IT WAS a night of new beginnings at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena on Saturday but it was a man who brought the curtain down on his career who stole the show, writes Michael Pearlman.
After 16 years as a professional and 25 years since first walking into a gym, Newbridge’s Gavin ‘the Rock’ Rees bid adieu to the sport he loves with a superb display in another absolute tear-up with domestic rival Gary Buckland.
And it was the emotional pull of watching Rees leave it all in the ring once more with one of his best displays in years that most enthralled a capacity crowd on a night where new beginnings were set in motion.
For Cefn Fforest fighter Nathan Cleverly, the former WBO light heavyweight champion; that means a new weight, a new promoter and a new trainer and his rehabilitation after defeat and a nine-month hiatus is well and truly underway after he crushed Shawn Corbin.
And while main-event star Lee Selby, of Barry, wasn’t quite so destructive in his 12-round triumph over Romulo Koasicha, the sky is the limit for the St Joseph’s boxer as promoter Eddie Hearn and manager Chris Sanigar plot his route to not just a world title, but possible superstardom for the fighter endorsed by no less than Floyd Mayweather.
Rees’ former stablemate under Enzo Calzaghe, Cleverly, will be reflecting on a job better than well done.
There were plenty of sceptics, this reporter included, as Cleverly changed everything in response to losing his WBO light heavyweight title and undefeated career nine months ago at the devastating hands of Sergey Kovalev.
Cleverly, now training with Darren Wilson, ending his partnership with father Vince, and under the Matchroom banner, is now boxing at cruiser, incredibly six categories up from where he started.
However, there can be no denying Cleverly looks far more comfortable than he did at light heavy and he took power with him, bullying the bigger Corbin, particularly with some booming right uppercuts. Following an onslaught, the referee intervened for Corbin in the second session.
That set the stage for Selby and much like with his idol Mayweather, he was forced to look impressive for 36 minutes rather than blast his opponent away.
I gave Selby all 12 rounds - the closest a judge scored it had Selby winning by nine – but it was at times a cautious display from a naturally flamboyant fighter, a cut above his right eye suffered in the fourth seemingly having an effect.
“He was tough, he was a typical Mexican if you like and he caught me with some good shots, he was a tough guy who kept coming,” he said.
“I managed to out box him and I didn’t want to risk anything, I’d been cut so I didn’t try and take him out. He caught me with a punch, so I could’ve been stopped on cuts.”
And the mature Selby, who is also now an expectant father, is determined to do right by his body.
“I’d get back in the ring tomorrow ideally, usually after a fight I’m back in the gym after two days,” he said.
“But this time I’ll do things properly, I’ll have a couple of weeks off and get ready for a fight later in the year, people are always looking ahead at opponents for me, but I’ll take them as they come and stay in the moment.”
Manager Sanigar revealed he’s hoping to place Selby in a final eliminator for the WBC featherweight title, hopefully in Cardiff in September.
Elsewhere on the card, Swansea’s Tobias Webb fell victim to a scintillating display from top prospect Callum Smith.
The super middleweight, nephew of former world champion Enzo Maccarinelli, had hoped to face Callum’s older brother Paul for his British title, but that prospect was rejected by the British Boxing Board.
However, this was still a step-up in class for Webb and he was unable to cope, Smith dropping him four times in a devastating second round where he tore into Webb, especially when forcing home some vicious body shots.
Elsewhere on the card, there were victories for a pair of Gwent fighters hopefully on the ascendency.
Cefn Fforest’s Rob Turley has endured a horrific year with a routine medical test throwing his career into doubt, but his in-ring return was impressive while it lasted, opponent Marc Callaghan withdrawing with a shoulder injury.
Mitchell Buckland, younger brother of Gary, was also victorious in routine fashion, shutting-out Daz Usher 60-54 over six threes as he continues to show real promise.