Back in May 2015, Lee Selby walked from the butcher’s yard of a ring, where an accidental clash of heads left Evgeny Gradovich eye in tatters along with his claims to the IBF belt.
It was the culmination of a long and bruising road for the boy from Barry, who’d set his sights on a world title more than 20 years before.
Since then the dazzling featherweight who floats like a butterfly on a caffeine overdose and stings like a beer with devastating combos, has cruised to three title defences, including a clinical disposing of rated Argentine Jonathan Barros.
This weekend he’s at the Copper Box Arena and has unbeaten Mexican Eduardo Ramirez in the sights mounted on his gloves. We caught up with him after boxing training.
Grosvenor: So Lee, thanks for taking the time to chat. You’re coming up on three years as world champ, how does that feel?
Lee Selby: No worries! Yeah, I’m just so proud to be world champion. It seems real now but I still like hearing it. I’ve worked pretty much my whole life to achieve my dream and now I’m living it.
Grosvenor: It’s been well documented that you’ve been through a lot of adversity, with the loss of your mother before the Barros fight, losing your best friend… Do things like that fire you up even more to succeed?
Lee Selby: To be honest I always leave my personal life outside the ring. If you take emotions in there, things are going to go wrong. Those things were tough, but once I’m in the ring I put everything out of my mind, apart from how to beat the bloke in front of me.
Grosvenor: You’re Wales’ 12th world champion! Isn’t that amazing for a relatively small country?
Lee Selby: I know, it’s incredible. There are some beautiful bits of South Wales and there are some tough bits like where I grew up. I think maybe that tough upbringing has helped us in the ring and given us the strength to keep going. I think we are bred tough to go down the mines and that’s still in our blood and our bones.
Grosvenor: So, who have been your boxing heroes?
Lee Selby: Ah, I loved all the greats, Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, and of course Joe Calzaghe. We’ve had some great Welsh champions and Joe is right up there in every way.
— BoxNation (@boxnationtv) December 6, 2017
Grosvenor: It’s been a tough year for you, do you think you’ve got the prep right for this fight against Ramirez?
Lee Selby: To be honest, I don’t think it’s been as tough as people have made out. Yeah, we had Barros pull out and had to switch things around, and I’ve had the personal stuff. But I’ve still managed three fights this year. And I’m always in the gym. I love the gym and the banter and the hard work. When I’m building for a fight the only thing that changes is introducing the sparring and fine-tuning stuff for the opponent.
Grosvenor: Ramirez is a tough southpaw who likes to scrap, does that present you with any particular problems?
Lee Selby: You have to adjust a bit for a southpaw, but he’s not my first and you work on that. And if you talk to people who watch me sparring, they’ll tell you I love a scrap. That doesn’t worry me. You have to be controlled and fight properly, and sometimes box off the back foot, but you can do that and have a tear-up too!
Grosvenor: What do you think you bring to the fight?
Lee Selby: I think I bring intensity and passion and some real skill. I want people to enjoy some great boxing and I want them to go away knowing I’ve put everything into it, that I haven’t hidden and that the hard work I’ve put in has paid off.
Grosvenor: You’re a hugely respected fighter in the boxing game, but do you think maybe you still need to have that defining fight that people will talk about?
Lee Selby: Yes, definitely. I’ve fought some great guys, and I think some people will be surprised about Ramirez’s quality. But yeah, those fights against Frampton and Warrington are there, and unification bouts in America. I want those, I want the challenges. This is a big fight that makes those things next year possible. When I finally hang up my gloves I want people to say I never ducked a challenge.
Grosvenor: You’re called The Barry Boy Assassin, Lightning, The Welsh Mayweather, which do you prefer?
Lee Selby: To be honest I like ‘Lightning’, that’s the kind of boxer I want to be. Fast and exciting.
Grosvenor: Lee, thank you.
Lee Selby: Pleasure, cheers.
Grosvenor Sport Odds
Selby to win: 1/40
Ramirez to win: 9/1