel Brunker.
LS – It was a good fight. I knew Joel Brunker going into the fight, we’d sparred in out in Vegas a couple of times at the Mayweather gym. So we knew each other pretty well. I knew I was in for a tough fight so trained really hard for it. He was just as expected – he came forward with loads of pressure and because I kept boxing on the back foot making him miss, I broke his heart and broke him down round by round and finally got the stoppage.
AW – What are your thoughts on the featherweight division on the whole?
LS – At the moment it’s probably one of the best divisions in boxing. It’s got great champions, and there’s great fights out there for me. I wouldn’t like to say who’s the best fighter. I know Lomachenko beat Russell Jr. handily but Russell Jr. probably has the fastest hands in boxing at the moment, and you’ve got Nicholas Walters, a really dangerous puncher. Out of [Walters] and Lomachenko I couldn’t pick a winner. There’s great fights there for me and big money fights too if I can win this next one.
AW – Through the annals of time, Wales has produced some outstanding featherweights – Jim Driscoll, Howard Winston and most recently Steve Robinson. What would it mean to you to be mentioned in such illustrious company?
LS – It would mean the world to me. All those names you mentioned were all great fighters and people I look up to. I know Steve Robinson really well and he was the last featherweight to win a world title from Wales (Robinson held the WBO title from 1993-95, making seven successful defenses before losing to Naseem Hamed). To be mixing in that type of company is great.
AW – Tell us about your life away from boxing?
LS – At the moment my life is just boxing. I have a family, I’ve got a girlfriend I’ve been with for a few years – we’ve recently had a baby girl, she’s 9 months old. I’ve got a stepdaughter, who’s 7. That’s it, I’m a family guy and just a boxer. That’s my life, just boxing.
AW – In closing, do you have a message for Gradovich?
LS – I don’t have any message for him. See you Wednesday.
AW – Will that be the first time you meet him?
LS – No, I saw him [in Omaha], we stayed in the same hotel. I saw him from a distance. He didn’t recognize me. He’ll know who I am Saturday night. (laughs)
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him at www.twitter.com/AnsonWainwright