JOSH KELLY wants to put smiles back on the faces of Sunderland fans — with all the flair that got him axed from his boyhood club.
The 26-year-old welterweight will be the first major British boxing act of 2021 when he aims to dethrone David Avanesyan for his European title on January 30.
With the former Premier League force languishing in League One, it has not been a fun few years for Mackem fans.
But silky 2016 Olympian Kelly is out to remind his fellow Black Cats what success looks like.
He said: “When I was a kid I watched Prince Naseem Hamed, Ray Leonard, Willie Pep and I loved how they boxed and wanted to do it the way I wanted to do it.
“I was the same at football. When I was in the Sunderland academy I wanted to have the ball and take people on and they would always tell me I have to pass it.
“I was released and taken back a few times but then I focused on boxing because I wanted a sport to show my flair in.
“I remember my first-ever session with the academy, basically my trial. I got the ball, went past three people, passed the ball, got it back and had a shot.
“They stopped the session and had a go at me for not passing straight away. They told me, ‘The simple thing is always best’ but I was thinking, ‘Well, why doesn’t Ronaldo do that, then?’.
“My flair was just built into me as a kid.
“I can box simple and hold my hands up but if I am not getting caught and I am winning fights then that’s how I will box.
People think I will change my style when I step up in class but I have a lot of layers and people are going to see them.”
When this fight was first announced for December 2018, Kelly was the red-hot favourite.
But two cancellations, following an illness for the Englishman and the pandemic, have let the 32-year-old Russian champion boost his record to 26-3-1 and sway bookies.
But Kelly, still a young pup with just ten professional wins and a draw to his name, is happy being the underdog.
He added: “This fight has been a long time coming and it’s finally time to silence my doubters.
“He is the favourite heading into the fight. He has proved how good he is in his last three fights.
“It’s going to be a good fight but one I’m quietly confident about.
“I feel like this is a turning point in my career.
“When I win, then I will take it to the next level.
“A lot in my future depends on this fight.”
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