Dai Davies determined to fly the Merthyr flag and get one step closer to career goal
Merthyr Tydfil is steeped in boxing history. From Eddie Thomas’ European title to Howard Winstone winning WBC world honours and Johnny Owen’s fateful journey stateside, the town has always punched above its weight.
Following the retirement of Kerry Hope, another Merthyr native to bring the European belt back to South Wales, at the end of 2016, the responsibility to fly the flag lies on the shoulders of Dai Davies (14-24-2, 2KO), or ‘Dutters’ as he’s known locally.
Pressure? It sounds more like a privilege when the experienced featherweight describes it. “The support I’ve had, especially over the last four years, has been outrageous,” said Davies. “I do it for myself and I do it for my town. It’s a boxing town and I want to keep it going. I’m the only professional boxer from Merthyr now.”
The next installment of Davies’ 13-year professional career takes him to Bethnal Green’s York Hall, a happy hunting ground having not lost in two previous appearances at the iconic East London venue. He will face Watford’s Reece ‘Bomber’ Bellotti (8-0, 7KO) to headline Friday’s show, which is promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport and will be shown on Sky Sports.
It’ll be the most exposure Davies has received and he’s determined to make the most out of it, especially for his people. They will congregate at the town’s thriving football team, whose resurgence Davies aims to emulate.
He said: “I’ve been having such good support from my hometown and fans around Wales, even from people I don’t know. I’ve got to go in to the boy’s backyard next, it would’ve been nice to have it in Merthyr. I would’ve sold it out if it was at home but you’ve got to take the chances when they come. I’m not getting any younger.
“It’s on telly. It’s a big chance for me to show what I’m capable of and I can do it. I can put all the wrongs in the past right. I know Merthyr [Town] Football Club will be showing it on the big screen down there in one of the clubhouse suites. I think all of Merthyr will be behind me. It feels like I’ve spoken to everybody.”
You only have to read Davies’ record once to see it’s been an up-and-down slog in the paid code. The likeable 33-year-old has been stopped in a quarter of his 40 fights but that doesn’t tell the full story.
30 of his outings have seen the three time Welsh champion appear in the away corner, always against quality prospects – including four fighters to progress world title fights – and too often at short notice. Still, Davies would occasionally spring the surprise and has handed a first defeat to seven fighters.
Reflecting on the rollercoaster, he said: “Its not like I’ve been fighting bums, they aren’t mediocre. They’ve all been in the middle of the rankings and fighting for something.
“I’ve kept plugging away. I’ve been on the road, fighting good guys in their back yards, I’ve got that experience. I’ve been down on the canvas, got up, won titles, lost titles… I’ve been through a lot.
“Over this last few years, I’ve started believing in myself and I’ve changed a few things. I’ve had a good couple of wins on Sanigar [Events] shows [at the Rhydycar Leisure Centre] and it’s boosted me on.”
Davies’ recent results has seen him record five wins in his last six tasks, the only reverse came controversially on an away trip to tackle Josh Wale, the current English bantamweight ruler. That career best form has seen the British Boxing Board of Control [BBBoC] sanction Davies’ 10 rounder with Bellotti as an eliminator for the Lord Lonsdale strap, currently held by Norfolk’s Ryan Walsh.
The Welshman said: “I’ve always given myself a goal, like I’ve told you a number of times before, and that is to fight for the British title. That’s been my goal since I was an amateur boxer 20 years ago. Win, lose or draw… I just want to fight for the British title. I’m one step away now, y’know. It’s there for me and it means the world to me.”
Watford’s Bellotti is yet to be tested by equally ambitious opposition but so far, hasn’t put a foot wrong. None of his eight opponents have survived being knocked down or stopped and that’s given his backers justifiably reason to believe in his promise. Jim McDonnell trains the 26-year-old pocket rocket in the same Essex gym as IBF world super-middleweight champion James DeGale.
Davies, who insists he understands the ask that lies ahead, said: “Obviously, it’s a chance for him, too. That’s what will make it interesting. He’s got home advantage and he’s the house boy, I know that. I’ve had a look at him, they reckon he’s a big banger but they reckoned Andy Townend [W PTS8] was as well and I broke him down. It’s going to be the same outcome.
“He might come out explosive for the first couple of rounds or he may come with a different game plan and try moving around but I’ve been 10 rounds a lot of times. Whatever he’s got to bring, I’ve trained with the likes of Andrew Selby and Sean McGoldrick – young, fresh, fast, high work rate boys. I’ve handled myself alright with them and I’m going in to this very confident and focused.”
The veteran hasn’t just decided to believe himself; he’s been given reason to by a dedicated support network of family and friends. Eager to pay tribute to them, Davies credits his turnaround of fortune to their varied inputs.
“I always work hard and I have to balance a family life as well. My wife has been fantastic through thick and thin. I wouldn’t be able to train without her,” said Davies, declaring his gratitude. “We’ve got two kids, we both work full time because unfortunately, I’m sponsored but not sponsored to go training full time. I’ve had to deal with what I’ve had to deal with by training hard, being dedicated and juggling life around with it.
“I’ve always got up in the morning, done my roadwork, gone to work on the scaffolding and gone to the gym in the night. I believe in myself now, though. I’ve started seeing a Sports Psychologist and Jason Thomas [former fighter turned trainer] is on board. Between him, Dai [Gardiner – manager] and Paul Vowles, the four of us have started putting something together that suits me.”
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