After successfully defending his European welterweight title against heir apparent Josh Kelly last week, Russia’s David Avanesyan (26-3-1, 14 KOs) checked in to see if his opponent was okay then embarked on a 20-hour trip back to Russia. He visited his grandmother first after flying in by way of Moscow and, at the time of writing a week after the fight, was still en route back home to see his wife and children. He hoped to be back home by Saturday evening.
It has been an odyssey for the 32-year-old. For all the glitz and glamour of boxing, it is the things we are not privy to that define a fighter. When Boxing Social caught up with him, the former interim WBA title-holder was still in transit. Destination: Home.
“You win, you feel good then I fly to see my grandmother and only tomorrow will be able to fly to see my family because of Covid — everything is delayed because of Covid,” he said. “I miss my family, my children and it is a very long time. Too long a time. I fly to Moscow then Belarus and Minsk, and then to Tabynskoe. It is difficult.
“My family is happy with my win, but my parents said: ‘David, when do you finish boxing?’ My parents worry. My daddy watches. My mum never watches. She cannot do it. I call her after [the] fight to say everything is good.”
It was a tough one, too. At one point, Kelly detonated a left hook that landed clean and left Avanesyan with scrambled senses for a moment. However, he composed himself and guided the fight into the middle rounds, the ones that he and his coach, Carl Greaves, were confident that he would win.
“The left hook was good, but I’ve fought people with more power than Kelly,” he said. “My two legs lost a little bit of balance. It took it away for a moment. I was not close to a knockdown. You saw me get punched, lose a bit of balance and then come back. Kelly maybe thought he hurt me, he thought I would get knocked down and then threw power punches, but I came back.
“Kelly said before fight I was strong, and I was. Carl said maybe [it would take] eight rounds. Big lessons are learned in boxing. You can go one or maybe 10 or eight rounds, you just take it when the big punches come. I spoke before going to the ring about stopping him in England. I know people wanted me to give everything for the win and in boxing one punch changes everything so I knew that before fight.”
Indeed, Avanesyan told me that although Kelly was the house fighter, he felt that the support of English fans on social media would see him through and that during his time over here he has developed a special relationship with the fans. Some even warned him to make sure that the knockout came following recent scoring controversies.
“The British people message me, man, and there are so many of them — I love it!” he said. “I hope they carry on sending messages. They wanted me to win the fight! A week before my fight with Kelly, Kiko Martinez loses on Matchroom show against [Zelfa] Barrett when many people thought he had won, so I have messages telling me to knock Kelly out to win the fight.
“They wanted me to avoid bad decision. I never thought about decision. I only thought about the fight and win. The English judges is not something I think about, I just think about my job and the win. It is possible I go to decision yet I feel after some early rounds that Kelly feels my punches and that is how I win.”
“I hurt him, I felt it” he added, when asked how the fight turned in his favour. “He punched me hard, I punched him hard back and that is boxing, man. I do my own work, you understand?”
Kelly was cut on the back of his head early on. However, as the blood started to flow Avanesyan feared the worst. “I see the blood the first time from him and I think: ‘Am I cut? Is that me?’,” he said.
“So then I ask Carl if I am cut and he told me: ‘No’. But you see the blood, the punches and the head goes in so you have to ask coach if you are cut. Then the body punches are important. First round I went for head, not body. Then same in second round. Then Kelly is so fast, I go to body, then body again, and then head to make him tired and less fast because body can’t move as well as the head.”
The fight was a long time in the making, with plenty of words exchanged between the respective camps. By the time they entered the bubble, old wounds had started to heal and we ended up with a clip of Adam Booth, Kelly’s trainer, and Avanesyan playing a game of table tennis together. You couldn’t make it up.
“Yes, first time I see Adam in hotel we don’t say, ‘Hello’, or anything like that,” recalled Avanesyan. “Then I think there is no respect there, but after [the] hotel my manager, Neil Marsh, and me go to relax and there are arguments, but Booth said we just should play pool and table tennis so after fight we are all good. My manager and Booth are good. Then before I fly to Moscow, I message Josh to ask if he is okay and if we are good. Kelly had to go for stitches, for check-up in hospital, and he tells me he feels good and his family feels good so I fly to Russia happy.”
“It was a long time,” he said, drawing a line under the fight. “Too many changes. Change, change and change is not good for me. I cannot see my children. I am the European champion so why the changes? I ask: ‘Does Kelly want this fight?’ I train for months for it. Then I fly home. Then I train June, July, August and September — I keep training. They say: ‘You fight Daniyar Yeleussinov instead?’ I said, ‘Yes’ — I want to fight and I started camp for that fight. Then Kelly again.
“Then I get told Kelly can’t do December for [the Anthony] Joshua [vs Kubrat Pulev] show. I ask: ‘Why give me different dates? I haven’t fought for a year.’ They tell me Kelly needs time to lose weight so I say, ‘Okay’, and just train every time. I fight Kelly anytime. Then I miss my family over Christmas, over January and then we finally get to fight. It is just training, training and training. I think to myself, ‘This fight will never happen’, but now it has and I win.
“I have done more than one camp for the fight. I missed my family, man — I missed my children. I never eat bad foods between fights — I’m not even eating bad today at my family celebration — so was ready anytime. Today, I am with my grandmother for a meal then I finally see my family tomorrow. I will be back home by tomorrow morning. But I am here today as my grandmother is my number one fan.”
Marsh and Greaves were unwavering in their belief in their man. They both feel vindicated, but this is just one fight and Avanesyan hopes it will lead to either a world title shot or a money-spinner against Amir Khan. “They always believed in me,” he said. “Always.”
“They did everything for me,” he continued. “My English team is Number One. They are the best boxing team for me. Now will I speak for myself to you here. I have defended my title, so why not [a] world title? Why not Amir Khan? I think the English fans would like me to fight Amir. The English fans are the best. They supported me in this fight. Two years ago, Amir’s team called Neil and asked for a fight so I said: ‘Why not?’ Then I train for fight and was told it wasn’t possible. They didn’t want the fight. If they say again to fight Amir, I say: ‘Yes, no problem’. English fans would like that fight, so why not? I work hard for my family and kids.”
As for Kelly, Avanesyan is no stranger to defeat, he has lost three times yet keeps bouncing back. He believes that Kelly can do the same. “Of course, he can,” he said when asked if Kelly can still win titles.
“Why not? Back him. He is young. Boxing moves fast. If you get knocked down, you have a big heart and get back up again. I’ve lost fights. You wake up again and you show people who you are by getting big wins so why can’t Kelly can do the same? I came back stronger to become champion and Kelly can come back. He is strong.”
All photos: Mark Robinson & Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing.