Sugar Ray Leonard meet inspires Josh Kelly to first title

Josh Kelly celebrates his title triumph in Cardiff. Picture by Lawrence Lustig/Matchroom
Josh Kelly celebrates his title triumph in Cardiff. Picture by Lawrence Lustig/Matchroom
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A chance meeting with boxing hall of famer Sugar Ray Leonard inspired Sunderland’s Josh Kelly to secure his first professional title.

And the Wearside welterweight even admits he tried a few of the American legend’s moves during his WBA international welterweight title win over seasoned pro Carlos Molina on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight unification bout against Joseph Parker.

“Meeting Sugar Ray Leonard gave me a weird feeling,” Kelly said of his encounter with the American legend prior to his recent Cardiff bout.

“I just knew it was meant to be. I knew I had to do the shuffle when I was boxing.

“When I started to win the fight, I then started to try and do a bit of what he was like.

“But you can’t copy the greats. I was just trying to be my own little version.

“I never really get starstruck. I got a little rush when I met him.

“He rated me, so that has taken me back a bit.”

Leonard, who was ringside for the event, staged in front of 80,000 people at the Principality Stadium and shown live on Sky Sports Box Office, would no doubt have been impressed by Kelly’s hand speed and swiftness of movement.

He totally outclassed and outboxed his experienced opponent, so much so that it made it look like a bad match. In truth, it was anything but, especially in Kelly’s sixth fight in the pro game.

“Not many people will step up after six fights and take a world champion on,” said Kelly, who has an offer to take on Frankie Gavin in his North East return, which will be at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena on June 16.

“Just beating him is good enough for me. I know he is getting on, but I think I put in a decent performance.

“It was a learning curve for me. I got caught a bit and my chin got tested.

“He was not a massive puncher, but everything he threw was hard.”

Kelly will headline alongside lightweight Lewis Ritson, from North Tyneside, who is lighting up the domestic scene with his devastating knockout power.

Under the spotlight is not a natural place 2016 Olympian Kelly feels comfortable in, but he strives to get better and better. “I am my biggest critic,” he added. “At heart, I am an introvert. I have to switch on fight night.

“I am much more happy going out for a drive. I’ll be hiding away, you’ll not see me for months now.

“All I can say is thank you for the support from everyone on the night.

“It meant a lot.”