Who will Lee Selby defend his world title against first?

Who will Lee Selby defend his world title against first?

‘Sugar’ Lee Selby’s (21-1, 8KO) historic IBF title win has opened up a world of opportunities to secure his financial future and boxing legacy. On Saturday night at London’s O2 Arena, the 28-year-old comprehensively out-pointed the previously undefeated Russian champion Evgeny Gradovich (19-1-1, 9KO) to become Wales’ 12th ever world champion. That momentous achievement saw Selby follow in the footsteps of Howard Winstone and Steve Robinson as Welsh featherweight world champions. Now, attention turns to creating a lasting legacy, like that of Cardiff’s featherweight and International Boxing Hall of Fame entrant, Jim Driscoll. Over the last two years, Eddie Hearn has guided Selby’s progress for seven fights, taking him from domestic to global level. The Welshman has scarcely lost a round against stellar opposition, whose combined record tallies to 137 wins, six losses and four draws. That journey to become a superstar, under the stewardship of Tony Borg and Chris Sanigar, will naturally start with Selby’s first defence of his new red and gold belt. So, who will challenge and where will it be? The leading lights at 126lbs are both under the promotional banner of Bob Arum’s Top Rank, as was Gradovich. Vasyl Lomachenko (4-1, 2KO), owner of a remarkable 396-1 amateur record and arguably the best operator of the unpaid code’s history, is the current WBO champion and the WBA belt is held by Jamaica’s thunderous Nicholas Walters, who brutally knocked out Nonito Donaire in October. Both featherweights are expected to meet each other in a unification fight and are therefore unavailable for the near future. HBO regularly broadcast the pair and will show Walter’s next defence against Miguel Marraiaga (20-0, 18KO) on 13 June. Hearn has a fruitful working relationship with Al Haymon, the mysterious fight figure who is ploughing millions in to the American market. The unofficial ‘Advisor’ has created the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) brand and bought air time on terrestrial broadcast stations. With the shows free-to-view for the public, the potential exposure to over 300 million North Americans is invaluable. Currently, Haymon works with three major players at featherweight, the trickiest being WBC champion Gary Russell Jnr (26-1, 15KO) who owns some of the fastest hands in boxing and used them to destroy Jhonny Gonzalez in four rounds to take the title. The other two are Leo Santa Cruz (30-0-1, 17KO) and Abner Mares (29-1-1, 15KO), both former bantamweight and super-bantamweight world title holders with large Latin-American fan bases. Matchroom Sport, who promote Selby, have a successful record when putting their boxers against Haymon’s on away soil in America with Kell Brook, Jamie McDonnell and James DeGale all winning during the last 10 months. There is an opponent closer to home who may tick the boxes, though. Selby’s promotional stablemate Josh Warrington (21-0, 4KO) has collected the Welshman’s trial of WBC International, European, British and Commonwealth vacated titles over the last 17 months and created a cult following. Warrington’s fan base, mostly made up of Leeds United FC fanatics, have arguably made more noise than the green 24-year-old and their numbers may make a stadium fight a viable option for Selby. There are many in the sport who feel that it would be a mismatch, obviously in favour of the new world champion, but the bout would undoubtedly attract mainstream attention and provide Selby with a deserved big pay day. The biggest stumbling block comes courtesy of the calendar and it may be put on ice until the 2015/16 football season ends in 12 month’s time. The most likely possibility is a voluntary defence in the Autumn at Cardiff’s Motorpoint [former CIA] Arena. Selby’s world title win has breathed new life in to the wider Welsh boxing scene and a homecoming in the capital would be a jubilant occasion. Puerto Rico’s Jayson Velez (22-0-1, 16KO) remains high in the IBF ratings, currently sitting in fourth position. Prior to Saturday, the unbeaten 27-year-old provided the only previous blemish on Gradovich’s record, a Split Decision draw in November. The problem for Selby, should he want to fight in Wales – a luxury he hasn’t often afforded, is that the Motorpoint Aren only holds approximately 5,000 fans. Therefore, the budget for an opponent will be limited. Thankfully, Selby is now able to sell the venue out against almost any realistic challenger. Velez is still an unbeaten American-based operator and a Welsh win would attract attention across the Atlantic. The visitor won’t be in the strongest position to demand an extortionate purse and should be grateful for a second crack at the belt. Could Velez provide Selby with a test that may tempt him to finally show his second, third or even fourth gears? Who knows. It’s something Selby hasn’t needed to use recently but Welsh fight fans can’t wait to see them again.

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