Risk but possible reward for Kelly
There comes a time in everyone's life when you're faced with a choice that involves risk. For Manchester’s Jimmy 'Kilrain' Kelly that choice was to accept an opportunity to challenge for a WBO world title yet risk facing a heavy favourite in 154lb champion Liam Smith on 19 December.
“What was I supposed to do? Turn down the chance to fight for a world title in my home city?” asked Kelly when Boxing Monthly spoke to him over the phone shortly after he had come face-to-face with Smith at a press conference in Liverpool on Wednesday.
The 23-year-old Kelly, from Wythenshawe, was responding to criticism from some fans who questioned why the Ensley Bingham trained man is contesting a world title despite the fact he has not engaged in a fight over the championship distance nor beaten an opponent of note in a 16-fight career.
“Jamie Moore [a former British, Commonwealth and European middleweight champion] was a brilliant fighter, but he never fought for a world title. People have to travel for world title fights, Brian Rose went to New York to box [Demetrius] Andrade, but I've got a world title fight in my home city. I didn't want to look back later in life and say I turned down that chance and regret that decision,” Kelly told BM.
Smith, who watched younger brother Callum blitz local rival Rocky Fielding to claim the vacant British super-middleweight title last weekend, was in no mood to be jovial with his young challenger at the press conference, even dismissing Kelly as “wages for Christmas” and accusing the Mancunian of calling him out.
“I asked [Smith] when I was supposed to have called him out,” said Kelly. “After he had won his world title against John Thompson, I won the WBO Inter-Continental and I got asked a question, would I fight Liam Smith. I said, ‘Of course, I would and I would be confident of winning the fight.’ I don't see a problem with that.
“He might say I've been using his name but he was using Shane Mosley's name for two weeks on Twitter! He's a world champion with a big [target] on his back and he has got to accept that and get on with it.”
Kelly made his professional debut in 2012 and won the WBC Youth 154lb title earlier this year with a third round TKO of Nodar Robakidze at the Victoria Warehouse in Manchester. In total, he has taken part in six scheduled six-rounders, two eight-round contests and three 10-rounders, but he told BM the championship distance of 12 rounds holds no fears for him.
“I've done the rounds in the gym with some top quality fighters and I've done a few 10-rounders so I'm not concerned at all,” said Kelly. “Smith's team brought up the fact that I fought in a four-round contest 10 months ago, but that is because I was coming off a hernia operation and didn't want to risk another injury.
“Pat Barrett [former British and European 140lbs champion and legendary Manchester fight figure] told Ensley [Bingham] that he had a slot on one of his shows for a four-rounder so I took it as a warm-up. It could easily have been an eight-rounder.”
With champion Smith and challenger Kelly having fought on the same show in October, both combatants will have the same time to prepare physically and mentally for the fight. Smith was made to work for his world title victory by the tall and awkward John Thompson before he laid the American to waste in round seven whilst Kelly laboured to a points decision over Martin Fidel Rios in the last action of the evening.
“It was a long night for me,” said Kelly. “I was supposed to be on at 7pm but they kept me waiting and I ended up being on very late. I didn't see Liam's fight live, but I have watched it back since and spotted some things I can exploit.
“I have got some stick for taking the fight from some people who have said it’s too early for me,” he told BM. “But when is the right time to fight for a world title? I don't want to wait around. I signed for this fight 10 days ago. I went to London to sign the papers. I'm eager to fight, but from their end it seems as though they have been dragging their feet a little bit.
“I have studied Liam for years because I always thought we would fight. Ensley has studied him, too, so we will be ready on the night!”