JOSH Kelly’s world title potential will be given a litmus test on Saturday night when he finally challenges David Avanesyan for the European welterweight title inside the Matchroom bubble at Wembley Arena.
Sunderland’s flashy 2016 Olympian takes a seismic step up in his 11-fight career against the formidable Russian, who outpointed Hall of Famer Shane Mosley and challenged for the WBA world title in the weeks before Kelly even turned pro.
The fight was originally scheduled as far back as December 2018, only for illness to force Kelly to pull out just hours before the opening bell. Both fighters then went their separate ways, with Avanesyan winning and retaining the European belt – courtesy of three brutal knockouts – and Kelly moving himself into a mandatory position.
Josh Kelly says he will shock people on Saturday night with a victory inside the distance
Watch Avanesyan v Kelly Saturday 7pm on Sky Sportspic.twitter.com/hkfKByKoBo
— Sky Sports (@SkySports) February 18, 2021
The fight was remade for March 2020 only to be KO’d by the first wave of Covid-19 restrictions. It was then planned for the back end of 2020, before being moved to January, the pushed back to this weekend.
“It’s been very frustrating,” says the champion, who lives in Russia but is based at Carl Greaves’ gym near Nottingham. “I’ve been in and out of camp, they’ve messed me about. The fight has had at least four dates.”
Still just 32, Avanesyan’s 26-3-1 record is as solid as they come at 147lb. His top 10 ranking is well deserved and he’s rated by all four of the sport’s recognised world title governing bodies. He adds: “Josh Kelly is a good fighter. He’s fast and has good movement. But I’ve seen things I can exploit.”
— The Sportsman (@TheSportsman) February 18, 2021
Kelly, 26, adds: “It’s been too long in the making, like he said. I expect nonstop pressure from David. That is what I’ve prepared for. It’s a massive step up, but I enjoy being the underdog and I’m ready.”
Trainer Adam Booth’s latest protégé has shown enough flashes of his silky skillset to suggest he’s destined to one day hold aloft a world championship belt. With fast hands and an unorthodox, low-guard, switch-hitting style, Kelly was picked by many as the one to watch when Team GB returned from Rio in 2016.
But his 11-fight unbeaten campaign has left fans sceptical about his potential. Poland’s Przemyslaw Runowski repeated caught Kelly square and up against the ropes during their April 2019 10-rounder. Then two months later, Philadelphian Ray Robinson had the judges to blame when he and Kelly shared a majority draw in New York.
Taking on seasoned world class contender Avanesyan felt like a bold move for relative novice Kelly when it was first announced back in 2018. And I’ve seen nothing since to suggest the Brit has improved rapidly enough to survive 12 rounds with the marauding Russian, who has the punching power to force a TKO long before the final bell.
*Add value by doubling with the other big fight this weekend, the mouth-watering all-Mexican WBC super-featherweight title fight between Miguel Berchelt and challenger Oscar Valdez. As well as it being an early candidate for Fight of the Year, I’m tipping the bigger champion to hold onto his crown and hand Valdez his first career defeat.