Sunderland fighter Josh Kelly confident ahead of European Games semi against home-town Azerbaijan hero

Josh Kelly
Josh Kelly
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Josh Kelly is already guaranteed a medal for Great Britain at the European Games – but he must silence a nation if he is to go for gold.

The Sunderland boxer has been one of the success stories for Team GB at the inaugural multi-sport competition in Baku.

But the Wearsider faces the pride of Azerbaijan, Parviz Baghirov, in tomorrow’s U69 kilo semi-final.

To say it’s going to be a big ask for the 21-year-old is a bit of an an understatement – Baghirov has not lost a round yet at the European Games and his every punch will be cheered to the rafters in the Crystal Hall.

However, the man who knows Josh best, dad and coach Paul, says the Houghton ABC talent can overturn the odds.

“It has the makings of a great bout,” Paul told the Echo on the eve of the semi-finals.

“If the the judges are fair and don’t get carried away with the crowd and the noise they’ll make I think Josh has every chance.

“We are into the medal stage now and both have the same opportunity.

“I watched the Azerbaijan lad’s last win and he’s got a similar style to Josh.

“He also boxes with his hands quite low and has a similar defence, evading shots with good head movement and quick feet.

“It’s going to be an interesting contest, I just hope it’s not like a chess match.”

While the judges are all impartial and experienced officials from the International Boxing Association, it can often be a difficult tas not to be swayed by the crowd noise.

Kelly is probably going to have to box as well as he ever has to win it.

But his father says the gifted welterweight is relaxed going into the biggest fight of his life.

That could, crucially, contrast with the emotions of Baghirov, who carried the expectations of a nation.

“Josh has settled in excellently and done well when you consider that he has not boxed at a tournament of this magntitude before,” said Paul.

“I spoke to him last night and he knows he’s guaranteed a medal. When he went out there, his aim was to bring back a medal.

“He said to me ‘dad, I can relax and enjoy the bout’ and I hope he does. There’s no pressure on him at all.”

Kelly is one of five Team GB boxers who will collect a medal in Baku, whatever happens in the semis.

He pulled off one of his greatest results in the quarter-finals when he outpointed the highly-touted Adam Nolan.

The Irishman was favourite but Kelly defeated him on a split decision.

“When you consider the international experience Josh has had compared to Adam, it was a great win,” added Paul.