WINNING and looking good is a skill Josh Kelly has long tried to master and a goal he has for the most part achieved in his 13-fight professional career.

There have, of course, been setbacks – namely, the 2020 loss against David Avanesyan and a draw with Ray Robinson in 2019 – but Kelly, when winning, invariably does so in style and has to a large degree built his reputation on this.

So great is his reputation for winning and looking good, in fact, it has become expected of him and anything less is deemed a disappointment. Worse still, for both Kelly and all boxers, sometimes trying to look good can come at the expense of everything else – occasionally even winning – and it’s then they must remind themselves of the importance of just winning, regardless of how they might look in the process.

“Last time I was sharp,” Kelly said of his June win against Peter Kramer, “but obviously you’ve got to get that ring rust off and get yourself into it – with the 10-ounce gloves on, shots coming at you a little bit faster. But I felt good. It was a decent performance.

“I feel like this time around I’m going to be sharper. This time around I feel like I’m going to put on a proper career-best performance.”

The fourth-round stoppage of Kramer did see Kelly adopt a more business-like approach, yet still, such his style and personality, it was no less entertaining to watch. He will now aim to produce something similar, one suspects, against Argentina’s Lucas Bastida this Saturday (July 30), especially with the fight taking place in Newcastle.

“I’ll get to see my friends and family,” said Kelly, who hails originally from Sunderland. “I don’t feel as though I’ve seen my mum and dad and brother and sister in ages, so it will be good to see them. It will also be good to see my nana and grandad. I haven’t seen any of my family in a while, and you need your family, so it will be beautiful to see them. There will also be lots of friends bringing the red and white (of Sunderland) to Newcastle, so let’s do the job.”

In terms of jobs, the requirements of Kelly’s in 2022 are somewhat different than they were a few years ago. He is now, after all, making inroads as a super-welterweight, having previously boxed for the European title at welterweight.

“Welterweight was tough to make,” he admitted. “I was always having to cut a lot to get to welterweight. But super-welterweight is making me enjoy it (boxing). I’m strong, I’m fit, I’m not having to cut anywhere near the same amount of weight. I’m not a big super-welterweight but I’m a healthy-sized super-welterweight. I wouldn’t say I’m small.”

Josh Kelly
Josh Kelly as a welterweight (Mark Robinson)

As for Bastida, Kelly knew very little about the South American until he was presented to him as an opponent, but has since watched enough of him to get a handle on what he does well and not so well. For the rest of us, meanwhile, it’s harder to tell. Bastida, on the face of it, has a good-looking record of 18-1-1 (10), though has never fought outside his home country and, furthermore, has beaten nobody familiar to anyone outside his home country.

“He’s good, he’s decent,” said Kelly. “He brings a big winning record, he’s game, and he’s tall (6’1 according to BoxRec). He says he’s going to bring war. He says I’m a good boxer and fast but the way he’ll beat me is by bringing me into a fight.

“If that’s the way they want to fight, and that’s the way opponents want to fight me in the future, based on that one loss I had with everything going on in the background, they’re going to have a rude awakening.

“I’ve been boxing on the back foot against people who want to come forward all my life, so it’s a natural thing for me to counterpunch and look for shots from different angles. I’m punching hard now, so these guys are going to be getting hurt. They won’t be able to put the pressure on like they think. I’ll flip that plan on its head and he’ll end up getting hurt. I want to do a job on him, 100%. I believe I’ll take him to school and move on.”

Now 28, and with the pain of defeat serving as fuel, there is a sense that “moving on” means something different to Kelly, 11-1 (7), than it would have done back in 2017, the year he turned pro. He knows now that the professional game offers nobody a smooth path to the top and that no two paths will ever be the same. Moreover, Kelly knows the sport itself is in a state of flux, changing year after year, which in turn has made his goals less specific but no less ambitious in scale.

“Before, when I was a kid, I used to take things to heart,” he said, “But it’s all like the WWE really. Everybody is saying something just to get some sort of limelight. It’s not like the old days when the world championships were a real achievement. Back in the day, you had the world champion. Today, you’ve got a different belt for Canelo (Álvarez) every Cinco de Mayo. It’s crazy.

“Are the belts worth it? Yes. Do they legitimately hold the same value as they did back in the day? I don’t think so. But it’s the sport we’re in. You have to move with the times or get left behind.

“I’m just focusing on winning and looking good doing it and also enjoying myself. In five or six years, when boxing comes to an end for me, I just want to know I did the best I could, secured my family’s future first and foremost, and fulfilled my potential.”

*** This Saturday (July 30) Kelly fights in the North East for the first time since 2018 when he takes on Argentina’s Lucas Bastida over 10 rounds, live on Channel 5 from 10pm ***