Lee Selby turns the clock back against Ricky Burns, while Lawrence Okolie and Conor Benn keep developing apace
Ricky Burns vs Lee Selby was a must-win battle of veteran former world champions keen to stay relevant, but with a key distinction. Burns had rebounded from losses at domestic level to become Scotland’s first three-weight word ruler, and is seen by the consensus as a significant overachiever, a triumph of hard graft as much as talent. Selby, on the other hand, boasts admirable ability but has only enjoyed one, rather unremarkable reign as a global leader, before jumping up two divisions to lightweight. The man once dubbed “The Welsh Mayweather” seemed to need the win more and duly made sure he got it, by majority decision on scores of 116-112 and 116-113, against an even 115-115.
The pattern was set from the start, Selby moving laterally and stopping to pop off fast combinations, while Burns looked to probe behind a long jab. Burns had not fought for almost a year, was four years the older man at 36 and has been a pro for 18 years to Selby’s 11; all this told in the opening third of their 12-rounder as Barry’s Selby proved too spry and outworked the Coatbridge man.
Burns gradually warmed up as the ring rust flaked off, closing the distance better and doubling up the jab, but Selby’s slipping and countering was a joy to watch at times. Their friendly build-up was forgotten at the end of the sixth when both landed following the bell, Selby just after then Burns very late in retaliation as the Barry stylist attempted to touch gloves by way of apology.
The fight itself was rarely so heated, but remained watchable throughout. Burns landed some telling straight blows during the middle rounds, but Selby, for the most part, was able to dictate the pace and rhythm of the contest. As he moved less in the later sessions, Lee held a little more and picked his shots against the larger man, who came on strongly down the stretch.
Burns output increased as he showed urgency, launching big punches. Selby has always possessed a reliable chin, however, a quality he shares with the Scot. They traded and grappled, almost in equal measure, over the last three stanzas, with Selby seemingly finding his second wind to land the more eye-catching shots.
Lawrence Okolie only started boxing aged 17 but represented Great Britain at the 2016 Rio Olympics and, in 13 straight wins as a pro (10 early) had proved himself the best cruiserweight domestically, capturing British and Commonwealth titles. In Sheffield-based Belgian Yves Ngabu, Okolie faced a seasoned European boss with ambitions of his own.
The 6ft 5in Okolie predictably looked to dictate from distance behind a measured jab, trying to set up his big right hand. Ngabu struggled to get inside early on, being tied up as he advanced. The Belgian, trained by Dominic Ingle, came forward in straight lines and did not move his head enough, while Okolie’s clinching was excessive. Ngabu finally got going in round five, finding some room on the inside to land short hooks and an uppercut. While the contest became more competitive, it remained a messy spectacle, before Okolie landed a big right coming out of a clinch in the seventh which had Ngabu in all kinds of trouble. He veered back to the ropes and the referee wisely stepped in.
Welter Conor Benn rebounded from having a point harshly deducted for low blows to blast out experienced Steve Jamoye of Belgium in the fourth round. A right-left then a follow-up right ended matters for Benn who had looked much improved in the short time the fight lasted. Benn is now 16-0 (11).