Gary Buckland (b. 1986) took a difficult road to rise to domestic honours.
The talented super-featherweight was born into a travelling community and learnt his trade at Tony Borg‘s St Joseph’s gym in Newport.
As an amateur he won seven Welsh titles at schoolboy, cadet and youth levels, competed at British, European and world level, and pushed Amir Khan all the way in a memorable bout.
Buckland was keen to turn professional at the earliest opportunity, though, and made the switch to the paid ranks at the age of 18 after just five senior amateur bouts.
He won his first 14 bouts without ever threatening to break onto the big stage, before losing his first fight, a 2008 clash with Ben Murphy.
The Welshman was soon back on the winning trail, and a particularly impressive performance against Sam Rukundo set him up for a shot at John Murray’s British lightweight title, with the vacant European crown also on the line.
Buckland put up an incredibly brave challenge, but was out-gunned by the bigger Murray who ground him down and stopped the challenger in the 11th.
The defeated man took six months out, but the making of his career then came as he battled to get down to super-featherweight for the high-profile, big-money Prizefighter tournament.
After an impressive wins over Stevie Bell, Buckland stepped out for the semi-final against unbeaten British super-featherweight champion Gary Sykes.
There was no title on the line in the three-round bout, but Buckland made an emphatic point with a crushing one-punch, first-round knock-out of the highly rated Sykes.
He went on to stop the tough Derry Mathews in the second round of the final, a devastating body punch doing the damage.
The Welshman claimed two more wins – including one in Jalisco, Mexico, on the undercard of Saul Alvarez v Ryan Rhodes – before the inevitable, grudge rematch with Sykes.
This time the title was on the line, but the challenger seemed to have the psychological edge over Sykes and claimed an undisputed, if narrow, victory.
Successful defences against Paul Truscott and Stephen Foster followed for Buckland, who started 2013 talking about world titles.
But he ran into the Stephen Smith, and the talented Liverpudlian relieved him of his British belt with a fifth-round stoppage – Smith’s perfectly timed right uppercut surely one of the most devastating one-punch knock-outs ever delivered in a Welsh ring.
Typically, Buckland chose an incredibly tough comeback path, meeting former world champion Gavin Rees in Cardiff for a much-anticipated derby showdown.
An epic, toe-to-toe battle ended with Buckland claiming a split-decision victory that demanded a rematch.
The second showdown was a mirror image of the pair’s first encounter, but this time it was Rees who walked away with a split-decision triumph.