JOSH KELLY insists accusations that he is ducking a fight with David Avanesyan are a “total joke”. The unbeaten Sunderland star said he has spoken to trainer Adam Booth and manager and promoter Eddie Hearn to reaffirm he wants the highly-rated Russian next.
Of course, the pair had been due to meet back on March 28 at the O2, where Kelly was to challenge for Avanesyan’s European welterweight title.
Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic put paid to what was shaping up to being one of the fights of the year on British soil, especially given the grudge element following an 11th-hour pull-out by an ill Kelly when the rivals were due to meet in Sheffield in December 2018.
“I was so ready for the March date,” said Kelly. “I’ve spoken to both Adam and Eddie and told them I definitely want this fight next. It’s now down to Eddie to schedule a date, but I’m there, 100 per cent. To say I’m swerving Ava is a total joke, I wouldn’t avoid anyone.
“This fight makes total sense to me – beating him would take me a step closer to my dream of fighting for the world title. I rate Ava greatly and this is a massive step up for someone who has had the number of fights I’ve had, but it’s one I’m confident of winning.”
Where and when it will happen is another matter. This is one contest which will put bums on seats. But the bums and seats of spectators won’t be allowed anywhere near a boxing ring this year.
Hearn loves an event with some needle and this has plenty: When Kelly was forced to withdraw from their showdown in Sheffield 21 months ago, Avanesyan’s manager, Neil Marsh, accused ‘Pretty Boy’ and trainer Booth of being “complete bottle jobs” and has had a recent swipe on social media.
“Neil Marsh is someone who takes cheap shots,” said the 2016 Olympian, who says he has total respect for the European champion.
One of the ironies of the Sheffield confrontation falling through is that it ended up re-launching Avanesyan’s career. Since then he halted the unbeaten Kerman Lejarraga in nine rounds to take the EBU belt and then returned to Bilbao to stop the Spaniard in the first three minutes of his maiden defence.
The 32-year-old also knocked out Jose Del Rio inside one round in his second defence last December making him hot property in the 147lb division.
In fact, his name is in the top 10 of the leading four sanctioning bodies, placed sixth with the IBF, WBA, and WBC and ninth with the WBO, compared to Kelly who is at 10 with the WBC.
But Josh is not short on self-belief after starting his career with nine wins and a draw with former world title challenger Ray Robinson at Madison Square Garden on the undercard of Andy Ruiz’s upset with over Anthony Joshua last year.
While he holds Avanesyan in high regard, he believes the champion is tailor-made for him.
“I rate Ava, he’s a top grade lad,” said the 26-year-old. “He’s a strong, tough, come-forward fighter, with decent punch-power. He’s someone who wants to stand and box, apply non-stop pressure, but his style suits me all day.
“But in terms of skills, I’m not sure he comes near me.”