Lee Selby ready for Eric Hunter, eyes Santa Cruz-Frampton winner
Lee Selby defends his IBF featherweight title against Eric Hunter on Saturday in London, England, and the bad news for the mandatory challenger is that the Welshman may be an even better fighter than he ever was before.
Selby, who is rated No. 4 by THE RING at 126 pounds, is coming off a 12-round unanimous decision victory over Fernando Montiel last October. It was a tough night in Arizona, and an education for Selby (22-1, 8 knockouts), who came away with what amounts to a fistic master’s degree after mixing it up with a motivated and crafty veteran.
“I gained so much experience from that fight,” said Selby with respect. “In his prime, Fernando Montiel won three world titles at different weights and he’s a great champion.
“It was also my first time boxing away from home, so everything was new to me and I managed to bank 12 good rounds against a solid opponent. You can’t buy that.”
Eric Hunter (21-3, 11 KOs) is a Philadelphia fighter and an entirely different proposition. The outspoken 29-year-old is young, fresh and, unlike the smaller Montiel, likely to match the defending champion in terms of size and strength.
Selby said, “I’ve had a look at Hunter and he can do a bit of everything. He can come forward, he can box, he can punch, he can switch-hit and he can be cute at times.
“I can switch-hit too but I like to stay orthodox and my punching power is underrated. Early in my career, my manager Chris Sanigar told me to hold my power back and get rounds under my belt. I wasn’t let off the leash until I reached domestic title level and most of my opponents are shocked by my punching power now.”
Selby is absolutely right. In his first eight outings he didn’t score one single stoppage but from the moment a Welsh title was on the line, he turned up the heat. Among his knockout victims was the previously unbeaten Stephen Smith, now a world class junior lightweight, who is scheduled to face IBF titleholder Jose Pedraza on April 16.
Indeed, the best way to gauge Selby’s talent and power is to look at what he’s done since championship belts were up for grabs. In 15 fights, over five years, the 29-year-old has annexed Welsh, Celtic, British, Commonwealth, European and world titles, with seven opponents failing to hear the final bell.
Will he be the first man to stop Hunter? The American has been very outspoken, labeling Selby “spoiled” during the buildup but the calm and reserved champion insists that he is immune to such pre-fight theatrics.
“I haven’t got a clue where he’s getting that from and your guess is as good as mine,” laughed Selby. “It’s a load of rubbish and we’re going to fight anyway, so it doesn’t make a difference what gets said beforehand.
“He won’t be able to get under my skin and he’s just wasting his time.”
Hunter also holds a very rare distinction. Out of his three defeats, two have come by disqualification; one for low blows and one for hitting on the break. Despite the Andrew Golota-like statistics, Selby does not foresee a foul-infested encounter.
He said, “Hunter has probably been a bit unlucky. I haven’t watched the fights where he was disqualified but from what I’ve seen, he doesn’t look like a dirty fighter. I mean it’s rare to get disqualified, so something must be up for it to happen twice.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t think about this kind of stuff. I’m just trained to perform and I don’t really care about his prior history. It’s a fight at the end of the day and may the best man win.”
Selby is heavily favored to retain his title on Saturday. The Welshman is a five-to-one favorite and, for that reason, this reporter felt it appropriate to ask him to gaze into the featherweight crystal ball.
“The biggest name is probably Leo Santa Cruz and I think his style and my style would make for a great fight,” said Selby. “He’s due to fight Carl Frampton, though, and I’d love to take on the winner.
“I can see Frampton and myself fighting down the line, regardless. I think he’s a good fighter and a great champion and that would be a massive fight for the U.K. fans.”
It is almost impossible to light a fire under Selby when he’s in repose. The sharpshooting champion saves all of his attitude and aggressiveness for fight night and he refused to profit his opponent’s doom on Saturday night.
“I just hope I win,” said Selby sheepishly. “I’m not Muhammad Ali, so I won’t be predicting a knockout or picking a round. I’m looking forward to it and the atmosphere will be electric.”
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing