BN Preview: Josh Kelly takes a trip into the unknown against Placido Ramirez

By Matt Bozeat

WASSERMAN take gifted super-welterweight Josh Kelly home this weekend. The 29-year-old headlines at the Beacon of Light in Sunderland, facing Colombia’s Placido Ramirez, 24-3 (17), 1 NC, over 10 rounds. DAZN televise.

Ramirez steps in after South Africa’s Roarke Knapp was ruled out. The replacement is no stranger to hostile crowds. His last fight, just four weeks ago, was ruled a no contest after supporters of Denis Nurja got into the ring and attacked him in Albania.

The trouble started after Ramirez dropped the local favourite with a left uppercut in the fourth. Up quickly, Nurja was clear eyed and ready to carry on, but a second after the referee waved them together, Nurja started to hobble.

The referee couldn’t reach Ramirez before he got to the defenceless Nurja and the 29-year-old cracked him with a left hook, sparking the ring invasion.

The crowd in Sunderland should be better behaved and if they get behind Kelly the way they got behind Tony Jeffries, there should be a great atmosphere this weekend. Jeffries, the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist, filled venues in his home city and they chanted non-stop throughout the night.

It is more than a decade since Kelly fought in his home city, when he was crowned ABA light-welterweight champion at Rainton Meadows Arena in April 2013. A decade on, he’s on the brink of a shot at the WBO thanks to his No. 1 ranking with the sanctioning body. The belt-holder is Tim Tszyu.

Saturday night could be just the sort of occasion Kelly needs. He looked flat – by his standards – when outpointing Gabriel Alberto Corzo in Newcastle in July, though the Argentine didn’t show a lot of ambition for a world-ranked fighter.

That was Kelly’s first fight since he took the British title off Darlington’s Troy Williamson 12 months ago, a result that made him the first from Sunderland to win British honours since Billy Hardy won the 126lbs belt in 1994.

That was as good as we’ve seen from the 2016 Rio Olympian in the pros.

Williamson was a good British champion and Kelly didn’t just beat him, he put on a show, dropping only one round on two of the cards, two on the other.

“I felt so smooth it felt like a dream,” he told Channel Five afterwards and trainer Adam Booth added: “I said from day one he’s the most talented fighter I’ve worked with.”

There are blemishes on the 14-1-1 record, a draw with Ray Robinson and a loss to David Avanesyan, both at 147lbs.

Avanesyan mauled Kelly in six, leading to a rethink. He left Matchroom for Wasserman and moved up to 154lbs. Kelly was known to be tight at welterweight. He has won all four at the higher weight while learning how to manage self-confidence issues.

Ramirez has also moved up. He won Colombian honours at 135lbs and has spent much of his career seven-year career at 140lbs and 147lbs. His debut at 154lbs was against Nurja last month.

He went into that fight with five straight stoppages inside four rounds behind him, including a career-best knockout of Lukasz Wierzbicki in Poland in April, laying out the local left hander with a right uppercut.

Up at 154lbs, he looked solid, with good fundamentals and the shot he dropped Nurja with was well-timed, but he looks to do everything a split second slower than Kelly does, is predictable and Nurja landed every uppercut he aimed at his chin.

Kelly, who has an impressive arsenal of weaponry at his disposal, found Williamson repeatedly with his uppercut. Eddie Hearn hoped, when he signed Kelly, that with his looks and flashy, reflexes-based style, he could become a crossover star. Though he’s arguably now showing his best form in new surrounds, he’s yet to truly break out.

Kelly unravelled against Avanesyan but did rock him before being stopped by the Russian, who is ferocious and strong at 147lbs. Kelly has yet to face such a test up at 154lbs. Williamson was too slow on his feet to get on top of him, allowing Kelly to pick him off.

Ramirez is likely to suffer a similar fate on Saturday night. He has been stopped twice and Kelly, 14-1-1 (7), can get rid of him sometime in the second half.

THE VERDICT – Another unknown foe for Kelly but this one will certainly come with ambition.

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