David Avanesyan vs Josh Kelly results in the European champion retaining his title and sends his British challenger back to the drawing board
It may have felt a touch surreal for both European welterweight champion David Avanesyan and his challenger, unbeaten Josh Kelly, as they stared across the ring at each other in the final moments before their headline fight at Wembley Arena. A meeting between the two had first been scheduled for December 2018, only for an unwell Kelly to pull out at less than 24 hours’ notice. Recriminations abounded from Avanesyan’s team, the pair moved on, the Russian to the EBU crown and a great run of form, Kelly to a couple of points wins and a draw with tricky fringe contender Ray Robinson. Avanesyan vs Sunderland’s Kelly was reset for March last year until Covid-19 intervened and again postponed last month so, more than two years on from their initial date, they belatedly squared up.
The general consensus was that GB Olympian Kelly’s greater ability and freshness would vie with Avanesyan’s world-level experience and intelligent pressure over a planned 12 rounds. In the build-up, photographs of Kelly, trained by Adam Booth, showed him to be in career shape, while Avanesyan, once the WBA Interim ruler, prepared diligently and quietly, happy to let coach Carl Greaves and manager Neil Marsh do the talking. This was not only an excellent main event for a respected title, but a crucial clash for each man. The winner would be well set for a run towards a world title shot, the loser in danger of being lost in the shuffle.
Rangy Kelly looked laser-focused from the opening bell and certainly showed the faster hands. He controlled the distance in round one, off-setting Avanesyan and preventing the Russian from establishing a rhythm. David switched stance often but Kelly’s jab was accurate and he stunned his opponent with a left hook in the second. That stanza saw the Brit sustain an injury, however, blood gushing from a cut on the back of his head. Avanesyan would smartly work his way into range, set himself to punch but then be met with a stabbing lead to stop him in his tracks. The champion had more joy to the body but Kelly scored well with the check hook and was pitching a shutout, for me, through four.
Entering round five the biggest threat to Kelly, especially now the fight would go to the scorecards if it was stopped due to the cut, appeared to be his running out of gas. Maybe Avanesyan sensed this possibility, stopping the rot at last by connecting with short hooks up close, as Kelly tried to impose his physical presence on the determined Eastern European. As Avanesyan began to close the space rapidly, Josh touched down in the next under severe pressure, then found himself dropped more heavily before the towel flew in from Booth. It was the right call; Kelly looked spent.
The welterweight chief support, albeit between relative professional novices, promised fireworks. Aggressive “Albanian King” Florian Marku, a well-supported and aggressive operator, took on fellow unbeaten Rylan Charlton, of Norwich, who destroyed touted Joe Laws late last year. The latter, known as the “Pint Size Powerhouse”, was the naturally smaller man but explosive. Set for 10, it seemed unlikely to last the course, but early on Marku opted to prioritise skill over raw power.
Switch-hitter Marku appeared to win the first five rounds courtesy of his stiff left jab and lateral movement. He appeared comfortable picking off Charlton, who was slower afoot, from the outside. Marku mocked his opponent’s efforts but Charlton was persistent and did land at times, most notably to the body.
Charlton was badly rocked and nearly dropped by a right hand towards the close of the fourth. He wobbled back and was trying to grab when the bell saved him. Marku appeared simply too fast and well-schooled, until he was deposited on the canvas in round six by a precise left hook. Charlton finally had a foundation on which to build, but Marku got back to his boxing in the seventh and seemed to hurt Rylan towards the end of that session. Florian pressed the issue in the next, breaking through with quick uppercuts and hooks, prompting the towel to be thrown in from the exhausted Charlton’s corner.
Partisan fans may have been wary, watching at home, after Mauricio Lara’s huge upset of Josh Warrington last week, and this time British contenders Jordan Gill and Robbie Davies Jr had differing results against Mexican opposition.
Chatteris featherweight Gill mostly outboxed veteran former world title challenger Cesar Juarez for a clear 10-round decision, using movement and angles to pick up points against a highly motivated and aggressive opponent, who enjoyed some success.
Davies Jr, a super-lightweight from Liverpool, found it far tougher against the younger Gabriel Valenzuela, also over 10. He struggled in the first round before turning southpaw, from which stance he improved, but then switched back to orthodox mid-exchange in the third and was decked by a sharp right hand. Davies Jr, bleeding from the nose, recovered well, moved more and held when it was sensible. He made it a gruelling fight, as Valenzuela, who lost a point for hitting on the break, tired and was cut late on. The Mexican came back strongly in the eighth, however and it was delicately poised with two sessions remaining. Davies Jr was rocked badly in the last and that sealed the victory for Valenzuela, one tally of 94-94, against two scores of 96-95 for the South American.
Young heavyweight debutant Johnny Fisher got off to a winning start. Trained by Mark Tibbs and a regular sparmate of Joe Joyce, with whom “The Romford Bull” shares a manager, Fisher stopped West Bromwich southpaw Matt Gordon, often used as an opponent for nascent pros, in the opening round of four scheduled. 6ft 5in Fisher, raw but strong and powerful, scored two knockdowns over Gordon.