When Terry Marsh beat Alessandro Scapecchi for the vacant European light-welterweight title he summed up his feelings in a single world. “I feel voluptuous,” he said in his typically enigmatic Marsh-esque fashion. When asked to sum up his feelings after his fighter David Avanesyan (27-3-1, 15 KOs) beat Josh Kelly in six rounds in a European welterweight title defence, his manager Neil Marsh thought for a second and was equally succinct when telling Boxing Social how he felt in the aftermath of what is an impressive win.
“We feel vindicated,” he said. “The past history of making this fight has been well-documented on Boxing Social so no point in bringing it all up again. This is the icing on the cake. We persevered and Ava is still European champion. Up until the deal with Matchroom, I was a one-man band with him so it was a big investment. I got two kids over from Russia for trials, but David had come over to chase some money up as well, as he didn’t have any, so I felt so sorry for him. In boxing, you can have sympathy with someone yet you are also taking a risk.
“I said we’d do a trial bout, which was the Dean Byrne one [WTKO6 in June 20105], and I gave him five grand to take care of his family before starting camp. The reasoning was that if he didn’t come back with my money there wouldn’t be an inch of loyalty, but he did come back and it was a massive investment for a non-TV promoter. David did all we asked of him so I ended up signing a long-term deal with him. He’s repaid that trust.”
Marsh doubled up on the risk-taking by asking Carl Greaves to train his fighter. Greaves is a former WBF super-featherweight titlist as well as a promoter and trainer who was accustomed to either working in the away corner on fight nights or working with fighters who had to juggle work, family and other commitments. The Newark, Nottingham-based trainer had not been handed a fighter of Avanesyan’s calibre before, but he relished the opportunity that was presented to him and the three of them are now reaping the rewards.
“The fighter makes the trainer,” Greaves told me. “I’ve always said that. You’ve got to know what you are doing, but you are only as good as the tools you are given to work with. David is the best fighter I’ve ever had given to me and it brings out the best in me as he picks up things so quickly due to his talent. David also never stops asking questions, never stops learning and we’ve forged a unique, special bond between the three of us.”
“I bang the drum for Carl because he deserves the credit,” added Marsh. “I thank him for what he’s done, the stuff the people don’t get to see and I can’t praise him enough. It is strange, but it has worked and here we are.
“Carl has had tonnes of experience in the away corner. He may not have appreciated me saying that in the past, but the relationship we have has developed so I can say it now. In David, I had a diamond that needed polishing and although he is crash, bang, wallop as a boxer, and will always get hit, I needed someone like Carl to coach him and push him on. I didn’t know at first what Carl had tactically and what he could bring. Carl kept David composed. They spent a lot of time on jabbing to the sternum, the gut and landed the shots that people sometimes overlook — those are the shots that do the job.”
“It was a great victory, a great job on the night — I’ve always flown under the radar because I’m not with big fighters on those big platforms,” said Greaves. “You can only work with what you’ve got. I keep saying that to people and someone like Kelly, who was a top amateur, would beat anyone out there over three rounds as a pro. It is when it going gets tough and you have to dig deep you find out if someone has got it or not, whether it is down to his weight or adapting to the pro style or whatever.”
“It is nice to get a bit of recognition this week,” he added. “I’m doing the same job. I just had the platform to show what I can do in this fight. I’ve had lads who have been put under pressure in fights, which puts me under pressure in the corner, and I’ve lived my whole career with that pressure on me. It helps you learn how to deal with things when you’re under those difficult circumstances.
“This is the only fighter I’ve got on a full-time basis. My other lads come to work with me after doing a full day’s work so you have to get them fit and can’t always do the tactical work. When you’ve got a kid like David on a daily basis you can bring the best out of yourself as a coach. I can only do that with other lads if they get a bit of time off work for a British title fight or something like that. David and I get so much time together to really work things through.
“It makes a big difference when you aren’t just getting the kids fit. David is fit when he comes over to me from Russia so we have that time to work on technical things and we can talk about things. It makes a hell of a difference. The top trainers get the top pros or top amateurs and get to work on a full-time basis with them as well as having other members of the team to concentrate on other things.”
Marsh and Greaves also kept the faith when the trio faced setbacks. Losses to Lamont Peterson (L12) and Egidijus Kavaliauskas (LTKO6) hurt the team yet they were convinced that the Kelly fight was their road back to world-title contention despite the fact that, on paper, the former Olympian had so much more going for him. However, fights aren’t won on paper, they are won on canvas and the team were desperate to make sure that they got to take Kelly’s unbeaten record and move on.
“The loss against Peterson wasn’t good,” said Marsh. “He’d then also had a heavy defeat against Kavaliauskas and was told to take the European title fight against Kerman Lejarraga or his career was over. David told us what he wanted to do, so we stood with him and he’s vindicated his faith in himself and our faith in him. He beat Lejarraga twice and was flying after those fights.”
The online verbal sparring between Adam Booth, Kelly’s trainer, and Marsh was almost as intense as the fight itself. The fighters themselves just got on with things, but that aborted first fight in 2018 rankled with Marsh and he did not hide the fact that he felt they had been disrespected. As is usually the case in boxing, once the dust settled all parties shook hands on it and the whole thing has been resolved where it matters the most — in the ring.
“I’ve laid out what I think about Adam in the past, but he’s been very humble in defeat, an absolute gentleman, so that’s how I judge him going forward,” revealed Marsh. “Josh had the world at his feet when the fight was first called, he was the future ‘Golden Boy’ of British boxing, but the last two years have changed his profile a little bit and have asked questions about him.
“He was put on the mantle by Adam and Eddie, and he needed a gut test so that’s my understanding of why they went with this fight. We’ve ended up with a smile on our face after two years waiting for it. I want it out there for all to see that I have nothing but respect for Adam and Josh for taking this fight at this time. Adam is a very influential man in British boxing and a very astute trainer.”
The fight itself was entertaining for as long as it lasted. True to form, Kelly boxed beautifully at times, with the Russian having to bite down on his gumshield and force his way into the contest. Greaves expected it to be tough early on, he also believed that the tide would turn later, but he was surprised how quickly his fighter turned things around. “Looking back at it, I think Kelly and Booth knew it would be a great fight that people wanted to watch yet it was too soon for him,” he said.
“Funnily enough, it is coming up to 17 years since Carl Thompson burst David Haye’s bubble when he was 10 and 0 in the same sort of a fight. Haye looked fantastic early, Thompson worked him over and then Haye crumbled so that might have been in Adam’s mind as well. I knew Josh would be very sharp and make David look bad at times. Josh is a very good boxer, an Olympian, and we expected that sharpness. I just told David not to get frustrated, and even if he was losing a round to stay in there and not give Josh a breather.
“Tactically, for me it was an easy fight as long as David stuck to the plan and listened to instructions, and that is what he did. I thought he’d get to him later in the fight. The main surprise was that he started getting to him by the fourth, hurt him in the fifth and then took him out in the sixth. It was a good fight for the viewers.”
At 32, the former WBA interim world welterweight title holder isn’t getting any younger. Talk is already turning towards his next move. Marsh believes that the win over Kelly has underlines his man’s credentials and that when the phone rings next time out they want promoter Eddie Hearn to outline a route to another world title shot.
“We will talk to Eddie,” said Marsh. “Josh was a banana skin. We were confident of winning it, but it was clearly a banana skin that we had to overcome. I want a final eliminator for the world title, at the very least, or a good name for David to concentrate on after this fight. He’s gone from strength to strength in recent years.
“I’ve got two goals for David: titles and big money. We want to know that his next win will lead to a world title. Eddie has the power to make those things happen. They might like Conor Benn, but I’m not sure he’d have that. No disrespect, by the way, as Conor is a good fighter and a lovely kid. He just isn’t ready for David yet and we want Eddie to deliver something big for us.”
Main image and all photos: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.