British Beat: Gavin Rees Versus Gary Buckland Not One For The Squeamish; Lee Selby Tops Cardiff Bill Against Rendall Munroe

(Gavin Rees, left, faces off with Gary Buckland)

Professional boxing promoters — alchemists that endeavour to weave plot lines into the business of prize fighting — employ a number of well-worn scripts. One of the more bankable in terms of generating high drama — dog-eared from its ubiquity in fact — involves the casting of a golden ticket into boxing’s last chance saloon.

Eddie Hearn, Matchroom Sport’s aspirational MD, re-enacts Willy Wonka on Saturday in opposing Welsh lightweights Gavin Rees (37-3-1, 18 KO) and Gary Buckland (27-3, 9 KO) at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena.

Wales boasts a proud heritage of fighting men: from Porth’s Percy Jones, “Tylorstown Terror” Jimmy Wilde, Merthyr men Howard Winstone and Johnny Owen; the hard-nosed Gorseinon bruiser Colin Jones through to Newbridge dervish Joe Calzaghe. National rivalries, though, have been thin on the ground. One of the more notorious involved Cardiffian Jim Driscoll who, more than a century past, blew his stack against Pontypridd’s Freddie Welsh. The match between future hall-of-famers took place in December 1910; it was held at lightweight and within the confines of the American Roller Rink in the Welsh capital (a huge corrugated structure that was subsequently redeployed as a manufacturing base) and culminated in “Peerless” Jim being disqualified when — like a tormented ram — he set about Welsh with his head. Driscoll, an imperturbable performer in the main, dissolved into tears of lament as feuding flooded the auditorium and spilled out onto neighbouring Westgate Street.

Both Rees, 33, a former alphabet titlist at junior welterweight, and Buckland, 27, a former British champion at junior lightweight, will be hoping to avoid a similar fate after each suffered an annus horribilis last year. It was enough to have dampened the spirits of Audley Harrison.

Rees relinquished British and European lightweight titles in the name of career progression – only to go 0-2 for the year. In February, he was roped in as a fall-guy opposite Cincinnati oddball and B-list celebrity Adrien Broner in Atlantic City, USA. Dwarfed by the more talented American (who has since campaigned in a division 12 pounds north of “The Rock”), Rees was not only privy to a hiding in rounds 4 and 5 (before trainer Gary Lockett mercifully pulled the plug on what had been an impossible ask from the outset), he became something of a punchline among web forum ghouls titillated by such an obvious physical mismatch.

The Newbridge buzz saw attempted to regroup in June against exacting New Moston boxer Anthony Crolla. After a busy start, Crolla’s graceful and more calculated raids forced Rees to over-exert himself. Seven years the younger man, Crolla — a sizeable underdog — accelerated down the stretch to clinch a majority decision. Rees meanwhile was left to moon over his recurring inability to judge pace.

Cavan’s Andy Murray and Liverpool’s John Watson very nearly eclipsed Rees several years ago, after the Welshman had inexplicably stalled in fights he was controlling comfortably enough. Lockett explained their travails to iFL TV’s Kugan Cassius in December: “His problem has been his diet in the past”, he claimed. “He was very muscular for the weight … eating far too much protein … and his weight just wasn’t coming down, resulting in him having to crash the weight off at the last minute."

Newport’s Buckland, too, held a British championship as the year began (at junior lightweight) and had only to tally an additional defence in order to secure the Lonsdale belt outright. His hopes of acquiring it early in 2013 were shelved, though, as, like Rees, Buckland received an unexpected assignment overseas – landing a support slot beneath February’s Sergio Martinez vs Martin Murray middleweight championship clash in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It had looked a golden opportunity against local lad Fernando David Saucedo; in reality, it turned out to be a near 14,000 mile exercise in futility.

Chaos reigned at the bout’s finale as “Maravilla’s” compatriots stampeded into the ring, rendering the timbers unserviceable in the process. Buckland, gloved up and now stood up in the bowels of the Estadio Jose Amalfitani, was persona non grata; he’d essentially trained for three months to shadow box in private.
Buckland returned home to face Greenock’s John Simpson in August. When Simpson pulled up lame, Liverpool’s Stephen “Swifty” Smith – preparing to face Dewsbury Duracell Gary Sykes in a championship eliminator – stepped into the breach. From Buckland’s perspective, it was a ruinous turn of events.

Having faltered making weight, Buckland, sapped of both snap and vigour, attempted to hunt Smith down. In round five, Smith, looking rejuvenated, kidded the champion onto a chilling right uppercut that extirpated him; enveloped in tenebrosity, he crashed onto his face and lay prone for several disquieting minutes before being administered with oxygen.  

Trained by Tony Borg at St. Joseph’s gym in Newport, both Buckland and stablemate Lee Selby improved their fortunes after dropping down in weight. Buckland, who once fought as high as 140 lbs., suffered two of his three defeats at lightweight; the first was a negligible decision loss to Hove roughneck Ben Murphy, the second a mauling at the hands of the former world rated Mancunian John Murray.

Rees is the shorter man at 5 ft 4 in — his weight distributed across powerful shoulders and arms that extend from a thick torso. His shaven skull encompasses features that are borderline impish – a combination that renders him of indeterminate age. His trade, though, is clearly evidenced via his nose – both malformed and readjusted throughout a commendable 15-year career.

Buckland, too, could pass for a civilian – save for his eyes; softly spoken and unassuming, he has a glare that could hew coal. He is reported to have three inches on Rees officially, which appears generous when the fighters have stood in close proximity, while his sloping shoulders and lean limbs reveal a fighter that boils down in order to weigh in.

Rees is the 1-2 on favourite (Buckland is 2-1 against) and can control proceedings with his jab. The more impromptu of the duo, he’ll seize the initiative with two-handed flurries and darting attacks. Buckland on the other hand advances more methodically. Attempts to stave him off are dispersed across a high guard, at which point Buckland will step forward to let fly with devilish hooks and uppercuts. He will hunt the older man’s ribcage with abandon and look to drain him in the bout’s latter stages. For that to work, he will need to have reconciled the Smith ordeal in full.

Rarely does the recipient of such a violent defeat rebound with a career best performance in their subsequent outing – but that is what may be required here for Buckland. Rees, despite his accumulated wear and tear and temperamental engine, should have just enough experience to nick a rollicking contest. Both require a fillip; both have pondered retirement as they bid to fight for a future. But what, in all honesty, will be left of the victor?
The headline act pits the aforementioned Selby — Barry’s British and Commonwealth featherweight king and self-proclaimed “Welsh Mayweather” — against former world rated junior featherweight Rendall Munroe of Leicester. The pair will contest the vacant European title at 126 lbs.

Selby (17-1, 8 KO), 26, is the 2-7 on favourite with bookmakers (Munroe is 7-2 against) and holds all of the aces here. The ultra-fit Munroe (27-3, 11 KO), 33, who owns solid victories over junior featherweight world titlists past and present (in Spain’s Kiko Martinez and Mexican Victor Terrazas), should be obstinate early. The pick, though, is for Selby, a bit of an original, to wear down a keyed-up “Boxing Binman” over the contest’s latter half.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.