BOXINGWALES ANNUAL AWARDS 2013

2013 has been a year of memorable highs and painful lows for Welsh boxing and BoxingWales have compiled our second annual awards to commemorate the men who made their mark.

PROFESSIONAL BOXER OF THE YEAR – Lee Selby

As his fellow countrymen Nathan Cleverly, Gavin Rees and Gary Buckland fell, Barry’s Lee Selby emerged and reached the brink of a world title shot in 2013. With four solid wins, Selby ticked the boxes he needed to and showed sides of his game that we were yet to have seen, even going back to his Welsh and Celtic title wins.

There wasn’t much that Selby didn’t do this year but arguably the most important impression he made was at the beginning in February, defending his British title in Belfast. Renown as the most hostile fighting city in the world, Selby was up against a home town Ulsterman in Martin Lindsay, a man once tipped to go beyond British level. It didn’t matter, nobody was surprised Selby won but the ease at which he out-pointed a worthy challenger was startling even to those who had covered him for years.

Such was Selby’s dominance, Matchroom Sports’ Eddie Hearn signed him up weeks later and began mapping out a route to a world title. That road started two months later, Selby was showcased on Britain’s biggest sports television station, Sky Sports. The 26-year-old was given real star treatment for the first time in five year career and he shone, stopping Australia’s game but out-gunned Corey McConnell in five rounds. Selby had arrived, now he needed to establish himself in style and he did.

Next up in the summer was former Olympian and WBC #4 Viorel Simion. Overcoming two injured hands, Selby outpointed his relentless opponent and he hasn’t been given the credit he deserves for a stellar win. In a way, Selby was the victim of his own success. Because the Barry man had set his standards so high, anything less wasn’t greeted with the praise it should warrant. In his final bout of the year, Selby was the victim of his own success in another way.

Unlike most boxers, Selby lives his life as a training camp and he’s rarely out of the gym, that demands extra energy and it was missing as he beat Ryan Walsh in October. Nonetheless, Selby won and top class champions win when they’re not at their best.

In beating Walsh, Selby became the first Welshman since Floyd Havard in 1995 to win the British Lonsdale belt to own forever and no Welshman had defended it three times since Johhny Owen in 1980. In February, Selby fights for the European title and defends his British title for the fourth time, a feat no Welshman has done and won since the great Howard Winestone in 1963.

Should Selby win, there’s every possibility he will go on to emulate Winestone’s WBC featherweight title success and you’ll be reading he’s the best Welsh pro of 2014 too.

Previous winners: 2012, Gavin Rees.

AMATEUR BOXER OF THE YEAR – Andrew Selby

It’s a Selby double as Lee’s younger brother Andrew has continued to cement his status as the best Welsh amateur boxer ever by statistically becoming GB’s most successful boxer with six major tournament medals, two of them gained in 2013.

It started in June at the European Championships in Minsk, Belarus where the 24-year-old flyweight (52KG) became the first GB boxer to win back-to-back gold medals and what made it all the more special was the epic conclusion that saw Selby clash for the third and final time with long term nemesis, Ireland’s Michael Conlan.

At the time, it was arguably the best rivalry in world amateur boxing, what makes it all the more unique is that the two get on like gentleman outside of the ring but in it, they punch holes in to and out of each other. Selby needed to be at his best this time and he was, producing his best win of the trilogy and making history in the mean time.

It concluded in October when Selby travelled to Kazakhstan’s capital, Almaty for the World Championships. In the last 16, Selby was drawn against Gerardo Tejeira who came from what is traditionally known in history as the best country for amateur boxers, Cuba. The perfect performance will never happen in boxing but Selby came as close as you can come against Tejeira and literally left onlookers speechless. BoxingWales should have learned to not be surprised by Selby’s ability but what he did that day was unbelievable.

It was a Cuban, Robeisy Ramirez Carrazana, who defeated Selby in London’s Olympics and went on to win the gold but the win over Tejeira closed that chapter with Selby progressing to the quarter-finals. There, he became the first boxer to defeat a Kazakh in the tournament, overcoming Ilyas Suleimenov in a close contest.

However, it wasn’t to be for switch-hitter Selby who was controversially beaten via Split Decision in the semi finals against Uzbekistan’s Jasurbek Latipov. The Barry boy wasn’t able to improve on his World Championships silver medal from 2011 but he came away with a bronze medal and made history, again.

What’s more remarkable, in between all this history making, Selby managed to become the #1 ranked boxer in the World Series of Boxing (WSB –  a new professional style tournament) where he stepped up to bantamweight (56KG) to pick on the bigger boys.

Despite public perception, there’s far more politics in amateur boxing than professional boxing and it’s a crying shame that Selby can’t go to the Commonwealth Games and be in line for this award again next year due to his involvement in WSB. One of the world’s best pound-for-pounders deserves better.

Previous winners: 2012, Fred Evans.

FIGHT OF THE YEAR – Frankie Borg v Gary Cooper

In May, Liam Williams wanted to contest the Welsh middleweight championship but he was unable to secure a willing opponent and then two months later, Frankie Borg and Gary Cooper were contesting the ten round title. Online critics claimed that the pair had chosen an easier route but if they witnessed the bout, they’d realise that there was nothing easy about it, at all.

Fans would have to go back a long way to recall an all-Welsh bout where the bodies and ribs of both boxers were banged so hard, flush and often. Pugilism is pure punishment, that’s what intrigues observers and it’s ironic that one of the most blatant of examples of the analogy was witnessed by a lot fewer people than it should have been.

As it was the headliner, most casual fans who had come to only watch some of the undercard boxers had left and missed what was an unmissable account for real boxing fans with a ton of inside skill, courage and determination on show. The Newport Centre has witnessed many Welsh wars and this one will always be a worthy mention, all in attendance appreciated it in it’s entirety.

Both boxers had been out of the ring for over a year and came in to the fight on the back of losses but they bludgeoned and brought out the best in each other. Initially Borg had settled behind his jab as Cooper hunted but by round three, the pair stood shoulder to shoulder and then the pattern was set. They showed pride, pain and passion as they punched themselves almost to a stand still. Round four in particular was memorable as Borg teed off with five punch combinations, twice and the second time sent Cooper’s gum shield soaring out across the ring. How Cooper absorbed those shots, let alone stood up to them and replied with his own is unknown.

The sixth stanza was the only one sided round and it was the final straw for Cooper, his tank was emptied by then and Borg stood right in front of him, teeing off with everything he had and it’s a mark of the tough man that Cooper is that he was able to see the round out.

However, cornerman Dai Gardiner called over referee Wynford Jones to say his man had enough and Bargoed’s Cooper, who is far better than his record suggests, was saved for another day. In the other corner, Borg didn’t have the energy to celebrate like his fans did but he couldn’t have looked happier as he hugged his uncle and trainer Tony Borg. You can watch the Borg-Cooper battle here.

*Notable mention: Mitchell Buckland v Craig Woodruff. Previous winners: 2012, Tony Pace v Lance Sheehan.

KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR – Craig Woodruff v Dai Davies

The only thing that’s more dramatic than a knockout is a come from behind knockout and that’s exactly what Craig Woodruff needed and produced in July at the Newport Centre.

The 21-year-old was riding high after stopping Tony Pace a few months beforehand and for this fight, he had dropped a weight division but he didn’t look the same. That shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, how many six-foot super-featherweights are there?

In the other corner was Merthyr’s Dai Davies, a man more than capable than his record suggests . A veteran of the small hall scene, Davies has given many a prospect a tuning and there were all the signs that he was on his way to doing it again in this British Masters title fight.

As Woodruff pressured, he left his hands down and he was relatively flat footed. It must have delighted Davies who made himself small and backed off before jumping in and ambushing Woodruff. The Newport native had tried to suck Davies in by goading, talking and calling for Davies to go to war but he didn’t, he stayed disciplined and racked up a comfortable lead as the fight reached the halfway point.

Then it came, the sweetest of short right uppercuts that Woodruff will ever thrown. At ringside, the situation seemed as it was almost in slow motion as Davies fell on his knees and then flat on his front. When it landed, all observers knew that was it and Davies corner did too as they began to step between the ropes before the referee’s count had ended. You can watch the knockout here.

Previous winners: New category.

PROSPECT OF THE YEAR – Chris Jenkins Also voted as the ‘Fans Fighter’ of 2013

If there’s a perfect platform for Wales’ best kept secret to be revealed then it’s Matchroom Sports’ quick fix, fire fight formatted Prizefighter tournament and that was exactly the case for Swansea’s light-welterweight, Chris Jenkins.

Wales’ Dale Evans and Hari Miles had reached the final of the tournament earlier in the year but Jenkins went one step further as he blitzed through the opposition with three storming wins and a stoppage. Despite competing at top class in the amateurs, with appearances at the Commonwealth Games and World Championships, Jenkins was pretty much unknown by the fans, even if the bookies were wise to him by pricing him as favourite, but he established himself as one of Britain’s best prospects on that summer night in London’s historic York Hall.

Prior to his big time breakthrough live on Sky Sports, Jenkins’s manager Paul Boyce was doing a fine job and he would have still been inline for this award anyway. The Swansea man fought three times before Prizefighter and he’s fought twice since. It’s been perfect progression for the 25-year-old who has had learning experiences which will only aid him in future, for example, getting cut and hurting his hand during a contest. With the biggest Welsh winning record of 2013, 8-0, Jenkins is a worthy winner of the best prospect award.

*Notable mention: Craig Kennedy. Previous winners: 2012, Lewis Rees and Liam Williams.

UPSET OF THE YEAR – Enzo Maccarinelli v Ovill McKenzie

The second Swansea man to feature in our awards is the resurging Enzo Maccarinelli who went to war in the summer, enjoying slug fest success against the knock out machine Ovill McKenzie. Even if their original bout had been hastily and prematurely ended, there was still a lot of widespread worry for Maccarinelli’s fragility at light-heavyweight, 25lbs lighter than where he won cruiserweight British, European and WBO world titles.

Maccarinelli had shown signs of improvement in the short while their first meeting had lasted but most observers still said that McKenzie only needed to connect with Maccarinelli’s “class chin” a few times to end the contest. It was a notion that Maccarinelli didn’t just disagree with, it was one he pushed his body to the limit to disprove. Such was his determination, the 32-year-old actually spent most of the fight on the front foot and going straight at McKenzie behind a long, lethal jab and sickening body shots.

That said, it wasn’t one way traffic by any stretch of the imagination. McKenzie tested his opponents will as much as his chin and he walked Maccarinelli on to some bombs in the middle rounds, particularly the seventh.

However, the Swansea man passed every test presented and it paid off in the eleventh as an exhausted McKenzie was rendered unconscious with a huge uppercut. Enzo sank to his knees in celebration, he had proved all doubters wrong. At the end of that August night, there wasn’t much for Welshmen to cheer about with Nathan Cleverly and Gary Buckland losing their titles but Maccarinelli’s win was a massively memorable moment for Welsh boxing.

Previous winners: 2012, Kerry Hope v Gregorz Proska.

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