LEE SELBY saw his dreams of becoming Wales’s first two-weight ‘world’ titlist turn to dust beneath the relentless fists of new star Gustavo Lemos in front of a delirious crowd in Buenos Aires on Saturday (March 26).
“Time waits for no man,” acknowledged the 35-year-old afterwards in an emotional farewell to the ring. “Getting hard to go toe to toe with these young guns 10 years my junior.”
It was a sad repeat of events three years earlier, almost to the day. On March 23, 2019, kid brother Andrew found himself in Mexico for a final eliminator for the WBC flyweight title against a hungry young home fighter barely known beyond his nation’s borders. Stocky Julio César Martínez knocked him out in the fifth and effectively ended his career.
This time purse bids decreed that Lee travelled to the legendary Estadio Luna Park for an IBF eliminator against Lemos, whose 27 straight wins had all come on familiar ground. Like his sibling, Selby had several inches’ advantage in height. Once again, it mattered not. He, too, fell in the fatal fifth.
To be honest, the portents were not good. Selby had the pedigree: a range of honours, culminating in the IBF crown he defended four times – including Argentinian Jonathan Barros among his victims – before defeat by Josh Warrington. But those achievements were all at featherweight. The strain of making nine stone was clear when he jumped two divisions to lightweight, only to lose a previous IBF final eliminator to George Kambosos Jnr in 2020.
That reverse looks better following the Aussie’s shock triumph over highly touted Teofimo Lopez, but it was Lee’s last action, almost 18 months ago.
Lemos, like previous conquerors Warrington and Kambosos, was unbeaten – even as an amateur he had lost only once – and accustomed to success, his eight previous rivals all failing to last the course.
There was little inspiration to be taken from the last occasion a Welsh boxer fought in Argentina; back in 1957, at a football stadium across the city, a weight-drained Dai Dower was destroyed inside a round by world flyweight king Pascual Pérez.
(Cardiff lightweight Gary Buckland was due to box in Buenos Aires in 2013, but his bout was cancelled when the ring collapsed as jubilant fans celebrated Sergio Martínez’s victory over Martin Murray.)
Martínez, largely based in Spain, never boxed at the 90-year-old Luna Park, but Pérez did, among other Argentinian legends like Carlos Monzón, Nicolino Locche and Julio César Vásquez. It was also where future president Juan Perón first met Evita, though at a charity event rather than a fight night.
Before his ringwalk, Lemos stood with his back to the hall, arms raised, as a film tribute to Diego Maradona played on the big screens. The Welsh anthem was received with respect, the Argentinian with acclamation. But despite the fevered atmosphere, the new hero, a former hod carrier from Tres Arroyos, some 280 miles south of the capital, was in total control of his emotions.
He devoted the opener to seeing what Selby had to offer; the Barry man duly danced around him, popping out the jab and taking the round. The next two sessions, however, saw Gustavo begin to march forward, hurling leather. Lee still looked relaxed, although the slowness of the third man, Mario González, to act on a series of low blows raised questions about the wisdom of the Selby camp’s acceptance of a local referee. (The judges were from the US and Canada.)
Lemos was cut near the left eye in the third, but by the following stanza his power was beginning to tell. A volley of rights sent Selby into a tailspin and he took a knee in the closing seconds. There was a further knockdown early in the fifth and when a follow-up barrage sent the Welshman to the canvas for a third time, Sr González knelt behind him, put an arm gently around his shoulders and told him his ordeal was at an end.
In the chief support Evelyn Bermúdez, from Santa Fe, made the fifth defence of her IBF light-fly belt and added the vacant WBO version with a fifth-round stoppage of outgunned Venezuelan veteran Débora Rengifo, who has now come up short in five bids for major belts.
The Verdict A sorry end, but Lee Selby can be proud of what came before