The science of boxing relies on the black magic of matchmaking. The late, great Dean Powell used to tell me that it was “A thankless task”. If you get it right, everyone else gets the credit, in the main. Get it wrong and you become part of the architecture of blame. Therefore a few eyebrows were raised when Josh Kelly (10-0-1, 6 KOs) signed on to fight former WBA interim world welterweight titlist David Avanesyan (26-3-1, 14 KOs) after only eight fights back in December 2018.
Kelly is trained by Adam Booth. Booth is a master at moving his fighters correctly as well as someone who gives calm, concise and considered advice in the corner. As someone operating at the highest-level of the sport, he knows when to pull the trigger on a fight, so the assumption was that he was seeing pure gold dust from his fighter.
When the future Boxing Writers’ Club’s Young Boxer of the Year (2018) withdrew on the day of the fight after picking up a virus overnight, the same eyebrows were raised so far back people within boxing who were bald suddenly found themselves with a few wisps of hair for the first time in years. Naturally, the whispers began immediately. Avanesyan’s team argued that the former star amateur had struggled to make weight and consequently his confidence had evaporated on the scales.
In fact, Neil Marsh, Avanesyan’s manager, told me at the time that Adam Booth had tried to change it from a 12 to a 10-round fight then alleged that Booth did not even inspect the gloves properly during the rules meeting, something Booth no doubt disputes, and Marsh took this as a sign that they had already made their decision. Talk of a postponement was postponed then Covid killed off last March 28’s rescheduled fight date.
Now, though, the fight is (touch wood) finally going to take place at the SSE Arena, Wembley, on February 20. The cynical amongst us may argue that, Covid aside, Team Kelly were happy to let it marinate for longer as it means Avanesyan is that little bit older and although both men have had a year out the impact of ring rust will affect him more than it will Kelly. Both Avanesyan and Carl Greaves, his Newark-based trainer, told Boxing Social that this will definitely not be the case.
“I know, I tell people: ‘Maybe he thinks I’m getting worse when I’m only getting better and better’,” said Avanesyan in his broken English. “If it is what they have done, it is a bad play. I just train and train and get better.
“I went for the first fight for Kelly with a lot of confidence. It didn’t happen. I’ve not just been thinking about Kelly. It got signed and didn’t go so I went for other parties and won the European. For the [first Kerman] Lejarraga fight people were saying it was a really dangerous fight. I knew it would be, and it would also be good for my rating and standing. I take fight. I win fight. Second time I win again Spain. In one round!”
“We’ve done 26 weeks of training for this one fight through the cancellation and negotiations,” added Greaves. “He’d lost to Egidijus Kavaliauskas [TKO6 in Reno for the NABF title] then got offered Kelly first time and took it without any hesitation. We are more confident this time as he went on a fantastic run in 2019 to get some momentum going again. Look at the form he is in compared to Kelly.
“After that first cancellation, we spoke as a team, me David and [manager] Neil [Marsh], and were tempted to move on from Kelly. There was talk about the option of Daniyar Yeleussinov last year, who beat Kelly as an amateur, and we were told that was there for us. We accepted that in principle then Neil put a Tweet out basically calling Adam and Kelly out again. Kelly responded by saying he’d spoken to Adam and Eddie [Hearn] and that the fight was on again. It was supposed to be the Joshua undercard, but we now go on the 20th.”
Kelly’s willingness to take the fight in the first place speaks to his desire to earn what would be a very good win at this stage in his career. Booth’s decision to push on with negotiations again also indicates that he believes it is the right fight at the right time.
However, Greaves maintains that the first fight was spiked at the last-minute due to rumours that Kelly had struggled to make the weight. It is still the same fight at the same weight, just a little late, so he feels that Kelly will have the same issues and insecurities going into it.
“I’ve seen a little Tweet that Sky Sports put out with Kelly, he seems confident, but there is talking confident and being confident in the ring,” he said. “David is looking fantastic, I know that is a cliché, but it is the truth.
“Adam accepted it the first time so must have been confident himself. I always find with these so-called elite trainers that they’ll only take a fight if they are confident of winning as they don’t have to have them forced on them unless they are in a mandatory position.
“Hand on heart, I really think it was all down to Kelly not making the weight right. He looked terrible on the scales. David was looking in him the eyes saying, ‘Let’s get it on’, so I think they went away, didn’t hydrate properly and didn’t fancy the job on the day. They knew it was the wrong fight to take and pulled him out. It was heart-breaking for David. You just don’t do that, do you? It is bad what they did. I still can’t get my head around it to this day.”
“I have people over from Russia,” added Avanesyan. “I’m checking my calls for people asking: ‘When is fight happening?’ I am sat there hours after hearing they won’t take the fight and I think: ‘What?!’ It is bad for my wife and family — we just have had child. I understand two weeks before you saying: ‘I don’t want to fight you’. Don’t do it on the day. I lose weight, I train, live over here, not see family and then no fight.”
Greaves said there was some toing and froing over the rescheduled fight for Avanesyan’s European title, which led to the talk of Yeleussinov instead. When the message was relayed to his charge, Avanesyan just shrugged and told Marsh and Greaves that he just wanted to fight. Avanesyan laughed when asked about his thoughts on the minutiae of negotiations.
“I got a call saying: ‘David, they don’t want the fight again, so you fight Yeleussinov as a change of opponent.’ I say: ‘Okay’. I started training for him then got the call saying Kelly was changing his mind. I didn’t understand it. He says ‘No’ then ‘Yes’, but I just say ‘Okay’ and start training for the fight. I wanted November, then got told December and now February.
“I need [a] fight, I have now one year with no fight. I say: ‘No problem.’ I don’t understand Kelly, one-year training with no fight for both of us so, yes, we both fight each other. It got cancelled in March because of the Covid then they say, ‘David you be ready’, so I train, train, train all the time. I hope he is in there in two weeks. I hope now it doesn’t change again. I hope he makes it to the fight this time. Then I can relax. I want to win then go home and see my family.”
There is a clear bond between Avanesyan and Greaves. It began in 2015 after the 32-year-old left the Everton Red Triangle club. Marsh took his fighter to a few gyms. He knew Greaves from old so gave him a call, too. The trainer and fighter got on well, decided to work together and he ended up fighting Charlie Navarro for the WBA interim belt in their first fight together [WTKO9] then took on Shane Mosley [W12] and Lamont Petersen next [L12] in what was a surreal hat-trick of fights for both.
“Me and Neil were doing shows back in 2008 with the late Oliver Harrison,” explained Greaves. “Later on, Neil got together with David and asked me to a joint show with him in Blackpool using my licence. David was on the bill against Dean Byrne [WTKO 6]. After he left the Red Triangle, he got to me, we had a session, David enjoyed it and told Neil he wanted to train with me.”
The path to becoming a solid 147lber is one that was quickened with twice daily strength and conditioning work. Greaves had told me that Kell Brook looked huge compared to his new fighter in their early spars so that was something that had to be worked on as well as making some stylistic adjustments.
“There were few changes to make early on, they punch a bit differently in the Russian system, but it is easy to polish a diamond,” said Greaves. “I’m a believer that you are only as good as the tools you have to work with. All these so-called elite trainers are given the big talents and names.
“Then straightaway we’ve got the WBA title fight in Monte Carlo, which was a fantastic experience, and next thing you know we’ve got Mosley. Then we got Peterson. We got a win over Serge Ambomo [W8] to get back going then Kavaliauskas followed by the European fights. Mosley was just surreal for us all as a team. Roberto Duran was training him as well. Mosley still had a bit to give, it is just that David was always one step ahead.
“They even tried to get me to fight him over to Panama!” laughed Avanesyan. “I went to watch him fight [Patrick Lopez] for 10 rounds knockout win. You see him fight and then later they say: ‘Mosley is a fight for you.’ I said: ‘Yes, no problem’. Mosley still had his power. I feel it when he punched so maybe they thought he still has that power punch to win, you understand?”
That brace of wins in Spain has put the Russian in pole position for the Kelly fight. He will be defending his title and some feel that the odds have tipped in his favour despite the fact he has fallen a little further into the vale of years.
However, Lejarraga’s team also probably thought they were bringing in a solid name to add to the Spaniard’s reputation as a wrecking ball. It didn’t work and now the improbable double act of Avanesyan and Greaves are set to defend another title. It has been a short but topsy-turvy ride, the kind that cements a firm friendship despite the initial language barriers.
“My accent isn’t as bad as his!” said Greaves when asked how much of a problem it was. “One fight, Carl tells me to do something and I cannot understand — do I go right or throw left?” added Avanesyan. “Now my friend [former super-middleweight] Eric Teymour is here now so he does translate in [the] corner.”
“Listen, he couldn’t speak a word of English so Neil got him a teacher to give him English lessons and we can have conversations, but in the corner one minute is not a lot of time to give instructions so Eric is a big help,” concurred Greaves.
One aspect of the relocation to England is that Avanesyan feels he gets more press coverage and fanfare over here than he does in his native Russia. He likes to connect with both sets of fans yet hopes that his name will ring out a bit more back home following this fight, especially if it leads to bigger things.
“They won’t speak to me [the Russian press],” he said. “I don’t know why. I like the English people because for a lot of them they like speaking professional boxing — they speak, speak, speak boxing! I don’t understand why I don’t hear from Russia, maybe because for so long it was more amateur boxing.
“In England, they even ask for too many interviews. I do them until Neil says not to before [the] fight. My friends and fans in Russia understand it. My friends call me with messages about fights, training and sparring. I just don’t get any interest from the journalists. This is not my problem, not my fault — I just train and fight.”
As for the Kelly fight, Avanesyan’s prediction was short and to the point, saying: “Tell people to watch the fight. I will win. I will give it my best. I will go home after, but I [will] miss Carl, my best friend in England. We are with each other every day.”
“I try to get Sundays off, but we still end up seeing each other,” added Greaves. “He misses me too much! We had a good relationship from the start. He’s an absolute diamond to train, but his timekeeping isn’t good.”
“I don’t understand what you are saying there,” said Avanesyan.
“I’m telling him that you can’t tell the time, mate.”
“I know this.”
The two men laughed then Greaves got us back on track by giving his final thoughts on the Kelly fight. “The will to win is stronger in David,” he said. “I believe he has the better punches and angles, too. David is a hungry fighter trying to secure his family’s future. It is all about boxing for him. Kelly has got stuff going on outside of boxing, he’s a model and I believe has already got a few quid. David is hungry so that makes him dangerous.”
Upon hearing this, Avanesyan offered up one last thought about the contest. “Hey, I’m a pretty boy. I can beat the ‘Pretty Boy’ then model.” he said before concentrating on training for Josh Kelly. Again.