Boxing loves an adage. Box a fighter and fight a boxer. A good big ‘un always beats a good little ‘un. You can’t hit what you can’t see. Another sage old saying reads something along the lines of, never back a fighter who is adamant that he is walking into the ring for the final time.
Such a fighter can already taste the guilt-free beers soon to flow and feel the warmth of his bed the following morning as he utilises the snooze button on his alarm clock with wild abandon. Physically he may still have it, but if dragged into a 12 round war, where will he be mentally when pushed beyond the limits of what his body believes it should be forced to endure?
Furthermore, never back a 34 year old fighter who is, according to consensus gentium, well past his best. A fighter whose one fight reign as a world champion ended over six years ago and who, coming off the back of three defeats, has not tasted victory in a boxing ring for almost two years. And certainly don’t back him if the fight in question is against a hungry boxer, seven years his junior, who beat him over 12 rounds just three months back.
The Welsh Rock, Gavin Rees, was all of the above at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff on Saturday night and yet, most had him picked. And picked not because of sentiment from a boxing public that always appreciates a decent honest man and fighter, but picked due to the knowledge that, over time, cream rises to the top and class shines through.
Gary Buckland is decent and honest as well of course. He is also a good domestic boxer and the reigning British super featherweight champion. In short, he is definitely no mug. As his steam ran out midway through the contest in Cardiff last night, however, Rees put on a show that made him look dangerously close to being exactly that.
Buckland started quickly and strongly, perhaps still stung from the negative reaction to his narrow points win over Rees in February when the majority of boxing commentators had the Rock as the victor. Rees appeared happy to stand and trade at the outset as if to say, your best can’t hurt me and it certainly can’t stop me. But as the fight developed, and his nose bloodied, he began to use his superior boxing skills, moving in and out of range, and continually catching his man on the counter.
Buckland continued to be the more aggressive, more assertive man with his come forward style. But as the rounds ticked away he was coming forward slower and with less menace. Rees had paced his 34 year old body perfectly and by the 9th, he was by far the fresher and livelier fighter.
The final few rounds were reminiscent of a Spanish bullfight with Rees the matador and Buckland the game toro on his last legs. The latter plodded forward to no avail as Rees’ light feet danced him out of trouble and allowed him to land a couple of shots to Buckland’s exposed head as he went. All that was missing was the final estocada to put an end to the proceedings.
As it was it went to the cards and another split decision was announced. Judge Richard Davies having Buckland winning 116-113 compared with John Keane’s 117-112 in favour of Rees another black eye for the scoring of prize fights. Some rounds were close and with such contrasting styles there is always a greater element of subjectivity in the scoring, but an eight point difference in how two ringside judges have seen it is surely too wide to be credible.
Sitting on the ring apron with his two young daughters immediately after, Rees told Eddie Hearn to delete his number. Despite how good he looked, he doesn’t want to complete the trilogy against Buckland nor entertain the idea of one more payday against a brighter light in the division. At least that was the party line on Saturday night.
Rare is the boxer who knows when to quit and rarer still he who goes out on a victory. Gavin Rees has been a skilled and entertaining fighter, a world champion and a great servant to the sport but, seeing him with his young family and knowing he is financially secure, I for one hope we never see him go to war in the ring again. Put your feet up and enjoy your retirement Gavin. You certainly deserve it.