The story of welterweight prospect Lewis Rees is a familiar one to most. Rees is the son of a boxer, the grandson of a boxer and the great-grandson of a boxer. Boxing was simply in the Welshman’s blood in a way that made the sport seem ineluctable.
His father, Emelyn Rees, used to talk about the sport constantly when Lewis was a child, and it’d be on the television whenever the sport was broadcast. Then at 13, his father finally inducted him into the family trade. Though the fourth-generation Rees took a convincing pounding in his first amateur bout, there was something there. That was a decade ago, and a decade after Emelyn’s own promising professional career came to an abrupt halt due to a detached retina.
Now 23, Rees (6-0, 4 knockouts) has a family milestone in sight as he prepares to face Leon Findlay (4-2-1, 1 KO) for the vacant Welsh welterweight title this Saturday at Rhondda Fach Sports Centre in Tylorstown, Wales. The fight will be Rees’ first ten round assignment, after having fought just three six-rounders and three four-rounders prior to Saturday night.
For Rees, who was born and raised in the Rhondda valley, the fight is an opportunity to perform in front of his hometown fans, a place where he feels most comfortable. Rhondda, which is a small valley town in South Wales, also produced one of the greatest Welsh and British fighters of the 20th Century in Tommy Farr, who had challenged a prime Joe Louis for the heavyweight title in 1937.
Rees feels so comfortable there in fact, that he felt homesick while training in Sheffield, England as part of the Great Britain team.
After winning 75 of his 85 amateur bouts, including seven Welsh titles, British titles at the junior and senior level and The Tammer Cup tournament, Rees was in prime position to qualify for the 2012 Olympic games in London. Only problem was, he was miserable being away from home.
“Sounds stupid but I wasn’t happy up there,” said Rees, on why he left the team just before Olympic qualifiers began. “I used to miss home terribly.”
It only makes sense then that Rees would look for a place train closer to home when he announced his intentions to turn pro. When Gary Lockett, a former world middleweight title challenger, came calling on Facebook, it seemed like a perfect fit. Lockett was also Welsh, and a fighter who Rees had looked up to as a teenager. Also, Lockett’s gym was just 20 minutes down the road from Rhondda.
“Gary Lockett asked me to go pro,” said Rees, of his decision to take Lockett on as both trainer and manager. “He helps me with a lot more than people think. We are obviously very close and helps me with anything to do with boxing such has diets, sponsors, training, sparring. Anything I need help with he sorts it for me. Top guy fair play.”
Lockett, who also trains middleweight prospect Liam Williams, who will appear in a six-round bout on Saturday’s card, as well as former world champions Gavin Rees (no relation) and Enzo Calzaghe, promptly had Rees signed to a promotional contract with Frank Warren Promotions. As Warren hasn’t been as active in promoting cards as he was during the 90s, Rees’ career isn’t moving at the clip they’d have hoped for.
“Lewis is under contract to Frank Warren so he hasn’t had as many fights as we’d have liked but we want to stay loyal,” said Lockett. “I’m sure that Frank will get his second wind and put on some great promotions that hopefully Lewis can be part of. Lewis has the ability to be a British and European champion, he certainly has the raw materials.”
Rees turned pro in May of 2011 at the O2 Arena in London, underneath WBO light heavyweight titleholder Nathan Cleverly’s defense against Aleksy Kuziemski, and has gained much of his experience from sparring extensively with lightweight Gavin Rees over the past two years.
“He has improved immensely by sparring Gavin and others we have in the gym,” said Lockett. “Gav is world class, so any young pro would learn a lot sparring such quality. The hard sparring has also helped him make the transition to the professional ranks.
When people question his decision to jump to ten-rounders so quickly, he quickly reminds them that he was born to do this.
“I think I’m more than ready,” said Rees. “I’ve been ready for a long time really. I obviously had a good amateur background where I boxed some of the best amateurs in the world. I have a lot more experience than people think.”
Photos / Scott Heavy-Getty Images
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.