World champion boxer donates money to children's cancer wardLee Selby admitted last week that he cannot bring himself to look Floyd Mayweather in the eye when they cross paths in the American's Las Vegas gym. Surely that shyness is now a thing of the past. What an exceptional performance to win the IBF featherweight world title at The O2, even if the manner in which tough Evgeny Gradovich was dethroned was not the natural conclusion that seemed inevitable. A deep cut from an accidental clash of heads did the damage in the seventh and the referee called for the doctor a minute into the following round. After a quick inspection of Gradovich's right eye, the fight was waved off.
That was unfortunate, but in going to the scorecards, it revealed the narrow facts of Selby's brilliance. Two judges gave 'The Welsh Mayweather' a six-round margin, and a third gave him all eight. Considering this was a fight against a big-punching Russian in his fifth title defence, the performance really was quite exceptional, a masterclass of dancing feet and quick hands.
Every time Gradovich surged, he seemed to be tagged by a disappearing man.
'I can't explain how I feel,' said Selby. 'I have been working for this for so long. I started boxing 20 years ago and had my first amateur fight 18 years ago. It means so much and I would like to dedicate this to my brother Michael (who died in 2008) who is always looking over me.
'I caught Gradovich and I wobbled him. I didn't bother following up, I was going to break him down. He is a similar fighter to my last opponent Joel Brunker so I was planning on breaking him down but we had two accidental clashes of heads and that stopped the fight.'
To think, Carl Froch, working as a pundit for Sky, had suggested at the weigh-in that Selby looked a little 'gaunt' and, perhaps, drained by getting inside the 9st limit. It did not show in the opening round. Gradovich set the tone, taking the middle of the ring and repeatedly looking for the big shot. Selby, predictably, went for a more subtle approach. It was also significantly more effective.
Barring two big rights from Gradovich, the round comfortably belonged to Selby and his jab. He found it surprisingly easy to land. For good measure, he also connected with a big left shortly before the bell.
A left at the start of the second bloodied Selby's nose. But again, his timing and the skill of his counter-punching was excellent. He picked the Russian off at will. Both men crashed big hooks in a closer third round, which Selby marginally edged, and a thudding left hook from the Welshman characterised the fourth. But this was about the finer points, about the sublimely light feet that would whizz him away when Gradovich charged on.
The assumption might have been that the Russian would relent, but he did not. He kept coming forward, he kept swallowing jabs. A good counter-left caught Selby in the fifth, which Gradovich shaded – perhaps his first of the fight, though an argument could also be made for the Russian taking the fourth.
Then Selby had his best round of the fight so far, twice catching Gradovich with straight rights and rocking his head back, and a huge cut was opened next to Gradovich's right eye after a head clash in the seventh. At mid-range Selby was almost untouchable; close in Gradovich's power rocked him towards the end of the round, which was largely controlled by the Welshman.
The doctor was called in the eighth and almost immediately ruled Gradovich's cut was too bad to continue. Selby was already posing in the corner before the verdict came – there is a bit of Mayweather in him.