SELBY – SMALL HALL TO STARDOM

20 months ago, I was sat in the changing rooms at the Newport Centre with the first bell due to ring in three hours, Lee Selby would be defending his Commonwealth title in the main event that would be televised nationally but as close as it was until fight time, I began to doubt whether the doors would open for the punters. Next to me on one of the sofas, a post weigh-in Liam Williams was making his way through a lump of tin foil filled with sandwiches while more than 80 of the prospect’s fans were leaving the Rhondda and making a 45 minute bus journey east. The late matchmaker Dean Powell entered the changing room through the double doors at one end and exited through the doors at the other end. I later found out that he was on his way to tell two of the undercard boxers that their fight had been cut from a six rounder to a four rounder. Liam Williams’ 80 plus fans were the most any boxer was bringing, just upwards of 400 tickets had been sold for the seven fights taking place, that included the brilliant Frankie Gavin and Liam Smith. The show went on but it did seem to struggle and it was the night I was worried for Lee Selby’s future, fearing inactivity and trips back on the road. Both happened. It was different to the nights 500 or so people crammed in to Pill Millennium Centre to see Selby. In those nights, where the punters ran amok in the small halls to celebrate Selby’s victories (while on occasion tipping their pints over press row!), it was about getting a foot on the ladder. On that night in Newport, defending his Commonwealth title, Selby was supposed to have more than a foot on the ladder and this was meant to be the start of building him as a champion. It was far from that. Then, after nine months out of the ring, Selby boxed in Belfast. The showcase ‘Pnut’, his affectionate nickname from his mother, put on was special. A twelve round domination of the once highly touted Martin Lindsay in the Irishman’s back yard, with the most hostile of hosts, was enough to convince Matchroom Sport’s Eddie Hearn to shine the Sky Sports spotlight on the Welshman. Selby still wasn’t brought home straight away, understandably so given the last flop, but he was taken on a tour of Britain. Fight fans in Blackpool, Hull and London witnessed the Welshman’s attitude and arsenal. Meanwhile, Welsh fight fans were made more aware of Selby’s growing stardom through Sky and as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Then the news came, Matchroom Sports were bringing Selby back to Wales. The response to Reloaded has been better than anyone’s realistic expectations. It’s no surprise that the show is basically a sell out but it’s a surprise that the Motorpoint Arena has been set to it’s full five thousand capacity. That’s testament to the promotion that’s gone in to Selby, bringing the 26-year-old out of his naturally shy shell and showing the every-day Barry boy that just wants to box the best. It has to be noted that Selby is supported by an undercard who have more than played their part in the promotion and all parties deserve credit for what’s being built in Wales by Matchroom Sports who have pencilled in plans to return in May. When I was sat on that sofa in the Newport Centre 20 months ago, already fully aware of Selby’s ability and potential but realising the realism of his then lack of commercial value, I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me Welsh boxing in 2014 would be built around the Barry boy. I couldn’t be happier to be surprised by what’s happening this week in Wales. Dewi Powell BoxingWales Editor

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