Welterweight Maredudd Thomas was just 11 years old when he watched on as his hero Joe Calzaghe unified the super middleweight division in front of a partisan crowd that packed the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Calzaghe defeated unbeaten Mikkel Kessler and walked away with the WBO, WBA and WBC titles that night.
Fast forward thirteen years and Thomas, himself a proud Welshman from Cardiff, now finds himself fighting for the youth version of the same coveted, iconic green WBC belt that Calzaghe won and will be trained by Gary Lockett, a man who earned his stripes as a trainer under the tutelage of Joe’s father, the enigmatic Enzo Calzaghe.
Thomas (11-0) takes on fellow unbeaten competitor Sahir Iqbal (7-0) on MTK’s August 12th show in a fight that typifies the type of contest that leading UK promoters have been encouraged to make since the enforced boxing break.
‘No more easy fights’ has been the resounding message from fight fans who have clamoured for the return of UK boxing but made clear their desire for more competitive scraps.
Some boxers have baulked at the risk/reward strategy of fighting unbeaten, domestic rivals, Maredudd Thomas is not one of them, and needed no cajoling when he was offered his opportunity. “As soon as Gary contacted me to tell me about the fight and told me it was for the WBC youth title, I said yes straight away.
“I didn’t even have a look at him, I just said yes, I didn’t know who he was but when I saw him, I was happy.”
It may appear to some as a decision that indicates ultimate confidence, that may be true, but Thomas also has the foresight to recognise that boxing is about seizing the moment and he has answered that call emphatically. He added, “I would have fought anyone to be fair, that’s what you have to do in boxing, you’ve got to take these chances.”
That unequivocal statement signals the Welshman’s intent to progress and advance his career prospects. Incidentally, this fight had in fact been scheduled before the commencement of lockdown yet is typical of the type of domestic dust-up that has been ordered to take place.
If circumstances had been different, then it is arguable that many of the upcoming, closely matched domestic bouts wouldn’t have been made and some prospects would have padded their records for a little longer, but there is a band of boxers waiting, desirous of the success and exposure that they have been deprived of during the four months hiatus. So for those fighters who have declined offers and have cited the reason as ‘not ready’, they may well have to join the back of the queue, especially those who are looking to make their first big move in the sport.
For Thomas, winning the title would undoubtedly accentuate an already promising start to his professional career. “It would mean a lot, obviously it would open a couple of doors, It’s everything I’ve been working for, working towards winning titles, so I want to pick up as many as I can throughout my boxing career.”
The semi-serious tone was broken by the Welsh welterweight who let slip a coy chuckle as I informed him that I had it on good authority from sparring partner Chris Jenkins that he ‘punched like a mule’ and that more knockout wins were ‘only a matter of time’.
It was difficult to tell whether the laugh was out of modesty or rather one of devilment as he was en route to a sparring session in Watford, where no doubt he was hoping to prove the claims to be correct.
The contradiction between his punch power and his shy knockout record (2 KO's from 11 bouts) is not one that concerns the confident welterweight, who explained that it is not wholly uncommon with fighters who are in the early throws of their professional journey, especially when having to face journeymen and he certainly won’t be altering his approach as a consequence. “With journeymen, they know what they are doing, if you catch them with a big shot in the first round, they are not going to stay there. In the second round they have the experience to know what to do, they don’t want to be knocked out because they want to fight again in a few weeks.”
It is a claim that is solidified by the fact that when Maredudd Thomas faces unbeaten fighters who are more adventurous, he has more success with the finish inside the distance. He told me, “When I have come up against unbeaten fighters during my career so far, I’ve managed to stop them, so obviously it shows that when they come forward, that’s when I can land the power shots.
“I’ve got more rounds in this fight, so hopefully I can catch him. The more rounds I can catch him, then who knows?”
“I’m not looking for a knockout, it is all about the win in boxing and if the knockout comes, it will be an added bonus.”
Despite being driven and determined, Thomas won’t misplace it with recklessness and insists that it will be a measured performance. “The last thing I want to do is just go out there and try to take his head off straight away.
“It is obviously both of our first time fighting beyond 6 rounds as well so that will be another factor.”
If the recent British and Southern Area title fights that have been served up are an accurate boxing barometer in terms of the entertainment and excitement we can expect to come, then we can all rub our hands expectantly.
The fight between Thomas and Bolton man Iqbal-on a card which also features Jono Carroll against Maxi Hughes, Sean McComb against Siar Ozgul and Craig MacIntyre against Darren Surtees-could turn out to be a closely contested affair and may well go the distance and the role of the corners can not be underplayed, particularly given that (as viewers can pay testament to) fighters can clearly hear instructions bawled out without the interference of a boisterous crowd. Thomas is aware that the experience of a man like Gary Lockett could prove pivotal. “Because Gary has been there and done it himself as a boxer, he is well-aware of exactly what I should be doing.
“Knowing you have someone like that in your corner is a big bonus.”
If the fight does go the distance, and despite the fact Thomas is considered a big welterweight, conditioning should not be of any concern for the unbeaten 24-year-old. He also made clear that his preparation and relentless work in the gym is not a one-off addition for this bout, it is how he lives his life and has done for a long time.
“I’m making weight comfortably to be fair; I have no reason to move up in weight at the moment.
“I started when I was about 9 or 10, I have just stayed at the gym the whole time like, a couple of weeks is the most time I’ve had out of the gym.
“Growing up, my dad never really let me have a day off training, whenever my mates were going out he would come and pick me up and take me to the gym, obviously it was all worth it looking back now.”
Wales has a rich history of producing successful champions of the sport and arguably has given us two of British boxing’s finest ever in Jimmy Wilde and Joe Calzaghe, not to mention the myriad of other talents such as Maccarinelli, Robinson, Cleverly, Rees and Selby.
With a selection of current Welsh boxers also currently flying the flag both domestically and on the world scene too in the shape of Liam Williams, Joe Cordina and sparring partner Chris Jenkins (who holds the British and Commonwealth welterweight titles), Thomas hopes to join those aforementioned names and esteemed company by forging his own way in a talent laden division.
The first huge step of the challenge that awaits him will be taken in front of the ESPN cameras on August 12th.