Preview: Lee Selby stays busy against Gago but Al Haymon has to deliver meaningful fights – and fast!

Preview: Lee Selby stays busy against Gago but Al Haymon has to deliver meaningful fights – and fast!

Lee Selby (23-1, 8KO) can hold his own with any featherweight in the world and has justifiable belief that he can beat them, too. Now, the 30-year-old really needs the chance to prove it and Al Haymon is the man who needs to make it happen.

The secretive American, who literally never appears in or speaks to the public, signed an ‘advisory agreement’ with Selby in August 2015 but 18 months later, the promised big fights have not been forthcoming.

It’s understood that Selby received a generous purse when he defended his IBF world title against former bantamweight boss Fernando Montiel on an undercard in Arizona, October 2015. Since then, the war chest of Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) has dried up under the strain of a severe financial drought.

Many of the organisation’s boxers – from the bottom to the very top – have battled inactivity as the PBC restructures their expensive experiment that is far from near it’s initially intended destination. Law suits have been filed in the aftermath of a reported spend of more than $400m that has seen little, if not any, return for investors.

After the Montiel outing, Haymon hasn’t delivered a single semi-significant fight for Selby. Instead, all he’s had is a mandatory defence of his belt against Eric Hunter in April 2016, which was on an Anthony Joshua undercard – promoted by Matchroom Sport’s Eddie Hearn and facilitated by the heavyweight champion’s box office appeal.

Nobody can be blamed for January 2017’s late cancellation in Las Vegas when the Nevada State Athletic Commission [NSAC] refused to license Jonathan Victor Barros at the very last minute. However, this again was another mandatory enforced by the IBF, not an opportunity created by Haymon.

The Haymon relationship has come at the cost of Selby’s relationship with Hearn, whose promotional company staged the Barry boy’s rise from domestic ruler, to the continent and eventually Wales’ 12th world champion. Hearn is often criticised for being silver-spooned, an inheritor of his father’s empire but the job done with Selby was undoubtedly one of his best projects.

That was until Selby’s schooling of Russia’s Evgeny Gradovich to win the IBF title in May 2015, when he would later sign with Haymon and things stopped working with Hearn.

Hearn had planned to bring him home and promote a show with Sanigar Events, who manage Selby, at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena. It was intended to build on the foundations of his fan base that had seen a sell-out crowd at the aforementioned venue in an earlier European title fight [Rendall Munroe KO6, February 2014] and thousands of fans turn out for an open-top bus in Barry to celebrate the world title win.

It’s no secret that the two parties will go their own way after Saturday’s appearance, the 25th of Selby’s nine-year career. It’s the last obligation of their respective contract and Hearn is unlikely to be used by Haymon as a safety net for getting Selby intermittent action anymore.

Aside from the Montiel payday, Haymon is yet to repay the faith Selby has placed in him – a decision the champion insists doesn’t regret. This is despite having almost all of the featherweight division’s most attractive names under his banner. Selby has been swimming in the same waters as Leo Santa Cruz, Carl Frampton and Abner Mares for some time and he’s always been willing to face all three.

It’s unknown whether Hearn would have secured those fights but there would have been attractive alternative options – such as Scott Quigg and Josh Warrington. Both of those are very winnable, high profile fights and come with a lot of credit through Sky Sports’ extensive influence.

Earlier today, Selby weighed in at 129lbs for a 10 rounder against Spain’s Andoni Gago (16-2-2, 5KO). It will be on the undercard of David Haye’s hyped heavyweight fight against Tony Bellew, live on Sky Sports Box Office.

Gago is unknown and a relatively late replacement opponent. He pushed Viorel Simion – who lost to Selby in 2013 – to the wire in his last outing but, standing at five foot five inches tall, is unlikely to repeat the effort against a much larger and always elusive opponent.

It’s likely that Selby will be keen to remind observers of his quality, especially having remained dedicated in Newport’s St Joseph’s Boxing Club gym with trainer Tony Borg for the last year. If Selby forces the fight, it should lead to a stoppage in the second half – which is priced at 8/11 with most bookmakers.

Richard Schaefer, who works closely with both Haye and Haymon, secured Selby’s place on the card. Hearn did not, despite having a contract with Selby until Saturday night, which signals that bridges might have been burned.

The IBF granted permission for the non-title fight, which is three pounds above the featherweight 126lbs limit, following the Las Vegas episode. The fall out from that situation is still on going as Barros disputes the medical report by NSAC

Whether Barros retains his position as mandatory challenger or not, Haymon owes a big fight to Selby and it must come in 2017 for the Welshman to remain relevant on the world scene.

‘Lightening’, as Selby has fittingly styled himself, is willing to face any featherweight. Haymon just needs to give him a worthy stage to strike and make his mark on.

Image by Huw Fairclough: www.huwfaircloughphotography.co.uk

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