Josh Kelly has huge fights with Amir Khan, Kell Brook or Conor Benn being tangled in front of him but the memory of Josh Warrington’s shock KO loss hangs over Saturday’s fight.
Kelly challenges for David Avanesyan’s European welterweight title tonight from 7pm, live on Sky Sports – it is, by far, the toughest test of the young prospect’s impressive rise.
Ominously Warrington, who lost his unbeaten record in a major surprise a week ago, is predicting the same disastrous fate for Kelly.
The prize on offer for Sunderland’s undefeated former Olympian is a career-best win, bragging rights to a simmering rivalry, the European belt and entry to an all-British dream fight.
“The conversation came up about Amir Khan and Kell Brook,” revealed promoter Eddie Hearn.
“Then you start thinking: ‘How big is Benn vs Khan? How big is Kelly vs Brook?’
“Khan and Brook might think: ‘What have they ever done?’
“But that’s what Brook suffered with when Khan wouldn’t fight him.
“So if the money is right, and the interest is there, maybe those guys would look at it.”
Kelly vs Benn would be this generation’s equivalent to the lost fight that is Brook vs Khan – the motivation will be to not let the opportunity slip away, as the elder duo have done.
“We have to look at fighters domestically and internationally that would fit the bill for huge shows against Kelly and Benn,” said Hearn. “We can’t just say: ‘the only plan is to fight each other’.
“If Kelly wins it is a major statement and he becomes a major player in the division. If Benn keeps improving, the guy will be a big star.”
Vergil Ortiz Jr, the US welterweight hope, told Sky Sports about facing Kelly: “That would definitely be a good fight. I’ve seen people mentioning a fight between me and him before. I don’t see why not.”
Kelly and Avanesyan meet tonight in a fight that has been brewing for two years and has been twice postponed amid a hailstorm of insults and accusations.
A year ago a fake Valentine’s Day rose was mockingly passed from Avanesyan’s team to Kelly’s – this week the atmosphere has taken on that of a true grudge match.
Hearn nicknamed Kelly ‘Pretty Boy’ and says he has the looks to star in a James Bond film but the welterweight has arrived unshaven, unkept and bears a bizarre similar to the Russian KO machine Artur Beterbiev. It is a statement of intent from Kelly.
This is his fight to shake off preconceptions that his outrageous talent can be suppressed by a lack of toughness or grit.
Avanesyan, a big-hitting Russian brought over to base his career in Nottingham, rides into tonight’s fight on the crest of a wave after dismantling three consecutive opponents in 2019 in their home country.
Like never before has the prospect of a British contender having their ambitions cruelly crushed felt so real.
Warrington, knocked out last week by Mauricio Lara, told Sky Sports: “Avanesyan is a top talent. Even though Kelly is unbelievably talented, he is stepping up.
“I don’t think Kelly will be able to get away with things.
“Avanesyan will give him a tough, tough fight.
“It will be interesting to see if Kelly can deliver his skillset. If he does, wow. There will be no stopping him.
“But I think Avanesyan may stop him in his tracks.”
But Kelly has looked rugged and spoken maturely all week, like he’s ready to step into the peak years of his career by emerging through the difficult moments that surely lie ahead on Saturday night.
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