Josh Kelly’s ambitious ascent towards the elite rung of the welterweight ladder came to a shuddering halt by dint of a sixth-round stoppage and his first career defeat against the heavy-handed hooks of European champion David Avanesyan at Wembley.
This was a ‘gut check’ fight and a clear step up in class. Kelly, not passing it, must now return to the drawing board and balance substance over style in future performances.
Up to the fifth round in the contest, Kelly had shown all the footwork and skills which have made ‘Pretty Boy’ a rising, star of Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing stable since he turned to the professional ranks after representing Great Britain at the Rio 2016 Olympics, where he lost in the last 16 to to Daniyar Yelleussinov of Kazakhstan.
Indeed, up until the end of the fourth round, Kelly looked slick, leading Avanesyan into his stinging punches, controlling the contest with all the skills that had made him such an eye-catching boxer. Yet after complaining about a clash of heads, Kelly lost control of the bout, and ended the stanza with a cut above his right eye. From there, Avanesyan used all his experience to take over and finish the job.
The hard work now begins, under trainer Adam Booth. What may be required are trips to the USA, or beyond, for doghouse sparring with Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in foreign gyms.
A delighted Avanesyan said afterwards: “This is business. I know Josh is fast. I am fast too. Boxing is difficult. When you lose, many people think you are finished. This is boxing, you go down.”
For Kelly, it is now all about how he gets up again.
Given Kelly’s style, it was always going to be a bull versus matador contest, with Kelly’s cape being utilised to hit and not be hit by Avanesyan’s aggressive hooks and power punches.
Conor Benn, who might have been Kelly’s next assignment had he returned victorious, was working on the broadcast at ringside in Wembley, and noted: “Kelly has got all the skill. He is naturally gifted. Why does he keep blowing up after four or five rounds? Maybe it’s a weight issue, and he needs to step up a division. Everybody knows Kelly is good for four, five, six, but when it gets past that and it gets on top of him, he folds.”
“That’s what happened tonight. Avanesyan kept applying the pressure. He will come back. He’s just got to sit down and question how much he wants it.” H
earn concurred. “Sometimes you come across a guy that will not be denied, that’s too strong,” said Hearn. “That has the will beyond others, and tonight that was David Avanesyan. Kelly had a wonderful camp, and was in the shape of his life. A world-class welterweight against a really good prospect who I believe can be a world-class fighter. But he was just out-manned, he was just out-hustled, he was just outfought. I thought Adam Booth did a great job throwing in the towel, because it was the end.”
Valdez becomes two-weight world champion
Elsewhere on Saturday night, Oscar Valdez produced a stunning tenth-round knockout of Michel Berchelt to become a two-weight world champion and claim the WBC super featherweight crown in an all-Mexican clash at Bob Arum’s Top Rank boxing bubble in Las Vegas.
The two fighters had pledged to produce an all-Mexican clash for the ages, and they delivered. Valdez knocked out Berchelt with a left hook at the end of the 10th round to dethrone the champion, who was making his seven defence of the title. The hook bent Berchelt over, felling him face-first to the canvas, with referee Russell Mora calling an immediate halt to the contest.
Berchelt had been hurt and knocked down in the fourth round, but regained his composure and continued to pressure Valdez in the middle rounds. Valdez turned the bout on its head again in the ninth with another knockdown, finished the job dramatically in the tenth stanza.
“There’s nothing better in life than proving people wrong,” explained Valdez post-fight. “I have a list of people who doubted me. My idols doubted me. Boxing analysts doubted me. They said Berchelt was going to knock me out. I have a message to everybody: Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do.”
He added: “I want to take this belt home, and I’m happy for that. Any champion out there… I heard Shakur Stevenson wants to fight. Let’s do it. I just want to keep on fighting and give the fans what they want.”