Family At Core Of Jimmy Kelleher’s Pro Career
By Jason Pribila: On April 4 of this year, I covered the PBC “Tuesday Night Toe to Toe” fight card at the Sands Events Center in Bethlehem, USA. On a night that would be remembered for some dubious score cards handed in during the televised bouts, I found myself most interested in a junior middleweight who fought on the untelevised portion of the card.
When Jimmy Kelleher (4-0, 3KO) entered the ring, there was a roar from the crowd that had yet to be heard on that Tuesday evening. When I looked at the bout sheet, I saw that Kelleher was 3-0 with 3 KO, but he was being matched against a Jose Valderrama, a career opponent with a record of 5-18. Regardless of the record, Team Kelleher had enough faith to match their fighter with a veteran of 23 professional fights.
As soon as the bout started there were a few things that were obvious to the crowed. Kelleher was the more skillful fighter. He used good lateral movement. He worked behind his jab, and he varied his attack between head and body. It was also apparent that although Valderrama had the movement of a fire hydrant, he was also as sturdy as one. Kelleher quickly assessed what he had in front of him, and seemed comfortable out boxing his foe to a unanimous decision rather than looking for a knockout that may have never come.
It turns out that the faith between fighter and team is mutual. I had the opportunity to interview “Irish” Jimmy Kelleher on the phone last week. I had asked him if the choice of Valderrama was merely to give him the experience of going the distance.
I was surprised by Kelleher’s response.
“I didn’t know who I was fighting,” Kelleher confessed. “They (promoters) give me a weight to make. I let my trainers watch the video, and then they train me how to fight the fight.”
“Irish” Gene Reed holds the role of lead trainer. Reed fought as a professional at lightweight. He fought on ESPN several times, and his most notable foe was Philip Holiday, who held a belt that Shane Mosley lifted before moving to welterweight.
Kelleher and Reed met, as many in the fight game do, in gyms as fighters train to compete in amateur tournaments. For those who have paid attention to the Pennsylvania Golden Gloves the name Kelleher should be embedded in their minds.
Jimmy is the oldest of four brothers who have competed in the Golden Gloves. Jimmy competed in the tournament seven times before turning pro. He is being followed by Liam, Joseph, and Daniel who are all in their teens.
When I reached out to Jimmy’s mother, Dana, I had asked if she had a separate freezer just for ice packs. I had quickly learned that I failed to mention the most feared of the Kelleher clan.
“Yes, all four of my boys are fighters. My daughters both train as well. Ailish, who is 11, won this year’s PA Golden Gloves District Championship by walk-over.”
“God help anyone who messes with one of the girls,” Dana continued. “They can defend themselves before their brothers would need to step in."
While Jimmy confirmed his sister’s success and determination to be a fighter, he also made a confession.
“I’m not fully with it. I don’t want to see my sisters get hit.”
People always say that anyone with the courage who steps between the ropes has a story to tell. This is mainly because the ring has often served as a vehicle for fighters to use to navigate their way out of dire situations. Basically, there are few people who choose to get punched for pay if they have another choice.
After conversing with the Kellehers, it became apparent that the sport has been a constant in their lives. Jimmy’s great-grandfather, Edward McCullion had done a bit of boxing. As did Dana’s brother Dwayne. Jimmy’s father Jim also boxed as an amateur. It was Jim’s connection to the sport that got the seed planted in Jimmy.
At age 6, Jim took his son to the Larry Holmes gym in Easton. The family lives in Coopersburg, which is a few miles away from Easton, which is also part of the Lehigh Valley.
By age 9, Jimmy was hooked and he became a fixture at Holmes gym. At that time, he met Luis Melendez, who soon became his trainer. Melendez trained Jimmy’s father, and still serves as Jimmy’s cut-man now that he has turned pro.
Since Jimmy has been training, the Lehigh Valley has witnessed the Sands Events Center built and become the home for different promoters to put on shows with a 2,000 seat capacity. We currently have King’s Promotions as the local promoter for PBC shows in Bethlehem, and Reading, PA.
With gyms in the Lehigh Valley along with access to go to Philadelphia for sparring, I had to ask Jimmy, “Why did you decide to turn professional in Scranton?”
Jimmy explained that as he was wrapping up his amateur career that saw him attain a record 74-10, he been contacted by different promoters who were interested in representing him. However, he decided to sign with Doug Long Promotions in Scranton.
Jimmy explained that he had an uncle who lived in Scranton and that once he visited the Irish Boxing Club in Scranton it had a “family-feel”.
“I felt like they would take care of me. They would actually care about my well-being,” Jimmy continued. “With other promoters I would be sharing time with maybe 15-20 fighters. Here, I am one of two pro fighters. Their goal is to get me better.”
While the Irish Boxing Club has been in Scranton for 30 years, it was only recently that they were able to expand their space dedicated to boxing.
Long, along with Reed and former boxer Marty Flynn have dedicated their time and efforts to modernizing a building that would be a great place to learn how to box, but also a great place for the youth of the community to visit.
“Boxing is a great sport. Having a facility like this now, it’s going to be beneficial and attractive to the youth that come. It’s a huge benefit for the community having this here.”
While Scranton hasn’t had a Kelly Pavlik, Joe Mesi, or a Sammy Vazquez to support, I was able to see firsthand that the town is a fan of the sweet science.
Back in the summer of 2008, I was able to cover a ESPN Friday Night Fights at the Scranton CYC Arena. This was the same venue that Larry Holmes fought regularly on his way to winning the heavyweight championship. On this evening, there were 4,000 fans at the venue. The arena was packed an hour before the opening bell, and the crowd cheered with the ebbs and flows of each fight.
Kelleher is fighting again on Friday, May 12. When we spoke, he still did not know his opponent, but he trusts his team will have him prepared. This will be his fifth fight in a calendar year, since turning pro.
Following his fight he will report to duty at Fort Dix. He is a member of the Marines, and his commitment with the Reserves continues until 2019. His Marine-Corp brethren are supportive of his boxing career, and many serve as a built in fan base for when he steps into the ring.
Prior to covering the televised card in Scranton, I had read a quote by Thomas Hauser regarding the growth of boxing.
Hauser wrote, “Talk to aging boxing fans today and there’s a familiar refrain: “My love of boxing began when I was a kid and watched the Gillette Friday Night Fights on television with my father.”
For those fans up and down Eastern Pennsylvania and beyond, you now have a fighter that you may call your own. He enters the ring because of his genuine love the sport. A love that has spanned generations, and by the looks of it, may be a family name recognizable for years to come.
If you support this young man and what the Irish Boxing Club is trying to accomplish, soon prospects will be asking their management to look to making fights in Scranton because the atmosphere is unlike any that you will find at a casino.