It’s been a long two years for Josh Kelly but, at last, the Sunderland welterweight will return to the ring on Saturday to face European champion David Avanesyan.
After several delays made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic putting the entire world on hold, Kelly has had to be patient, having not fought since beating Wiston Campos in Phoenix in December 2019. Potential bouts at world level are on the cards, or even a domestic showpiece with Conor Benn, should he beat Russia’s Avanesyan and the 26-year-old is raring to go.
“It was hard because previously I was in the best shape of my life going into the fight which was pulled in March,” he revealed. “It was hard for me, it was like I had to grieve over it in a sense because I’d put that work into it.
“This time around it feels like I’ve gone up another level. I didn’t think I’d be able to but from the last time to this time, I feel like I’m ready to take on this challenge massively.”
The world has changed since Kelly’s last fight and this Matchroom card will be fought without a crowd. For many fighters, they thrive on the support watching around the ring but Kelly revealed he and his team are prepared for the change in atmosphere.
“We’ve done a lot to emulate that [change with no crowd],” he revealed. “The thing with a crowd is they can either give you energy or draw your energy, either one can have a negative or positive effect depending which way the crowd swings in the fight and you can’t let that get to you so.
“Personally I think David’s a crowd fighter, he likes to go against a big crowd, I think he does love a good crowd there and get that energy behind him as he tries to push forward but with me I feel I box anywhere but we have done a lot to emulate in the gym.
Stopping short in revealing just how they are emulating the new surroundings, he added, “We’ve done a lot of prep. I can’t wait and Saturday can’t come quick enough.”
Kelly believes he has grown while having to deal with such setbacks and disappointment with his fights cancelled. Having kept himself busy with walks and even purchasing a PS5, Kelly believes he has learned more about himself.
Asked if he thinks he has grown during the current situation, he said, “Massively. I was the youngest to come out of the Olympics Team GB. I’m only 26 now. I’ve still got a lot of maturing to do but physically I’ve matured and mentally I’ve matured.”
“Mindset, maturity, nutrition, everything. I’ve stepped up another level, I’ve found a new gear. I’m expecting the hardest fight of my life.”
It may be the hardest fight of his life but Kelly has been waiting for this moment longer than most and will be hellbent on making this opportunity count.