Gavin Rees vs Anthony Mezaache European Lightweight Title Fight Preview

''The Rock'' eyes another world title shot

Welsh warrior Gavin ''The Rock'' Rees defends his European lightweight title against French challenger Anthony Mezaache at the Gymnase Georges Racine in Huats-de-Saine, France tonight. Rees, a former WBA light welterweight champion, is unbeaten in nine fights dating back to 2008, and is gunning for another world title shot. Mezaache is ranked as the EBU's mandatory challenger at lightweight, and currently holds the WBA Intercontinental and IBF International belts.

31 year old Rees (35-1-1, 16 KOs) fought the fight of his life when he upset another Frenchman - defending champion Souleymane M'baye for the WBA light welterweight title in July 2007. M'baye had all of the physical advantages over Rees, plus looked to have the edge in skill and power, yet the Welshman's dogged attack and aggression saw him win a comfortable, unanimous decision.

At 5'7'' and with a short reach of 64'', Rees is usually at physical disadvantage to his rivals. With just 16 KOs in 37 fights, he is no heavy hitter, nor is he a master boxer. But what he does have is a great chin, excellent stamina, a good boxing brain, plus a bulldog spirit and never say die attitude that work extremely well for him.

So far only the very capable Ukrainian Andriy Kotelnik has beaten Rees, stopping him in twelve rounds in Cardiff in 2008 to take his world crown. Rees bounced back with a win in Prizefighter in 2009, then dropped down to lightweight to stop John Watson in eleven rounds to win the British title in 2010.

Last year he outpointed the previously unbeaten Irishman Andy Murray to win the vacant European title, and then was leading against Derry Mathews when the fight was stopped after four rounds due to Mathews suffering a broken nose. Although the result was officially a technical draw, it only looked a matter of time before Rees scored a knockout.

Rees is currently ranked 10th by the WBC and a win tonight could move him up a couple of notches. It is not inconceivable that he could fight the winner of the July 7 fight between WBC champion Antonio DeMarco of Mexico and Venezuela's Jorge Linares. Barring that, Rees would love a big domestic matchup against a top UK name. As Rees himself told The Sun this week:

"I've been training hard for Mezaache and once I've got past him I want to fight one of the big-name Brits like Kevin Mitchell or John Murray. I don't believe that I have been truly recognized for my achievements but beating one of them should help get me there. Facing Mezaache in France will not be easy but Rees remains confident. I only have to worry about my performance, not his. If I go over there and do what I do best, I'll get the job done. Every boxer wants to fight at home but if it means traveling to get recognition I will do it."

Local boy Mezaache (21-6-3, 6 KOs) is a youthful looking 33 year old who, while not a big puncher, is a solid ring technician with good skills and a high work rate. Mezaache turned pro in 2003, losing his first fight on points and going a less than impressive 9-5-1 in his first three years.

After that inauspicious start, Mezaache has turned his career around dramatically. He lifted the French lightweight title in 2007 with a split decision over Affif Hamdani, and made three defenses before facing Britain's Jon Thaxton for the European title in Norwich in 2009. In a sensational fight, Mezaache came back from a terrible start to go toe-to-toe with Thaxton for the final six rounds to win a close but unanimous decision and the title.

The only blip on Mezaache's recent record came in July 2010 when he took a fight on the David Tua v Monte Barrett undercard in Atlantic City New Jersey against local boxer Carlos Vinan, and was stopped in the final round. The action was toe-to-toe going into the eight round, when Vinan floored Mezaache and then pounded him until the referee stopped it.

Mezaache has won three fights since, including a decision over former world title challenger Aristides Perez that earned him the WBA Intercontinental and IBF international belts. He is 12-1-2 since November 2006, and his KO loss to the normally light hitting Vinan would appear to be something of a freak result. He showed his spirit in the win over Thaxton, and while he clearly lacks power, throws a lot of punches to both the head and body, and is difficult to nail.

This looks like being an extremely entertaining and close bout between two well matched boxers with similar limitations. With home advantage, I think that Mezaache will use his good footwork and stamina to keep away from Rees and score enough points to win a close but unanimous decision.

Mezaache by a unanimous twelve round decision.

Big Fight Odds: Gavin Rees 2/9, Anthony Mezaache 3/1 bet365
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Gavin Rees vs Anthony Mezaache European Lightweight Title Fight Preview

''The Rock'' eyes another world title shot

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