Buckland decisions Rees, Selby stops Munroe, Joshua demolishes Darch
Gary Buckland (28-3) earned a split decision win in a close, entertaining all Welsh battle with former world champion Gavin Rees (37-4-1) on Saturday night at the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff.
Buckland should now get the opportunity to box for the British lightweight title.
Buckand and Rees know each other well, having sparred many rounds together.
Rees (9st 8lbs 15oz) started quickly, planting powerful right hands into Buckland's (9st 8lbs 13oz) ribs from the back foot.
A clash of heads caused blood to run into Buckland's eye, but his corner dealt with it and gradually, his relentless march forward started to bear fruit. Rees slowed down his buzzsaw attacks, and Buckland got the better of some close range exchanges.
The younger man by six years worked hard to smother Rees in the middle rounds. Having taken stiff right hands and vicious body shots, Buckland looked to capitalise as the energy started to ebb from elder stateman Rees. Going back to his corner at the end of the eighth, Rees looked drained, but went on to find a second wind and even pushed Buckland back in the ninth with accurate shots.
Just about edging the tenth and eleventh rounds, Rees looked to have done enough as he bobbed his way out of harm and was slightly busier. The crowd cheered heartily as both Welshmen gave their best until the final bell.
With Buckland's arms held aloft by trainer Tony Borg, and Rees on Gary Lockett's shoulders, both fighters thought they'd done enough for the win. Judges scored the fight a split decision - John Keane 116-113 (Buckland), Ian John Lewis 116-113 (Rees) and Terry O'Connor 115-114 (Buckland).
Before the fight, Rees talked of retirement if he lost, and said afterwards: "I've lost three in a row now. I'll have a rest with my family and see what happens."
For Buckland, a British lightweight title shot against Martin Gethin could come soon. Buckland said: "Gavin's a true champion and he pushed me all the way."
Also on the card, British featherweight champion Lee Selby (18-1) added the European title to his collection with a sixth round stoppage of Rendall Munroe (27-4-1).
Referee Ian John Lewis jumped in at 1:31 of the round as Munroe was under pressure and backed into a corner. Munroe should have been allowed to continue, as he was throwing back, and much of Selby's attack landed on gloves or arms.
Selby at one point had beckoned the referee to come and stop it, but Munroe hadn't been in the fight at all up until that point - the writing was on the wall for the likeable "Boxing Binman".
The difference in size was telling - Munroe (8st 12lb 5oz) was struggling to cope with the jab and punch variety from the rangy Selby (8st 13lb 5oz). Munroe's title days had come at super bantamweight before his brief retirement, brought about by comprehensive defeat to Scott Quigg in November 2012. He always turns up in shape however and was making a second attempt at the British featherweight title, having lost over 12 rounds to Andy Morris in 2006.
Selby dominated the action from the off, moving from side to side and finding angles to whip in fast shots particularly left hooks to Munroe's body. Rendall was just not getting his punches off at all, and Selby whipped in a right hand at the bell to end the first round which stiffened Munroe's legs. Selby continued to demonstrate his impressive speed and reflexes during the early going, doubling up his left hand and landing to both the body and head of Munroe.
In the fourth Munroe finally began to find the target with his southpaw jab, but only in single shots, still unable to put punches together effectively. Selby was able to drive an unsteady Munroe to the ropes with effective pressure in round five, although Rendall found an escape route and another danger moment passed. Selby can sometimes drift into sparring mode, throwing punches with minimal intent for a man who carries knockout power.
When he asserted himself it was a Selby left hook, right hand which sent Munroe retreating to the ropes again in round six, this time trapped in a corner until the stoppage. Munroe had his senses and made his complaint known to the referee.
Selby's promoter Eddie Hearn discussed his man defending the newly acquired European title before looking to secure a world title eliminator for the Welshman later this year.
Anthony Joshua (4-0) continued his blistering start in the professional ranks with another knockout win over Dorian Darch (7-3).
Joshua is planning a busy year and he started in style, ruthlessly halting Darch in the second round to rack up his fourth stoppage win in a row.
The Londoner landed a few crisp right hands in the opening minutes, while his ramrod jab breached Darch's defences.
A rare right hand from Darch clipped Joshua and he responded in destructive fashion, pinning his opponent on the ropes with a barrage of punches before the bell halted the punishment.
There was no respite for Darch in the second, with a right hand stiffening his legs, and referee Terry O'Connor stepped in when Joshua threatened to unload on his dazed opponent.
Joshua returned from a brief lay-off with a shoulder injury and was not satisfied with his performance, despite the convincing win.
"Not too great," said the 24-year-old. "A few things I was noticing in there when I was getting my jab going and my one-two, but you know how it is, the first round you are just warming into the fight.
"I was trying to capitalise on some of his weaknesses from early on, but as round two came along I started finding my rhythm.
"The next fight in March, hopefully you will see a bit of improvement."