By Richard Hubbard
“I’ve never wanted to be one of those fighters who are 20-0 or 30-0 and are untested”
THERE WERE NO tears shed by Jimmy Kelly over the loss of his 0 when his game challenge for the WBO world super-welterweight title came to a halt in round seven at the clubbing hands of champion Liam Smith.
The Wythenshawe man stepped up to the plate for Scouser Smith’s first defence at the Manchester Arena in December, with the dapper dressed Kelly fully prepared to roll the dice in what was just his 16th professional fight.
He had and has no wish to percolate an inflated or misleading record for himself or have his ego massaged by defeating carefully selected opponents that are ripe for picking off. Kelly is happy to take a punt, wants to keep stepping it up and, if he takes a loss along the way, he will put it down to experience.
That is pretty much how he has comes to terms his his first blot on the card.
“It was a great experience, a big occasion with a good crowd there,” he reflected. “It was just a learning curve at the end of the day, I’ve taken experience from it, taken lessons from it and now I am looking forward to putting those lessons into the play and getting back with a win.”
The opportunity to reacquire a winning habit comes on May 13 when he makes the short trip to Bolton’s Macron Stadium to take his place in the undercard of new stablemate Jack Catterall’s challenge for the English super lightweight title against Joe Hughes.
Kelly in no way ever believed he was simply making up the numbers in Manchester as a young hometown thruster who was unlikely to upset the odds and knock the new champ off his perch.
He does accept, however, that a lack of nous and knowhow at the highest level proved costly against the more seasoned Smith.
“I did believe that I would win,” he insisted. “I knew it would be a tough fight but I felt I had the tools to win and there was never any doubt in my mind. I was just confident I would win, but it is one of those things and it didn’t pay off for me.
“So it is back to the drawing board,” added the 23-year-old, who thinks along the same lines as a Kipling classic when it comes to coping with the twin imposters.
“I wasn’t too down. I was obviously hurt because I am a proud person so losing isn’t the best, but a lot of good fighters have lost and it is not like I’ve lost a four or six rounder, I lost a world title fight to a good champion. So it is one of those things and I am not going to get too down about it.
“If I win I don’t get too focused on it, so I am not going to dwell too much on a loss. I’m just going to get my head down and carry on working.
“There is this big aura around a big undefeated record. I’ve never wanted to be one of those fighters who are 20-0 or 30-0 and are untested. I’d be happy to lose a couple of fights along the way as long as I’m pushing myself and fight at a decent level, rather than sit around being protected and picking and choosing my opponents at a lower level.
“So I’m not too frustrated.
“There were obviously mistakes that were made in the fight and it was just a lack of experience. The experience will come from working hard in the gym putting the wrongs right.”
The confidence of Kelly remains undiminished as he prepares to glove up again for real at the end of next week. He did though, over Christmas, feel the need to reignite his fires and make changes to his support structure.
He has now hooked up with fellow young tyros Catterall and Adrian Gonzalez at Lee Beard’s Northside finishing school, which also houses India’s ex-amateur star Vijender Singh, having parted ways with former mentor Ensley Bingham.
Whether he is embarking on a rebuild or simply mounting the horse again, he is not quite sure.
“It is like a fresh start really because I have changed trainer and I’m working with Lee now. I’m learning a lot of new stuff with Lee and practicing it in the gym, but really it is a bit of both. It is like jumping back on the horse, but it is also a rebuild because I am learning new things and going out there to get my career back on track with a win and practicing the things I have been learning.
“It was a number of different things, but I think I needed a change. It is nothing that Ensley or anyone did wrong, more that I needed a fresh start. I was thinking about it over Christmas after I lost and I didn’t really want to be one of those fighters who lose and then change trainers – I think I would’ve changed even if I’d won.
“Mentally I needed a fresh start and If I’d won I would’ve looked for a fresh start as well.”
Divorcing from a long-standing trainer is often an emotionally charged move for any fighter, given the close working relationship and bond that exists between the two. But a boxer gets one shot at a career and Kelly explains that he went with a ‘gut feeling’.
“Me and Ensley are close and I’ve known him for a lot of years. It was a hard decision, but one that he has made himself in the past and it is a choice that I’d like to think he understands because he has been in that position himself.
“I’d like think that I’m not that much of a selfish person, so it was a hard decision to make even though it is one I thought was right. I didn’t want to upset Ensley or anything, but there was something in me that felt like I needed a change.
“I just went with a gut feeling.
“In the gym with me now there is Jack, who is obviously a world-rated fighter, Adrian the same, then you’ve got Vijender, who has been in the Olympics and has a mass of experience. You are only going to benefit from working with these kind of people.”
Perhaps sensibly at the moment, Kelly’s focus is on the here and now, and himself and Beard are looking no further than a Friday night out in Bolton.
“We’ve not really spoken about plans as we’re not really looking at a long or medium term, we are solely focused on the short term and the short term is is 13th and getting a win.
“There has been a lot of changes, there is coming off a loss, a new trainer – a lot of things that aren’t going to be familiar on that night so it is about getting that win with a lot of things that I’m not used to.
“Afterwards we will sit back, evaluate and see what the plan is moving forward.
“I’ve been ready to come back for quite some time. I was back in the gym virtually straight away after speaking to Lee to say I wanted a new trainer and I was sparring with Vijender for his fight in Liverpool (Tale of Two Cities card). I was hoping I could squeeze in on that then the date got moved and then May 13 came up. So I just thought instead of having a fight I would knuckle down, stay in the gym and keep learning every day.”
In his weight division, genuine fights will not be in short supply, with contenders jockeying for position beneath champion Smith. Ahmet Patterson has been mandated to fight British champ Liam Williams, with the unbeaten Gary Corcoran completing a fearsome foursome Kelly is more than happy to be a part of.
“We’ve got Liam at the top of the tree then underneath we’ve got a few decent fighters like Liam Williams, so we’re all quite lucky that we’re in that mix. Everyone likes domestic fights and rivalries so we are in a lucky position.”
If gremlins are avoided on Friday 13th, Kelly will once again have his eye firmly back on the prize.