GARY Buckland may have sparred hundreds of rounds with Gavin Rees but he is certain he can surprise his old friend when they fight for real, writes Andrew Penman.

The Gwent boxing stars meet at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff on February 1 next year as they both look to bounce back from big defeats.

Buckland, who trains with Tony Borg at St Joseph’s gym in Newport, steps up to lightweight after losing his British super-featherweight title to Stephen Smith last time out.

And the 27-year-old says he didn’t have to think twice about accepting the chance to take on his friend and sparring partner Rees.

“I jumped at the chance,” said Buckland. “I know Gavin very well but we’ll put our friendship to one side for the night and have a good fight.

“That’s the sport. You try to knock each other out and then go for a drink with each other afterwards.

“I never really considered it because we’ve sparred hundreds of rounds against each other.

“But when they offered it to me I thought ‘what a great way to come back’.

“We’ve sparred ever since I’ve turned pro but sparring is different to fighting so I’m sure will both have something up our sleeves on the night,” he added.

“It is a great fight between two former champions, two Prizefighter champions and we’ve had over 70 fights and only six defeats between us so it will be a good contest.”

And Buckland is convinced that he can beat Rees he will be able to get back to where he feels he belongs.

“I’m coming up from super-featherweight for this one so I’ll always have a future back at super-feather but if I can beat Gavin it gives me options to fight at lightweight again,” said Buckland.

“He’s a great champion but I think I can beat anybody. If I train hard, focus and get myself fit I fancy my chances.

“I’m used to the big stage now and want to be at that level again.

“This is a big show and can open up opportunities for me. We’re not sure if there’ll be a title on the line but I don’t think the fight needs it really. If there is one it’ll be a bonus.”

For tickets to the show, which is headlined by Buckland's St Joes stablemate Lee Selby against Rendall Munroe for the European featherweight title, call Brian Powell on 07821004684.