It's been a fine year for Gavin Rees, and today it ended on a high note. The 30-year-old tenacious Welsh fighter overcame a spirited effort from previously-unbeaten John Watson to claim the British lightweight title in Newport, stopping Watson dramatically in the 11th round.
Rees (34-1, 16 KO) swept the first six rounds on the Bad Left Hook scorecard, and was clearly in firm control for the first four. In the fifth and sixth rounds, Watson began making some adjustments, letting his hands go more, and seemed to feel that Rees couldn't hurt him more than he already had, so he became a lot looser.
It was then that it turned into a very interesting fight. Watson won the seventh, eighth and ninth rounds on our card, clawing his way back into the fight. He busted Rees' nose and seemed to have the older man and former junior welterweight titlist reeling a fair amount. Rees, to his credit, just fought as he always does, but was now being out-fought by the younger man.
Then in the tenth round, which Rees was winning, the Welshman floored Watson (13-1, 5 KO) with a big shot. Watson was able to make it up, and even though he was on bad legs, survived the round. But those who have seen Rees fight in the past surely knew what to expect from him in the 11th, and Rees did not disappoint. He chased and hammered Watson from the opening bell of the 11th round, and eventually, referee Victor Loughlin had seen enough. Watson didn't seem to be in any massive danger at the time of stoppage, though he was on bad legs. I suspect I might have let that one go; Watson had made a very tough charge back into the bout and I feel had earned a bit more rope, but he was no doubt in trouble. It's not a bad stoppage, but one I think you can have second thoughts about.
But congratulations to Gavin Rees, who has proved he's a bit more than the one-trick pony that upset Souleymane M'baye and then lost his world title immediately to Andriy Kotelnik. Earlier this year, he stomped through a Prizefighter tournament, and now he's overcome a stern challenge from a determined younger fighter. And Watson has nothing to hang his head about with this first career loss, either. He got gut-checked, and we found out that he's got the heart and will to press on when facing adversity. He'll be back fighting for British titles again.
Other results from this afternoon, as we head into a huge night of boxing:
- Jason Cook TKO-6 Barrie Jones. Cook (27-3-1, 14 KO) was having all sorts of trouble developing effective rhythm in the first five rounds of this bout, but he was lively and throwing a lot of reckless shots. Jones (16-6, 3 KO) controlled the pace early on, but then Cook started finding the mark in the sixth round, and "The Power" watched Jones fold under the pressure of relentless pressure, with Cook ending it due to nasty body shots. Jones has now lost three in a row and six of his last seven, but everyone he's lost to is at the least a solid domestic fighter. He's a bit better than a description of his record, but Cook just had too much strength.
- Willie Casey TKO-4 Paul Hyland. This win nets Casey (11-0, 7 KO) the vacant European super bantamweight title, as he gets the hometown win over Dublin's Hyland (18-2, 5 KO). Like Rees, Casey won a Prizefighter tournament earlier this year. If Audley Harrison upsets David Haye next Saturday, that's quite a month for Prizefighter alumni.
- Luis Garcia TKO-2 Byron Mitchell. All reports are that Cuban phenom Garcia (11-0, 9 KO) savaged the veteran Mitchell (28-7-1, 21 KO) with no trouble at all. The "Slama From 'Bama" is far, far past his prime, and this was predictable.
- Jonel Alibio KO-6 Naoki Matsuda. Matsuda (33-9-4, 13 KO) loses his OPBF featherweight title in this pretty big upset. Alibio is now 16-10-2 (7 KO).
- Motoki Sasaki KO-7 Geisler AP. Sasaki (35-8-1, 22 KO) on the other hand successfully defended his OPBF belt (junior welterweight) against his scrub opponent, who came in with three pro fights under his belt.