Incredulity, is the only word I could find to describe my reaction to Gavin Rees‘ capture of the WBA Light-Welterweight belt on Saturday night from seasoned champion Souleymane M’Baye. Lucky to get the shot he may have been, lucky to win he certainly wasn’t. Rees outworked, out thought and outmanoeuvred M’Baye from start to finish.
I’d spoken in the weeks preceding the bout at the dismay I felt that the short-armed 27 year old had found himself with a shot at a substantial portion of the world-championship. This wasn’t a spurious WBF championship either – this was ‘bite it and check’ credible and M’Baye was a well-schooled, active, capable champion. Rees, though unbeaten, had no credible history at the weight, lacked knockout power, was shorter of arm and height, had had periods of inactivity in his career and had never fought anyone close to M’Baye’s class.
And yet, here he was. The long-shot in the spotlight. And from the first bell I couldn’t help cheering for the gutsy little Welshman. His shots to the body in the early rounds may only have carried the pop associated with the Super-Featherweight Rees arguably really is, but their cumulative effect was evident in M’Baye’s hesitance to employ his physical advantages to best effect thereafter. He plainly dreaded being peppered to the ribs. Some of the footwork and hand-speed Rees demonstrated to land those early blows was exceptional and belied his shallow resume.
Rees also surprised everyone with his self-confidence and style, though eager to get under M’Baye’s reach advantage to blast the body, Rees was far from one-dimensional, equally willing to stand at distance and counter, or use his quick hands to beat M’Baye to the jab. For a man of 5-3 this showed astonishing self-belief. The victory, technically at least, places Rees shoulder to shoulder with Junior Witter, Ricky Hatton, Paulie Maglinaggi and Ricardo Torres. Of course, there will be plenty who maintain Rees’ is a soft-champion and will ache for the opportunity to prove it.
On the evidence of Saturday it will take a tougher, better prepared foe than Souleymane M’Baye to do it. Where M’Baye goes from here is hard to predict. The defeat, on paper at least, bordered on embarrassing for the Frenchman. He had the look of a man who stepped off the plane in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops to discover it was monsoon season. Warren may offer him a path to redemption, but an immediate rematch strikes me as very unlikely.
Rees provides unexpected leverage in the Light-Welterweight division and with television partners who prefer to focus on legitimate belts and entertaining fights, and leverage is something Warren protects fiercely.
A word has to be saved for Enzo Calzaghe, Rees’ trainer who now boasts a gym containing his son Joe (WBO 168lb champion), Enzo Maccarinelli (WBO 200lb champion), Bradley Pryce (Commonwealth 154lb champion) and now Gavin Rees.
A formidable quartet of champions and a significant achievement for Calzaghe Snr.
I would love to see what he would do with Amir Khan’s natural hand-speed and ability.