The small country of Wales for generations as had a reputation for creating great fighters both in a domestic and International capacity, fighters who have impacted the sport of boxing since it’s creation, the latest being 2015 as IBF Featherweight champion Lee Selby added his name to the growing list of men who have held a version of the world title, putting his name amongst twelve others to have had their hand raised on the biggest of stages throughout history.
I think we can all agree this is some feat considering the country holds a population of just roughly three million residents.
Throughout the years to name but a few we have seen the likes of Percy Jones who was responsible for starting the domino effect in becoming Wales’ first ever world champion, moulding the future of fighters such as Merthyr’s Jimmy Wilde who became boxing’s first official flyweight world champion, rated by historians as one of the best to ever lace gloves, whilst no other Welshman, arguably British fighter as dominated in the way Joe Calzaghe did in his 21 successful defences of his Super Middleweight crown, ending his career with an unblemished 46-0.
This kind of history is what breathes new life into the sport, continuing to fill small gyms throughout the country, all of which want to become the next Lee Selby or a Joe Calzaghe 2.0.
This in mind, I decided to put some names down on who I believe will make the grade in the current landscape, whilst getting some of Welsh boxing’s best writers in David Owen of Dragons boxing and head honcho of Ringnews24 Rob Day to give their views also:
In no particular order I’ll start with Morgan Jones, Having seen his rise through the amateur ranks, It didn’t come as a shock to see the attention Morgan now commands in his professional career, a larger than life character inside a boxing ring he’s also a hard worker outside of one, giving credence to the saying “the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat”
Training alongside some of Wales’ best at St Joseph’s alongside the likes of Lee and Andrew Selby, Mitch Buckland and amateur stars Sean McGoldrick and Rio 2016 competitor Joe Cordina, he is certainly in the right place to mould and nurture his style under the watchful gaze of Tony Borg.
His arrival on the professional scene offered him a difficult first encounter with Welsh champion Chris Ware, a matchup which he won via decision, from that moment on he as blossomed and learnt his trade which as seen his stock rise and so to his undefeated record of 8-0.
Alex Hughes is certainly going to live up to his nickname for a lot of opposition in the years to follow, bringing “Bad News” their way in the form of pugilism.
A prospect from Gary Lockett’s impressive stable, Hughes could potentially be the most gifted of all. The Maerdy resident as already shown glimpses of class from his eight career wins and although he cut a frustrating figure against a spoiler in Alistair Warren last time out, there is a lot more to come from the Super Middleweight.
Look for Alex to make a big impact throughout the latter part of 2016 moving into 2017 with accolades by the bucket load to follow.
Jamie Evans is a certainly for my listing, along with Andrew Selby, JJ is one that excites the fight fan in me, an extensive amateur background behind him, which witnessed him win Welsh title after Welsh title at all age groups he as decided the time is right to make the jump into the deeper pond of the paid ranks, making his debut in May.
He has since taken his record to 2-0 with two straight forward point victories, in so doing looking every bit the prospect that could get people out of their seats in the years to come.
Training under the leadership of Danny Wilson he has set his sights high, seeing what it takes to be a world champion from stable mate Nathan Cleverly on a daily basis will help the process with an outstretched hand grasping for a bright future. Write down the name, JJ Evans, because He will no doubt be reminding you all of his talents in years to come.
Pic By South Wales Evening Post
Next on my list is Jay Harris where in the last five fights the Swansea Super Flyweight has added a much-needed bite to his bark, leaving that handful of victims to appreciate the arena lighting following the power exhibited by Harris.
Managed by Gary Lockett and trained by his father (Peter) who just so happened to be a British Titleholder himself, Jay is in an ideal place to mirror / further the achievements of his father which could be accomplished in the next year or so.
Phil Smith who in 2015 lost out in his English Flyweight title fight to Charlie Edwards will be next in line for Jay, providing us with another step up on his road to titles.
Big things certainly come in Small packages in this instance.
Close to finishing off a list that could comprise of 50 / 100 is Cardiff’s Mitchell Buckland who continues to surprise and impress me.
Sparring on a daily basis with his older brother Gary coupled with the multitude of styles on offer at his St Joseph’s gym as meant Mitchell is battle ready for all type of situations within the squared circle, excelling in his eleventh fight career to date.
He currently holds the Super Lightweight Celtic title which he is hoping to use as a bargaining chip for something bigger in the not too distant future, he will defend the title on the 21st October against the unbeaten 7-0 Jason Easton, a victory here will stand him in good stead for a shot at the British title, having watched Lee & Andrew Selby and of course his older brother (Gary) take titles at British level and World in Lee’s case, Mitchell is left with a hunger to follow in their footsteps.
Pic By Sophie Merlo
I’m going to be a little naughty in adding another to my already full listing, I couldn’t help myself, Craig Kennedy is one that I went going back and forth on due to me not knowing if he could be classed as a prospect at this stage of his career, but due to him not YET winning a British title I decided to include the hulking Cardiff Cruiserweight.
Kennedy as everything in place to make a run at the aforementioned title which I believe he as a brilliant chance at capturing in his first attempt. He had a tricky affair last time out against the awkward Belgian Joel Tambwe Djeko who on any given day would scare the best of Cruiserweights, Kennedy came through a great contest with a split decision victory which he will have learnt a lot from in those ten hellish rounds, getting off the canvas twice in order to take the judges scorecards he showed a determination to match his obvious talents.
He also holds two wins over current Southern Area champion Wadi Camacho and a brilliant win for the resume against Courtney Fry.
Trained by former world champion Steve Robinson who many of you know from his time sharing the ring with Prince Naseem, as guided the Cardiffian to a 15-0 record.
Decent Speed, a powerful right hand, and good movement give future opposition a lot to think about and as Jack Dempsey coined the phrase “All the time he’s boxing, he’s thinking. All the time he was thinking, I was hitting him.”
Look for Kennedy to be matched in a British title fight later this year possibly early 2017 and Congratulation to him and his partner on the forthcoming arrival of their baby.
Memorable Mentions go out to Kristian Touze who having impressed me in his professional debut in Merthyr is one that I will certainly be keeping a closer eye on in the months to come, Ashley Brace who please excuse the pun is taking the women’s bantamweight division by storm, having seen all of her past encounters it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the lady in question is a special talent, BIG punching Nathan Thorley I know will come as a shock not to see his name on the shortlist but as you all know I like to be a little different, this means little in my opinion of him as a fighter who I believe will go on to great things in the future, Zach Davies had a blip in London in March where he lost out to Zoltan Szabo but it was just that, a blip, I see bright things in the future of the Carmarthen-born fighter, helped further by his involvement in Gary Lockett’s great stable, Last but certainly not least is Sonny Lee, Having waited for his professional debut I got to see what all the fuss was about in his one-sided boxing masterclass in Merthyr Tydfil, Lee looked sensational on the night with the poise of a more experienced fighter. I hope to see a lot more from him in the future as he looks like one that can shake up the division with a blend of speed and style.
Each of the participants above are my personal opinion of a prospect, which can differ from writer to writer, I base my selection solely on fighters that are starting out on their journey but are not yet at a British title level, which is why Andrew Selby and Liam Williams have been omitted from the list, others could base the listing on youth, number of fights etc, at the end of the day it comes down to personal preference..
Rob Day’s Picks / RingNews24:
Two on my list are already British champion but given lack of fights or age, I’ve counted them as prospects. My five train at either Tony Borg or Gary Lockett’s successful gyms and a bright future await them all.
Liam Williams – Still only 24, undefeated and the British & Commonwealth super welterweight champion. Has a superb engine, skills, and power. Looked sensational in his last fight. The sky’s the limit for Clydach Vale’s popular boxer.
Andrew Selby – The 27-year-old has been nicknamed ‘Superstar’ and he has all the skills, speed, and ability to conquer the World. A joy to watch him fight. Only five fights and already British flyweight champion. The hardest part is getting opponents to face him.
Morgan Jones – The 25-year-old light heavyweight looks to have all the tools to go a long way. Exceptional boxing ability. Power, charisma, and athleticism.
Alex Hughes – Eight straight wins and still only 22-years-old. The orthodox, super middleweight can switch hit, box or brawl. Has already fought overseas and seems unfazed by any challenges.
Jay Harris – The Swansea super flyweight carries power and has looked explosive in recent bouts. The 26-year-old looks a real talent, with a great future ahead of him.
David Owens Picks:
David Owens Picks / Dragons Boxing:
Nathan Thorley – Winning a commonwealth Bronze medal isn’t a bad way to sign off your amateur career and the nine-time Welsh amateur champion has taken to the pro ranks like a duck to water.
Currently undefeated in all five of his outings Thorley will be looking towards a domestic title of sorts in early 2017.
A class above any of his previous opponents, the 23-year-old has that something special and has somewhat gone under the radar with others taking up more of the spotlight in the current Welsh boxing boom but Nathan is one who could and will make a definite impact in the light heavyweight division.
Ashley Brace – If someone was to ask “who will be Wales’ next world champion?” There maybe a few answers expected. Liam Williams? There is a solid case for Ashley Braces name to be thrown into the mix.
The Ebbw Vale Bantamweight is 4-0 in the pro ranks and has dismantled all that have stood before her to date. Strong, aggressive and owner of some serious power, Brace is already ranked number 1 female bantam in Britain and is quickly climbing the European ranks and with that comes the step up in competition as she faces former two-time world champion Galina Koleva Ivanova in Rhondda on October 8th.
Should she overcome this tough test then 2017 could well be a major year for women’s boxing not only in Wales but Britain as well.
Zack Davies – This highly decorated amateur made an unbeaten start to his professional career building up a record of 5-0 before becoming unstuck in March in somewhat of a shock loss to Zoltan Szabo after which it all went a little quiet for Davies.
There had been a lot of talk regarding Davies about his potential but that soon slowed after the loss but Davies in my opinion is still a major talent that is capable of major success. Under the careful watchful eye of Gary Lockett Davies has continued to grind away in the gym and improve his already razor sharp skills while waiting on a date to get back to winning ways which he now has – October 1st at York Hall, Bethnal Green.
Boxing can be fickle at times and Davies has learned that after his loss but even the likes of Lee Selby had a loss early on so keep a watch on Zack he is sure to bounce back.
Alex “Bad News” Hughes – I have written about Alex on numerous occasions about the talent and potential this young man has and those views have not changed, if anything they have been strengthened.
At 6’2 he is a tall strong Super-Middleweight who can also make Middle and at only 22 years old he still has some growing to do and could well end up in the light heavyweight division in the future. Currently holding a perfect record of 8-0 and under contract with Frank Warren, he has already gained experience of boxing on huge shows including Enzo Maccarinelli v Roy Jones Jr out in Russia.
Another of the Gary Lockett lads who big things are expected of, Alex has shown skill, maturity and shed loads of character to date and training on a daily basis with the likes of current British light middleweight champion Liam Williams and Enzo Mac can only improve on what is already a scary amount of natural talent.
Sonny Lee – Some may raise some eyebrows at this choice but there is no denying that this kid has talent. Extremely slick and slippery, boxing is in the blood for Lee as he follows his brother Mano into the pro game but he hasn’t made the cross over without his fair share of doubters.
Work rate has often been questioned as well as commitment and these were somewhat validated as he failed to make weight on his scheduled professional debut. Stories emerged of days missing from the gym and trainers being unable to contact him but all seemed to be back on track as he comfortably won his re- scheduled first pro contest and looked mightily impressive in doing so.
From a family of fighting travellers, Sonny Lee has grown up with gloves on. He and both of his brothers, older brother Mano and younger brother Sammy are all multiple Welsh champions in the amateurs and if a focused, hungry and fit Sonny Lee turns up he can really make a splash in the domestic scene.