Following the footsteps of the Matchstick man... Sean McComb opponent Gavin Gwynne planning Commonwealth title glory

Gavin Gwynne fights Sean McComb for the Commonwealth lightweight title on Friday night
Andy Watters

GAVIN Gwynne was in school the day Mike Tyson came to Merthyr Tydfil.

He'd have given anything to have been among the hundreds who turned out to catch a glimpse of the ‘Baddest Man on the Planet' when he unexpectedly visited the town in the South Wales Valleys in 2009 to lay flowers at the statue of his boxing hero Johnny Owen.

Owen died from injuries sustained in the ring back in 1980 and a teenage Tyson had watched his final fight – a WBC bantamweight title challenge against Lupe Pintor in Los Angeles. Almost 30 years later he made the journey to Merthyr to pay his respects to the legendary ‘Merthyr Matchstick'.

Owen himself had followed in the footsteps of Merthyr trailblazers Howard Winstone and Eddie Thomas and, over 40 years since his death, he remains a legend in his hometown. Although his career ended in tragedy, his statue in St Tydfil's Square is an inspiration to others who hope to follow the same path.

Winstone, Thomas and Owen put Merthyr on the boxing map and Gwynne, who battles Sean McComb for the Commonwealth lightweight title on Friday night, is determined to keep it there.

“When I started boxing my coach used to take me up to Dai Gardiner who was Johnny's trainer,” Gwynne explained.

“I trained with Dai for about five years until I turned over pro and moved on to Tony Borg. I was always sparring and training with Dai. We do a run in Merthyr that Johnny used to do, so he's a massive inspiration and what a fighter he was! If I can reach a fraction of what he did, it would mean the world to me.”

Like Gwynne, west Belfast fighter McComb comes from an area steeped in boxing history. The former Holy Trinity ABC star has the slick skills to go a long way in the sport but durable Gwynne will test his credentials and appetite for a battle on Friday night.

“I'm a massive lightweight myself, same as him,” says the Welshman.

“He might be a bit taller than me, he will have a bit more range than me but I am a more aggressive fighter – I like to come forward and I don't care if I'm getting hit with one or two shots as long as I'm hitting them with three or four. That's the way I fight.”

The fight will be Gwynne's second on-the-trot against Irish opposition. Last August he took on James Tennyson and was holding his own until Tennyson's frightening power began to take a toll by the middle rounds. A right hook had him down in the sixth and the referee waved it off before the end of the round.

“I thought I was nicking it,” says Gwynne.

“I thought I was landing the cleaner shots and I was boxing in bursts but he just has that one-punch knockout power. I don't know what he has in his fists! He's just an unbelievable puncher!

“Whoever he hits in the lightweight division, as long as hits them clean they're going out! I think I did well to get up and I got stopped on my feet in the end. I thought I was winning the fight but he's just an unbelievable puncher - that's boxing.

“Because of my size, I spar middleweights but he's the hardest-hitting pound-for-pound puncher I've been in with in my life, he's got to be.

“You wouldn't think it from the way he fights, but James is a proper nice lad. I hope he does go on and win a world title because he's a hard-working lad, a good fighter and he's down to earth outside the ring. He's quiet, he's not very outspoken but he lets his fists do the talking!”

Despite the loss – the second of his career after a previous defeat against Joe Cordina – Gwynne insists he is a better man for the experience.

“I learned from the Cordina loss as well,” he said.

“He's on the fringe of world title level and I've boxed him and Tennyson for British titles so I've been a bit unlucky in (the class of) my opponents but it shows the talent in the lightweight division.

“I had a close fight with Joe, the first half was his and I took over in the second half but the judges thought otherwise. I moved on and I went and stopped an Olympian (Abdon Cesar of Cameroon) in the first round of my next fight. I boxed Tennyson after that and I thought I was boxing well up until I got caught with a peach of a shot.”

CARL Frampton says a swansong showdown against Shakur Stevenson in Belfast is an extra incentive to make Irish boxing history this month.

Frampton turns 34 six days before next stepping into the ring against WBO super-featherweight champion Jamel Herring on February 27, when he will try to become the first Irish fighter to win world titles in three divisions.

While insisting his American rival has his undivided attention, Frampton has previously thought about retirement and he hinted a win over the highly-rated Stevenson in his home city would be the ideal way to bow out of boxing.

"I have it on good authority that Shakur Stevenson would come to Belfast to fight me if I do beat Jamel,” he said.

“That's a huge fight. That could be the sign-off - imagine beating Shakur Stevenson at Belfast.

"The chance for me to box in Belfast again in front of a big crowd is very appealing to me. Me and Shakur potentially at Windsor Park after Jamel Herring.

"But I'm not looking too far ahead, it's one fight at a time, I need to beat Jamel Herring first."

Stevenson, an Olympic silver medallist who won a world title in just his 13th professional fight, has vacated his WBO featherweight crown to move up to 130lbs and is in pole position to fight the Herring-Frampton winner.

Herring will have a five-inch height and seven-inch reach advantage over Frampton, who knows he is facing one of the stiffest tests of his professional career against the rangy southpaw in London.

Frampton said: "It could be the toughest fight of my career. It's going to be a difficult night but I'm relishing the chance to become a three-weight world champion.

"It's just the simple fact that people are writing me off and thinking I'm too small to win this fight, that excites me.

"I can imagine what the pictures are going to look like, me and him, at the weigh-in. It's just going to look ridiculous and like we shouldn't be fighting each other, but that gets me excited."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access