One may learn wisdom even from one’s enemiesAristophanes, Greek Satirist, 445-385BC
It’s traditional to muse on the events of the night before on a Sunday morning. Where once it was the haze of a hangover and wondering what may have been said and done beneath the influence of alcohol, Sundays are now more typically dominated by the injustices and frustrations evoked by Saturday night boxing. In a world of the cynical and sarcastic, of the negative and voyeuristic, being motivated to write by failure, by schadenfreude is a widespread malaise.
Important then, to write when a show has produced entertainment, drama and delivered a large dose of the thunder fight fans all crave. We must, collectively, counteract the all to familiar narratives. For if we don’t, if there is no buzz to compensate fighters and promoters for taking the risk of evenly matched fights, then they will defer to the tried and trusted safety first modus operandi that plagues the sport in the modern day. Their hangover will not be worth the entertainment they share.
Last night’s show, in which the favoured Pretty Boy Josh Kelly was stopped by a 32-year-old Armenian who lives in Newark, David Avernysan, and the loquacious Albanian Florian Marku had to get off the floor to beat Ryan Charlton, there was everything that was good about the fight game.
Please be upstanding for the participants and the matchmaker who compiled such an evenly matched card. There was so much to enjoy.
Josh Kelly, no more the Pretty Boy of his moniker when the towel of surrender landed beside his feet, can return. A defeat, chastening though it was, need not prohibit the world titles he presumed to be in his future. There is a need to reappraise the path forward, a need to harden his edges. Not his courage or his stamina, both of which were questioned in the final analysis, but more to help him to be resolute in boxing to tactics. In not permitting bravado to deflect him, to not let success or crisis lure him from the certainty of the game plan. Boxing is an instinctive business too. Of seizing moments when they occur. But the judgement on when to gamble, when to stick or twist, is best made by those with greater wisdom than young Josh. If 26, as Josh is, is considered young. Lloyd Honeyghan was 26 when he fought Don Curry by way of comparison. But every career is different. Particularly in the midst of a pandemic.
Commentators, those with and without the qualification of a fighting career, often refer to the ‘game plan’. The tactical formula most likely to bring the victory a fighter wants. In the heat of battle, when the punches are flying, when the swell of success or the trauma of being hit floods through the system, holding that plan tightly grows ever more difficult. Particularly for inexperienced fighters. Kelly, with blood leaking from a cut behind his ear, with damage to his right eye, became lost in this internal dialogue. Dissuaded from his natural advantages of reach and height, and of hand speed. He opted to trade. Came in close. Avanesyan had survived his own crisis. The crisis that fuelled Kelly’s departure from the plan, but one Avanesyan had anticipated, had been through before. Experience, mental discipline, kept the Armenian fixed on the long game.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course and there are voices who long pointed to the excessive ambition this match represented for Kelly. The fact it was two years in the making illuminating just how keen the forces behind the Sunderland man were to progress his standing. As Elliot Worsell excellently foretold in this week’s Boxing News, this was the test of whether Kelly, a decorated Amateur, could compile a complete performance from the cameos and moments that had been sprinkled through his time as a professional. His detractors will feel vindicated. His support will be tested.
A singular triumph or disaster, those two old imposters, needn’t define Josh’s career. The symmetry between last night and the towel trainer Adam Booth tossed on to the shoulder of Terry O’Conner 15 years ago, with a novice David Haye at the mercy of Carl Thompson was not exact, Haye had come much closer to victory, but there were undoubted similarities. (My thanks to Mark Butcher, formerly of Boxing Monthly for pointing me toward the comparison). If Kelly has the will to learn, has the humility to step down and return a much busier fighter, he can become more than he proved to be last night.
For David Avanesyan, the smiling champion, there was talk of Terence and Errol. Ambition is to be acknowledged, opportunism applauded but if the only ‘game plan’ for a European Champion is to immediately throw him in as high as possible, then it doesn’t feel much like a game plan at all. Had Josh Kelly been triumphant, would he really have been thrown toward those two seasoned killers? I suspect not. Avanesyan has earned more care. Some attentive stewardship, though he enjoys lofty rankings with most of the sanctioning bodies too.
As a promoter, it’s harder to have a game plan when more fights are 50-50, it’s why promoters avoid them. Why they prefer 80-20 and 70-30 fights. Why they fight for home advantage, why they choose pragmatism over daring.
So continue to support Josh Kelly, tune in when he returns, buy a ticket when we’re able. Because unless we do, the prospect of competitive cards like the one we saw last night recede. We cannot bemoan the protection of the ‘0’ if we dismiss fighters following a loss.
If we allow ourselves to consign Kelly to the scrap heap, then fighters like him will lose more of themselves than any singular defeat should steal and, as a result, they will avoid undue risk for as long as they can.