Sunderland star Josh Kelly eyes big Wembley show after debut triumph

Josh Kelly on his way to victory on Saturday. Pic Steve Welsh/Matchroom.
Josh Kelly on his way to victory on Saturday. Pic Steve Welsh/Matchroom.
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On his way and next step Wembley!

That’s the dream destination for Josh Kelly after enjoying a night to remember in Glasgow where he made a successful professional debut.

The 23-year-old, fighting for the first time since bowing out of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, cleared a testing first hurdle in Jay Byrne.

Kelly even lost a round along the way, something which will do the ultra-gifted Sunderland boxer no harm whatsoever.

Ultimately, Kelly got the decision - referee Scott Maxwell spot on with his 59-55 scoreline - and he now moves on to Wembley, where he will be part of the greatest show on earth.

He will again box over six rounds, against an as yet unnamed opponent, on the undercard of Anthony Joshua v Wladimir Klitschko.

“I don’t know who I’ve got next, but I guess Adam might want another step up,” said Kelly. “I’ll be ready for it, I can’t wait. I loved boxing in Glasgow, but 90,000 people in Wembley, that’s just another level.

“I want to go in there and do what I love doing, performing.”

The Adam he mentioned is trainer Adam Booth, who will have been happy with what he saw at the SSE Hydro Arena.

Promoter Eddie Hearn will have picked the location but the coach will have vetted both the distance and opponent.

There was no Bulgarian punchbag or wily old veteran for Kelly’s debut, instead a ‘live’ boxer in the red corner. It shows the faith coach and promoter have in their fighter.

For all the Ryhope lad’s talent, he has not taped up the gloves in anger since last August.

You can do all the sparring in the world but nothing equates to getting in and doing it for real, in a ring, under the heat of the TV lights and under the glare of a huge audience, in the arena, and at home.

Kelly came out firing straight away, sharp lefts connecting to the head and body of the Dubliner, who came into the contest with four wins and one defeat.

To Byrne’s credit, he never left the vicinity of the ex-Team GB star, even giving him a dismissive shake of the head in the second round as if to say “that didn’t hurt”.

Of course, the Olympian responded with three big lefts to the head, but Byrne was not fazed. Far from it.

In the third, Byrne came forward, landing a number of scoring shots to take the round.

And when the Irishman landed a shot flush in Kelly’s face at the very start of the fourth, it seemed to flick a switch in the Matchroom boxer.

Kelly upped his movement, flicking out his left and forcing Byrne to retreat and the fifth was the cue for a furious onslaught.

He let his left go constantly, including a devastating hook to the body, which almost cut his opponent in two.

Byrne survived to the end of the round and made it through the last too, Kelly dominating the final three minutes with his jab and a few combinations.

“[Even in the third] I still felt in control,” said Kelly in response to the round he lost.

“It’s all about learning, practising and that’s what I’m doing.

“Adam kept shouting ‘body’ and I got Jay in the fifth.

“Jay could take the hard head shots, he has a good chin, but I knew I could have success to the body.

“To do the six rounds was sweet, I knew I was fit to do six and that’s what Adam wants.

“When I first met him he said there was no way I’d be doing four-rounders and I’m happy with that.”