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British boxing beat: Cleverly scores easy win, Rees goes out on a high note

Credit: Rich Kane - Hoganphotos / GBP

Blair’s View from Britain

British boxing encountered a busy evening on Saturday night, with two separate bills packed with competitive match-ups and genuine importance attached to several fights.

In Cardiff, Wales, Nathan Cleverly returned from nine months of inactivity with a bang, comfortably stopping his over-matched opponent; Sean Corbin, within two rounds. Corbin looked relaxed – in spite of the pounding he was taking – to the point that it was difficult to assess if he was indeed fully aware of his circumstances, or just generally not bothered about blocking incoming fire. Cleverly didn’t stop to ask, instead he finished his man with dutiful clinicality.

The Welsh former world light heavyweight titleholder came out to the soundtrack of the Contender television series, a song perhaps symbolic of the Welshman’s acceptance of his current status after he was bashed unmercifully by the rudely powerful Russian; Sergey Kovalev last year. Without a world title belt and stepping up to the cruiserweight division, Cleverly looked confident, meaning murmurs of a rematch between he and Tony Bellew down the line seem validated.

Bellew was conspicuous by his presence ringside, and the Liverpudlian’s eyes lit up upon mention of a return bout with his Welsh nemesis. “I feel blessed to have…an anger towards someone (whenever) I…lay eyes on them”, Bellew stated, beautifully articulating exactly how he feels about the rivalry.

Yes, rematches seem to be the order of the day on this side of the pond and on the Cardiff undercard there was one to take note of as local rivals Gavin Rees and Gary Buckland met for a second time this year. Buckland won first time out, and Rees confirmed his retirement plans pre-fight.

I always think it can be dangerous for a fighter to announce their departure from the sport before a fight, as one bout can change a career. As it was it didn’t seem to do Rees any harm, as he fought a controlled fight for the majority, hurting Buckland with well-timed counters as he charged forward. Buckland played his part in another close duel, and deserves credit for huffing and puffing his way to the final bell as blood seeped from his lips between rounds.

After a final two rounds of entertaining action, the fight finished with both men simultaneously landing left hooks before hugging each other in a fitting testament to their spirit and honour. For a brief second it felt like the good old days, when boxers weren’t constantly obsessed about self-image and, well, what would I know, I’m far too young(ish). Rees was then announced the victor, claiming a deserved split decision as he bowed out in style.

The final fight of the evening gave Lee Selby the chance to shine in a WBC title eliminator against the sturdy but un-spectacular Romulo Koasicha. Koasicha was stoic in his challenge, coming forward and exhibiting almost no signs whatsoever that he was hurt over the twelve-round duration. This was a remarkable feat in itself given he lost eleven of those rounds on this writer’s scorecard, which was in line with two of the official judges verdicts.

Selby had small periods of difficulty around rounds seven and eight, where Koasicha uncorked his left hook with effect and continued to trundle into the bigger man. Selby was only briefly perturbed, however, and responded with immediacy at almost every turn. It feels as if a step up in class may be fraught with danger for Selby, but it may be what is needed to see the very best of him.

Further down the bill two of the Smith brothers; Callum and Paul, won well – both within two rounds. Callum faced a slight step up in competition against Welshman Tobias Webb, but after an even first round he found the mark on Webb’s body, knocking him down four times as a result, leading to a stoppage win.

Paul refrained from ring-rust by stepping in to dispatch David Sarabia with a cluster of unanswered head-shots as the Smith’s maintain a familial grip on the domestic super middleweight scene so vice-like it would impress the Corleones. Paul confirmed post-fight he would only vacate his British title for little brother Callum. “All (he) has to do is ask”, big brother stated. Sounds like an offer Callum should not refuse.

Elsewhere on the same night the Maxinutrition Knockout light heavyweight tournament continued into the semi final phase. Bob Ajisafe assured himself of a place in the final with a fifth round stoppage of Leon Senior, but the fight of the night was without doubt Travis Dickinson’s sixth round win over Matty Clarkson in the other semi final bout. For more on that fight, read on.

Fight of the Week

Travis Dickinson TKO6 Matty Clarkson.

You know when you watch a fight and after four dull rounds the commentator says something like, “Well, the feeling out process is done”? It makes you want to scream, doesn’t it? Well, scream ye not should you be blessed to have watched this particular scrap.

The first bell must sound like Pavlov’s bell to Dickinson, who came out frothing at the bit from the start, unloading big right hands and jittering in and out at speed. He dropped Clarkson with an overhand right followed by an uppercut. Sensing an early finish, he continued his assault, but was met with return fire as Clarkson attempted to fend off his blood-thirsty rival.

Dickinson remained upbeat, however, and once again sent Clarkson to the floor with a right hand – left hook combination in the second. Up Clarkson got, however; a glutton for punishment. His instincts were justified by the next round, where he scored a knockdown, albeit a questionable one, to finally stamp his own first definitive mark on the fight. Clarkson appeared to have pushed Dickinson to the canvas after landing a solid shot, but the knockdown was counted despite Dickinson’s protestations.

After a comparably soothing fourth round, the frenetic pace was resumed in the fifth, and this time it looked as if Clarkson was about to close the show. A vicious left hook to the liver landed as Dickinson had himself opened up to throw, forcing him to kneel on the canvas and leaving him vulnerable for the rest of the fight. Clarkson punctuated the damage by returning Dickinson to the floor twice more through body shots before the round’s end.

Dickinson had roared back with shots of his own in the fifth in spite of his hurting, and he did so again in the sixth as Clarkson hunted in search of the final blow. Dickinson’s rallies left a grotesque swelling on the right side of Clarkson’s face, leading the referee to send Clarkson to the ringside doctor. Despite the doctor’s affirmations that Clarkson could continue, it only took a couple more shots from Dickinson to compel the referee to declare him the winner, putting an end to this exhilarating fight, controversially, in the sixth round.

Fighter of the Week

Gavin Rees

“The Rock” retired with his chest puffed out after hearing himself announced the winner of a difficult rivalry rematch with Gary Buckland. It’s a good time to walk away; this win tops off a career in which Rees won British and European lightweight titles as well as the WBA light welterweight belt.

Quotes of the Week

“It was okay when I was hitting him but when he was hitting me back it wasn’t the best” – Gavin Rees, when asked if he enjoyed his fight with Gary Buckland. There isn’t a person in the world who has tried his hand at the sport that does not know exactly what he means.

“I hope so. Eddie – don’t phone me. Delete my number off your phone” – Rees explains quite clearly how he feels about reneging on his pre-fight ambitions of retirement, no matter how many times Eddie Hearn calls him.