This weekend’s bout between game Gavin Rees and stylish Frenchman Souleymane M’Baye for the latter’s WBA Light welterweight title isn’t quite another example of an over-hyped British fighter being pitched in with a world class operator only to discover he’s a chasm away from true elite class. Why? Well simply put, because we know Rees is no world beater before the fight.
However, there are plenty examples of fighters with an unbeaten record like Rees’ for whom defeat proved a more unexpected surprise for fans. Nicky Cook a topical example. I felt for Nicky Cook, 27-0 before the fight, it was hard not to. Possibly overcooked because of six months spent in the gym preparing for first Scott Harrison, and then last Saturday’s opponent Steve Luevano, Cook was bent in half repeatedly by first-rate body shots and was eventually stopped in the 11th. Reasons for defeat are always plentiful. Fighters, sports’ loneliest breed, always need to rationalise defeat without conceding inferiority to their opponent. Its part of the maintenance of self-belief, paramount to a fighter. From over-training, making weight, pre-fight viruses, inactivity, family problems, promotional difficulties, changes of opponents, cuts or the judges’ incompetence, fighters use every club in the bag.
Cook’s post-fight decision to move to Super-Featherweight another subtle side-step from responsibility. It isn’t to suggest Cook wont benefit from four more pounds on his large frame of course because he will. And I don’t blame him, I’ve never stepped between the ropes, but I would assume apportining blame to his trouble making the featherweight limit will help him maintain the cloak of invincibility needed to rebound. There is no room for self-doubt when the bell goes.
World-class triple jumper Jonathan Edwards once said that this sporting neurosis runs even deeper than this retrospective analysis. Often on the start line he would be working hard to dispel thoughts of deliberately under achieving, of only offering 95% to the task at hand. The reason? It was better to try 95% and fail than give it everything and fail. Without the 5%, failure meant the other guy was better than you. The 5% offered solace in defeat. In the past week boxing fans heard Antonio Margarito complain of judge incompetence as he saw multi-million pound pay days evaporate in defeat to Paul Williams. Carl Johannsen was apparently ill-prepared and distracted and though I’ve yet to hear an excuse from Michael Sprott for his tedious defeat to Matt Skelton, I’m sure there will be one to justify his non-performance.
I suspect no such justification will be required for Rees this weekend, if night follows day and M’Baye jabs the Welshman to a halt he will join a growing list of unbeaten British fighters exposed at the higher level. Nicky Cook to Leuvano, James Hare to Cosme Rivera, Michael Hunter to Steve Molitor, Graham Earl to Michael Katsidis, Johnny Armour to Carlos Navarro, David Walker to Roman Karmazin and Martin Power to Tshifhiwa Munyai. So many British fighters have come unstuck a the next level up – and none of the victors are even the premier fighter in their weight class.
All that said, I’ll be cheering the chunky little Welshman on. With Enzo Calzaghe preparing him. I wouldn’t completely discount the upset.
You see, even I have to leave a 5% safety net.
M’Baye in six rounds.