Sunderland boxer Josh Kelly matched with José Luis Zúñiga in Belfast

Josh Kelly has been handed another step up in class for his fourth professional contest.

Tuesday, 17th October 2017, 3:04 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 2:40 am
Josh Kelly.
Josh Kelly.

The ultra-talented Sunderland welterweight has been matched with José Luis Zúñiga over eight rounds in Belfast on Saturday night.

Kelly is a fighter in a hurry in the pro game after a stellar amateur career which culminated in an appearance at the 2016 Olympics.

Coach Adam Booth wants the 23-year-old moved on rapidly too and this international clash at the SSE Arena with the new Mexican light-middleweight champion fits the bill.

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The 27-year-old has won 13 of his 16 contests, losing only one, and is unbeaten in over three years.

Zúñiga has won seven times inside the distance which adds an extra edge to the match which is one of the chief support bouts to the world bantamweight unification fight between Ryan Burnett and Zhanat Zhakiyanov.

Kelly is just relieved to have a challenge at the Sky Sports-screened event.

“We have had pull-out after pull-out,” shrugged the Wearsider.

“Zúñiga seems all right, he’s the Mexican champion so he should be decent.

“I don’t know much beyond his record, but I’m expecting him to be tough, strong and game.

“We’re looking to step up bit by bit and Zúñiga looks a step up.”

Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn believes Kelly, who he has attached the moniker “Pretty Boy” is destined to go all the way.

He has backed Booth’s plan for the former ABA champion with a series of difficult assignments over six or eight rounds,, though Kelly has made them look very straight forward.

Each of his three opponents have come to the ring with winning records.

Kelly has not, unlike some prospects, been fed a diet of journeyman, with the three men he has beaten, Jay Byrne, Jony Vina and Tom Whitfield having just three defeats between them.

His 80-second demolition of North-East neighbour Whitfield, screened live on Sky Sports, was ruthless but having boxed a total of only 11 rounds so far, a few more minutes of ring-time would not go amiss.

“I don’t set out to stop people,” said the former Houghton ABC mover.

“It’s nice to say you’ve done rounds but if a stoppage comes it comes.

“I do loads of rounds in the gym against good and big lads, so not having done many in fights doesn’t bother me.”

The main event at the SSE Arena looks a belter, starring Kelly’s stablemate, Burnett.

Burnett is making the maiden defence of the IBF bantamweight crown and is looking to add the WBA Super title, currently in the possession of Kazakhstan fighter Zhakiyanov, who is trained by Ryan’s ex-coach Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton.