Tony Borg has coached Lee Selby since the latter turned professional in 2008. Given their lengthy relationship, it’s understandable that Borg would be immensely proud of the fact that Selby secured a 126-pound world title this year.
Thrilled as he is, though, the trainer wants to make one thing very clear: His protégé is nowhere near being a finished product, and he believes there’s no limit to the heights in which the Welshman can ascend.
“I suppose when a fighter has won a world title you often think that is the pinnacle, but for Lee I really don’t believe it is,” says Borg, who will be in the corner Wednesday for Selby's Premier Boxing Champions debut against former three-division champion Fernando Montiel in Glendale, Arizona (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
“There is still so much to come from the lad. We have seen some of the things he can do in the ring, and they are very impressive. I watch him every day in training, and the moves he comes up with are mind-blowing.”
For proof, dial up video of Selby’s title-stealing performance against Evgeny Gradovich in May, in which he battered the undefeated Russian champ for eight rounds before the fight was stopped after a head clash opened a gash near Gradovich’s right eye.
The contest went to the judges, and Lee Selby (21-1, 8 KOs) prevailed convincingly on all three scorecards.
“His power for a featherweight is frightening, truly awesome,” Borg says. “But the part about Lee which is extra special is his technique. It is just amazing to watch. He dismantled a very good champion in Gradovich, and that says a lot.
“He is only going to get better, and I don’t think we have seen him reach his full potential yet.”
The fact that Borg and Selby have been together for so long has led to a mutual respect between the 28-year-old fighter and the 51-year-old trainer—respect that frequently surfaces during training sessions at St Joseph’s gym in Newport, Wales, about 25 miles from Selby’s home in Barry.
“There’s nothing that Lee can’t suggest to me or vice versa,” Borg says. “We are always coming up with ideas to improve, and Lee is a very open-minded lad who only wants to be the best in the ring.”
Borg himself enjoyed an outstanding amateur career—“I only lost eight out of 115 fights”— although a car accident in 1988 stalled his pro career for three years, and he never really recovered.
Since trading his gloves for pads, Borg has trained the Welsh national team to two Commonwealth Games and coached the likes of Paul Samuels, Bradley Pryce and Gary Buckland, as well as Fred Evans, a silver medalist at the 2012 Olympics.
The secret to Borg’s success as a trainer? “I’m not daft,” he says. “I don’t say or do stupid things, and I tell fighters that this is not a business for half-measures. If you want to go to the top, there is only one way you can achieve it: hard work. There are no shortcuts in boxing.”
Needless to say, that message has gotten through clearly to Selby.
“Fortunately in Lee, I have a lad who loves coming to the gym, loves boxing and loves training,” Borg says. “He would rather be in the gym than anywhere else, and that—coupled with his talent—makes him very easy to train. I enjoy every minute of it, and I know Lee does too.”
Now it’s time to see if all that gym work will translate into a successful title defense against Montiel (54-4-2, 39 KOs), a Mexican legend for whom Borg has the utmost respect ahead of Selby's American debut.
“Look, we wouldn’t be putting Lee in there unless we were convinced it was a great fight for him,” Borg says. “But Lee is a big, heavy-punching featherweight. He is technically as good as it gets, and he knows how to handle all the problems another top-level fighter will throw at him—and Montiel is definitely top level.
“It’s what Lee wants. If he is going to make it big in boxing, he has to fight the best out there. And Montiel is world class.”
For complete coverage of Selby vs Montiel, be sure to visit our fight page.