SOMETIMES you get the sense in boxing that two fighters are just made for each other and not necessarily even in terms of their style or personality. Sometimes it can be a geographical thing, with both hailing from the same part of the world, and sometimes it can be due to where they are in their respective careers and what they require to progress beyond that.
In the case of Troy Williamson and Josh Kelly, it’s hard to think of two British boxers who need each other more. They are, for one, both from the same part of the world – the North East – but, more important than that, their clash at the Newcastle Arena arrives at a time when they both require that little something extra in order to take their career to the next level.
For Williamson, the British super-welterweight champion, this could be as simple as a fight live on terrestrial television (the Kelly fight will be shown live on Channel 5 this Friday, December 2) against a big name on the domestic scene. That in itself presents him with an opportunity he has not previously been granted; an opportunity to both reach a large audience and also claim the scalp of someone whose profile, as it stands, is considerably greater than his own.
To date, as solid as it has been, Williamson has done the bulk of his work in the shadows, winning 19 pro fights (14 inside schedule) but receiving little credit for it. There has, during those 19 fights, been a tremendous amount of action, particularly in wins against Ted Cheeseman (TKO 10) and Mason Cartwright (UD 12), and there has also been a British title added to his mantlepiece, secured in the victory over Cheeseman. Yet, despite this, Williamson, at 31, needs and will be wanting more. He will know that the time is right to make his move and show himself to be more than just an all-action fighter with domestic title aspirations.
In Kelly, he finds his perfect foil, someone ideal for him not just in a local rivalry sense but in a career sense, too. For Kelly, like Williamson, is a man who needs to be inspired at this stage in his career and needs to feel almost scared, or at least threatened, by taking a risk.
Indeed, it’s that, a lack of fear, that sometimes has Kelly, known as “Pretty Boy”, cutting a lacklustre figure on fight night. Blessed, it seems, with all the talent in the world, he is clearly the type who needs to be challenged in order to in turn challenge himself. If not, if instead he feels able to cruise to victory rather than fight for it, there is a temptation, as there is with anyone similarly blessed, to do just that.
Against Williamson, though, there will be no such luxury. He will be challenged, of that there is no doubt. Whether it’s ultimately enough to scare Kelly into producing his best form is another matter, but, certainly, a fight against Troy Williamson represents the biggest test Kelly has faced since it all unravelled for him against David Avanesyan in February 2021.
That night Kelly started well enough, yet faded once he was cut and Avanesyan started to quite literally taste blood. It was then, by round six, Kelly was exhausted, all out of ideas, and unable to keep Avanesyan off. It was then his coach, Adam Booth, threw in the towel.
Since then, Kelly, now 28, has responded well, winning two fights this year against admittedly straightforward opposition: a fourth-round stoppage of Peter Kramer in June and a 10-round decision against Lucas Ariel Bastida in July. Most crucial of all, he opted to take some time off after the Avanesyan defeat for a spot of soul-searching, which, he believes, helped fix a lot of the mental issues he was having going into that first professional defeat.
Now, with a stronger mind, one that no longer fears the worst-case scenario of every possible situation, Kelly feels he is ready to at last fulfil his potential as a super-welterweight. That’s a new weight class for him, by the way, one in which Williamson feels Kelly does not belong. It is there, too, Kelly says he sees his long-term future.
But that – any future plans – can wait. For now, the Sunderland man, eager to learn from his past mistakes, isn’t getting carried away with his recent wins, nor will he be willing to look too far ahead of what is immediately in front of him. He will know, having spent time alongside Williamson as amateurs, and having sparred him, what his Darlington rival can offer him on Friday night and he also knows the pain of defeat, something he never wants to experience again.
That, of course, can work one of two ways. It can cause a fighter to become crippled by the fear, thus becoming negative and gun-shy, or it can sharpen their focus and make them even more determined to avoid it happening a second time. Whichever it is with Kelly, we will only discover the truth once he fights someone like Williamson; someone with whom he has history; someone of equal ambition.
Not yet ready to write him off, one suspects Kelly, 12-1-1 (7), will rise to this particular occasion. He will benefit from Williamson expecting to lose the early rounds, as well as the respect Williamson has for his talent, and can probably establish enough of a lead to ensure Williamson’s late rally is not quite enough to reverse the deficit on the cards.
On the Newcastle undercard, meanwhile, former Commonwealth light-heavyweight champion Lyndon Arthur, 20-1 (14), meets Joel McIntyre, 20-4 (5), in a fight scheduled for 10 rounds. This will be Arthur’s second fight since losing his belt against Anthony Yarde last December (TKO 4) and in McIntyre he meets someone who returned to boxing in 2021 following a three-year hiatus; someone who last time out stopped Chad Sugden in eight rounds for the English light-heavyweight crown.