SET for what could be his final run at a title, Lee Selby is hardly in need of motivation or inspiration going into 2022. However, it will have done the Barry Island lightweight no harm to have seen former opponent George Kambosos Jnr outpoint and dethrone world lightweight champion Teófimo López last month in New York.
Selby, after all, lost a close split-decision when boxing Kambosos in October 2020 and came away that night feeling he not only deserved the decision but he could have done so much more. “Although I lost the decision, it was one of the easiest fights I’ve had,” he told Boxing News. “Some of these big title fights – well, most of them – you wake up the next day and your body’s aching and it’s a struggle getting out of bed. Your eyes are black and blue. But with the Kambosos fight I woke up as fresh as a daisy without a mark on my face. It didn’t feel like I’d had a fight.
“During the fight, I thought I was winning, so I just boxed behind the jab and played it safe. He was quite deceiving when in front of me. He made me feel like if I let my right hand go, I’d get caught with a counter uppercut. So I didn’t throw my right hand. But now, in hindsight, I didn’t do enough. I should have forced the pace. I played it too safe.”
If acceptance is the first step, Selby sounds in a good frame of mind heading into any possible rematch with Kambosos next year. Better yet, should the rematch happen, its value will only have soared in light of Kambosos’ recent exploits.
“I thought López was going to win but Kambosos did really well,” Selby said. “He done him quite handily, I thought.
“After I boxed Kambosos, because I didn’t make him look too good with my style, they might have overlooked him. But I used a lot of movement and stuff and a lot of other fighters don’t do that. They just come forward. Maybe I made Kambosos look worse than he really is.”
Second time around, Selby insists he will be better. He also believes that due to the close nature of the first fight a rematch is a must. “I’d love it,” he said. “It was controversial. DAZN had me winning quite wide, Sky had me losing quite wide, and the judges were split: one had me winning close, one had Kambosos winning close, and the third had it 10 rounds to two, which was crazy.
“Before I boxed him, he looked very fast and strong, but once I was in the ring with him I adjusted to the speed straight away. He didn’t seem overly fast and the power wasn’t troublesome, either. But he was always cocked, ready to counter me, and I shouldn’t have fallen for that. I should have just let the shots go and seen how he reacted.
“At the top level it’s hard to make those decisions in a fight because the margins are so fine. If I did let my hands go and he caught me, the fight could be over. But I should have taken that risk at some point in the fight.”
With the necessary risks taken in a rematch, Selby expects the outcome to be different. “I’d be confident I could stop him,” he said. “I just played it so safe (first time). I know if I upped my game I could have done a lot more damage.”
Before any chance of that, Selby must first extinguish the threat of Argentina’s Gustavo Lemos, against whom the Welshman has been paired in a lightweight eliminator. The 25-year-old Lemos is currently 27-0 (17) as a pro, though has yet to fight outside his homeland, nor fight any opponents of note.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Selby, a former IBF titleholder at featherweight. “He’s tough, rugged, and he can punch. Most of his fights have been in Argentina. They haven’t been against top-class opponents but he’s been operating at a fairly decent level. It should be a good fight. He’s young, he’s hungry, and I think he’ll come and give me a good fight.”
As well as the threat of Lemos, Selby, 34, will have to overcome a frustrating spell of inactivity, owing to a barren 2021. “I’ve never been all that active in my whole career,” he said. “I’ve been active myself, in terms of being in the gym constantly, but there have been long spells in my career where I haven’t boxed. So, for me, it’s nothing new.
“Those long spells happened when I was younger and I’m getting on now, but I don’t feel any different. I still feel the way I did when I made my pro debut. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been.”
In it for the long haul, Selby, 28-3 (9), admits that the idea of retirement is not something he wants to entertain, much less talk about. Yet, despite his unwavering dedication to it and his inability to imagine a life without it, he accepts that boxing is a young man’s game and that 34 is considered ‘old’ for a lightweight.
“It’s my last roll of the dice to win the title and be a proper champion like I was before and make defences,” he said. “But it’s not my last chance to be in a world title fight – even if I get beaten. I’m always a credible opponent for any world champion. I’m a former world champion, I’ve never been stopped, and I’ve lost two fights: one was my fifth [IBF featherweight] title defence [against Josh Warrington], which I lost on a split-decision, and then I stepped up [to lightweight] and lost a split-decision against a boy [Kambosos] who went on to unify the division. I will always be a credible opponent, but that’s not all I want to be.”