To quote French poet Charles Baudelaire, or maybe it was AC/DC: “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.” And the trip is no shorter if you’re blasting noses in place of eardrums for a living. Just ask Lee Selby.
The affable Welsh fighter took the circuitous route to boxing glory. As Lee Selby (21-1, 8 KOs) prepares to defend his 126-pound world title for the first time against Fernando Montiel (54-4-2, 39 KOs) on Wednesday in Glendale, Arizona (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), he recounts the beginning of his journey, all the way up to the night he became a world champion, in his Greatest Hits.
3 vs Sid Razak, July 12, 2008, at the Newport Centre in Newport, Wales, United Kingdom
Any foolhardy young dude who gets in a scrap with ol’ dad quickly learns about something colloquially known as “old man strength.”
It goes a little something like this: No matter how many hours junior has spent in the gym turning his guns into cannons, there’s just something about the passing of time that has a way of hardening a man (call it the Al Bundy syndrome), regardless of whether he’s all jacked up like a human monster truck.
When Selby made his pro debut at the age of 21 against the much older Sid Razak, not only did he have to get accustomed to fighting with no headgear and much lighter gloves— “I couldn’t get over how small the gloves were”—he had to deal with the power and poise of a fully-developed man for the first time.
“He came with constant pressure,” Selby says. “I was landing shots on him, and his facial expression didn’t change once. Straight-faced, he just kept walking me down. Halfway through the fight, I had to tell myself, ‘Well, this is what you wanted. Now you’ve got it.’”
He got the win as well, decisioning Razak, who opened Selby’s eyes to the rigors of the pro ranks while doing his best to close them with his fists.
2 vs Stephen Smith, September 17, 2011, at Olympia in Liverpool, Merseyside, United Kingdom
Your odds of scoring the digits of the hot blonde at the end of the bar are better than the chances that bookmakers gave Selby heading into his scrap with countryman Stephen Smith for the British and Commonwealth 126-pound title.
“I think was an 8-1 underdog to win,” Selby says.
But if Selby didn’t have the betting public behind him, at least he had his fists on his side—and in Smith's face.
“I knew as soon as I started landing shots toward the third or fourth round that I was going to get the stoppage,” he says. “I could feel each punch, each round just taking it out of him. I knew it was a matter of time before I landed the finishing shot.”
That time came in the eighth round, when Selby closed his first televised fight in devastating fashion, crushing Smith with a lights-out left-hook that sent him crashing to the floor with the swiftness of that aforementioned blonde batting away your come-ons.
“I knew exactly what I was capable of,” Selby says. “It was just getting the opportunity to show a live TV audience.”
What about those long odds?
They paid off well for Selby’s crowd.
“A lot of people from my hometown earned a lot of money,” he says.
1 vs Evgeny Gradovich, May 30, 2015, at the O2 Arena in London
Evgeny Gradovich is like the passing of time: He just never stops.
The former 126-pound champ is nicknamed the “The Mexican Russian” because even though he hails from the former Soviet Union, he fights in the relentlessly attacking style oft associated with those south-of-the-border brawlers who carry themselves as if they were weaned on Red Bull and testosterone.
“Everybody in boxing knows how tough Gradovich is,” Selby says. “I knew what he was going to bring the table. He fights the same way in each fight. He comes forward, he tries to wear his opponents down. I just got myself in great shape, as usual, and outboxed him.”
That’s putting it mildly: Selby dominated Gradovich with hands as precise as those of an atomic clock, his fists seemingly laser guided, until the fight was stopped in the eighth round after an accidental clash of heads opened a gash above Gradovic’s right eye that left him unable to continue.
Selby was winning by a wide margin on all three judges’ scorecards at the time (80-72, 79-73 twice) as Gradovich left both his blood and his title in the ring that night.
“I started from the bottom, boxing on the small-hall shows with no TV and little money,” Selby says of his slow, steady rise in the sport, culminating in a spot on this pay-per-view card. “I worked my way right up, from boxing in front of 500 people in a sports center to filling a 20,000-seat arena. That was my breakout fight on the world stage.”
For complete coverage of Selby vs Montiel, visit our fight page.