Jimmy Kelly

When opportunity knocks, some people turn the latch on the door and ask it to come back another more convenient time.  For Jimmy Kelly though he has not only opened the door but has turned the kettle on, opened the biscuits and got out the family silverware.  At only 23 years of age and with just 16 fights on his professional CV, the light middleweight from Manchester has been plucked from relative obscurity to be given the golden ticket of a shot at Liam Smith’s WBO world title.
Smith, the first of the four Liverpool boxing brother to claim a world title, picked up his belt back in October of this year at the Manchester Arena against America’s John Thompson.  Now just two months later he is making the first defence back at the same venue and this time he is giving away home advantage to Kelly.  It is a clash that sits as the main support to Andy Lee versus Billy Joe Saunders, the long awaited clash for the WBO middleweight title that has seen numerous delays over the past 12 months.  It could be said that fate has handed Kelly this chance; the Lee versus Saunders fight was originally scheduled to take place in Ireland and was later rescheduled for Manchester when again it got delayed, pushing it back to December 19th.  For Kelly, it gave him time to pick up the WBO Inter-Continental belt, pushing him to a ranking position where he was able to be picked as the first voluntary defence for Smith.  That title was picked up on the same card as Smith won his title on October 10th in Manchester.  Fate has provided this opportunity, but has this chance taken Kelly by surprise?
“No, I started boxing very young and have always aimed for the tip.  I just felt it was a matter of time” he tells me.  So is the home advantage going to make a difference come fight night to Kelly?  “The fight could take place anywhere, I am always focused on the fight. The crowd aren’t there with you” he states in a very matter of fact way.  Of course he is right, as much as he may have the home fans on his side on December 19th they can only make a difference psychologically, it is him who is going to have to go to work once the first bell rings and the real work starts.
It could be said that Kelly has been fast tracked to a world title shot.  Of his 16 victories from 16 fights, only three of the opponents have carried winning records.  The most notable name he holds a victory over is Argentinian Martin Fidel Rios (16-6-3), who he fought for the vacant WBO Inter Continental belt.  Liam Smith is a big step up for the Mancunian, himself undefeated with 21 wins and a single draw to his name.  So given that this is a significant step up in class is it at all overwhelming to Kelly?  “He is the biggest name I’ve fought. I have prepared mentally the same. I am always very focused and I have kept that level of focus in my preparation” states the man who has the look of a man who at first glance would appear more at home in a lecture theatre than a boxing ring.  However look beyond the black framed glasses and beard and there are sleeved tattoos adorning the arms of a man who has claimed seven knockout victories to date.  His charming looks and likeable personality belie a man who has a viciousness in his nature and a natural power through his gloves.
So therefore, does it sting him that there has been criticism on social media at his selection as Smith’s first world title defence, some fans and pundits on Twitter not being overly enamoured that he has been positioned to take this fight so early in his career?  “I have stayed away from social media. Members of my team have controlled it. Therefore I am unaware of the negative comments” says Kelly.  It is undoubtedly a wise move for a man so young and bares comparison with the way that Tyson Fury allowed his own team to handle the furore during his recent world title success in Germany.  Get others to handle the uproar and the outside influences while you focus on what happens for the potential 36 minutes in the ring.  With a seemingly wise head on relatively young shoulders, does he therefore see age as an issue going into this fight or is it but a number to Kelly?  “I started boxing at 4 and it’s all I know. I’m a big Light middleweight and very mature. I think if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”
For his part, the champion Liam Smith has seemed almost lackadaisical in his approach to the defence on December 19th, at one point going as far as describing the fight as “just wages for Christmas”.  Do such comments hurt the Mancunian?  “Its not an insult at all. He can talk all he wants. We shall see what happens in the ring on the night.”  He is stern, assertive in his view that he is an equal in this fight and although not the bookies favourite sees that he has every chance of walking away with the belt.   “I love that I am the underdog” says Kelly.  “You will see on the 19th.” As Kelly acknowledges he is the underdog and to this point in his career has come through relatively untested, is there a chance that the boxing world is going to be surprised by what he can accomplish on the night?  Is there a box of tricks that Kelly possesses that fans have yet to be witness to?
Johnny Garton
“I have got many gears that haven’t been show. I will rise to the occasion and what a way to introduce myself to the boxing world!”  What a way indeed.  If he can pull off the victory then it would send shockwaves through not just the domestic boxing scene but also worldwide.  The unheralded man from Manchester would make headlines if he goes back to the changing room with the belt, potentially upstaging the main event of the evening.  But at such a young age and with a potentially long career still ahead of him, is it daunting to Kelly that if he does win, then that career could be taking place in the elite echelons of the sport from that moment forwards?  “No, it’s very exciting. When I win I hope to follow Super Joe and defend my belt numerous times and be in big fights. I’m young and fresh.

‘Visualise to materialise’.  It is a statement used by sports psychologists around the world top enable clients to envisage their victory, not just dream of it.  Plan their route from the start of training camp through to the moment the referee raises their hand in victory.  It is clearly something that Kelly believes in, no ‘if’ or ‘but’ statements from him, only “when I win”.  It is an impressive confidence that he exudes, clearly a believer that this is his time and already able to draw comparisons between himself and Welsh great Joe Calzaghe, aiming to emulate his success in keeping hold of the title and working his way through the light middleweight division.   
So if his own predictions come true, will he be looking for the big fights immediately or will there be a process of bedding in as new champion?  “I want to unify. I’m happy with a few defences but by the end of 2016 I want to unify and be in big fights.”

It is a division that is ready to have a champion clean up.  Browse through the list of others that hold belts and one name that sticks out is Floyd Mayweather, who despite his retirement earlier this year is still listed by the WBA as their 150 lbs super champion.  The WBC have their belt listed as vacant, while the IBF currently has Jermall Charlo as their title holder.  The timing is perfect for Kelly to capitalise on a disjointed weight class, not only are the belts dispersed amongst vacancies and retired fighters he is hailing from a city where they have recently crowned both Anthony Crolla and Tyson Fury as world champions in their respective weight divisions.  So will we see a hattrick of Manchester title holders by the end of 2016?  “I’d put your bottom dollar on it” states Kelly with the confidence which by now I have come to expect from a man who seemingly knows that not only has fate knocked on his door, but that his own fate is to shock the world in his home town.  December the 19th could see one final shock of the boxing year as the man who sports his own unique look in the boxing world looks to capitalise on the opportunity at his doorstep.