• Steve Bunce

Gavin Rees is no sacrificial Welsh lamb

Steve Bunce February 12, 2013
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There's a mad fight that pops up on the calendar at least once a year, one that you look at on paper and think, 'oh no - not another Brit going out to America to be slaughtered.'

The list of British fighters who have crossed the Atlantic only to return battered and bruised is endless - but I'm not convinced that Gavin Rees' title shot against undefeated WBC lightweight champion Adrien Broner on Saturday night makes him the year's sacrificial Welsh lamb.

You have to understand: Rees is fearless. He's made timing and judgement of distance an art form, and has lost just one contest in 39 fights - and only then when he was rescued from his own bravery in the final round of a light-welterweight world title fight against Andreas Kotelnik. That's the same Kotelnik, incidentally, who chased Amir Khan for 12 solid rounds and only lost because Khan was a better sprinter than the Ukrainian was a hunter.

For all that, Rees is totally unrecognised in America - and totally disrespected in the UK. For someone who really has been there, seen it, and done it, he deserves more attention. He's not just tough inside the ring, either - which is just as well, seeing as that means nothing against Broner. Just look at the way he made a very good fighter like Antonio DeMarco look like a scared child.

That's not going to work with Gavin Rees. The quiet guy who's quick with a smile from Newbridge, south Wales, is a former world champion. He beat Souleymane M'Baye, who's a really good boxer, to win the world title. Then he got thrown in with Kotelnik and lost. That was five years ago - and he hasn't lost since.

For all that, I'm not categorically stating that Rees is going to beat Adrien Broner, but I would be stunned if it was a massacre. It's not often that you are that wrong in the big fights. Think back to David Haye against Wladimir Klitschko - I would have been stunned if David Haye had been knocked out; I wasn't stunned that it was a stinker of a fight and Haye lost on points. Or take Carl Froch against Lucien Bute - I would have been stunned if Froch had been stopped or beaten comfortably on points; I wasn't surprised with the result. You don't often get caught out - you can get it wrong but not by a long, long way.

If Rees goes out there, doesn't get into the fight and gets stopped after seven or eight rounds then I will have got it massively wrong. And none of this is to underestimate Broner - I think he's a terrific fighter. I just think Gavin possesses more quality than he is given credit for and will raise himself up to a higher level.

On top of that, it's no secret that Broner is taking this fight lightly. Think about it: if you had prepared for a tough fight with Antonio DeMarco by sparring 100 rounds against 10 different men, skipping for 15 rounds every other day and running 10 miles every fourth day, you'd be ready. Do exactly the same schedule for your next fight, however, and you put less into it. Somewhere in the back of your head there's a little voice telling you: 'don't worry, this is going to be easy'.

Just because you're doing the same thing doesn't mean you're training. And that's not just the experience of amateur boxers or decent pros, but the testimony of the best world champions out there - the likes of Ricky Hatton, Nigel Benn, Joe Calzaghe and Lennox Lewis. They will tell you that complacency is a factor. You can do everything in the gym, you can be on the right weight and be doing the exact same schedule you did for a tough fight, but there's just something in your head.

I know that Broner will have that voice in his head, saying: 'Gavin who? Look at him, he doesn't even look like a fighter'. The fact he's also been asking fans on his social networking sites to tell him which round they want to see him knock Rees out speaks volumes.

Maybe I'm having my judgement clouded because I've known Gavin for so long, but I don't see it being a massacre. It won't be a blowout unless Gavin does something stupid and un-Gavin-like and allow himself to be drawn into a fight. That's not what he does. I can see why people think it'll be easy for Broner but I just think Rees can do something, even if he doesn't win.

In many ways this could be the fight where someone finally proves that Broner is only human. Floyd Mayweather had fights like this: remember his two bouts against Jose Luis Castillo? He definitely lost the first fight, that's not even up for dispute. Why can't Saturday be Adrien Broner's Castillo night?

Give your ears a treat - click here to listen to Buncey's Boxing Podcast, the best boxing chat in the UK. This week, myself and Barry Jones talk to Kell Brook as he awaits Devon Alexander's next move, Legendary boxing promoter Frank Maloney join us to discuss the future for David Price and his respect for Audley Harrison, and Anthony Crolla gives his assessment of the Rees-Broner bout this weekend.

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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.