By Anthony Bosco
Kevin Kelley talked a lot about his fight against featherweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera before the two squared off in a scheduled 12-round bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday night inLas Vegas.
Speaking a mile a minute in a telephone interview with the TimesLedger two weeks before the fight, Kelley spoke about his legacy, the Hall of Fame, how easy it was to make the 126-pound limit, his new trainer and everything else under the sun. But what he forgot to do come fight night was to bring his ‘A’ game.
The fighter known as “The Flushing Flash” was completely dominated by the younger Barrera, getting knocked down three times before being rescued by referee Robert Byrd at the 1:34 mark of the fourth round.
“I tried a little too hard,” Kelley said in the ring after the fight. “I wanted to beat Barrera, and I tried too hard. Every punch I threw had bad intentions on it. I was trying way too hard, and you can’t beat a fighter like Barrera, the best featherweight in the world, with one punch.”
It was Barrera who looked like he would end the fight with one punch in the first round. A little more than a minute into the bout the Mexican-born Barrera landed a left hook to a retreating Kelley’s jaw that put the challenger down.
More off balance than hurt, Kelley bounced back up quickly and managed to make it through the round without any further damage — due largely to the fact that Barrera respected Kelley’s punching power.
“In the first round when I knocked him down, I didn’t want to take any chances,” Barrera told reporters after the fight. “I thought he was in good condition and so was I. I wanted to stay patient and in control.”
Kelley, who won the World Boxing Council featherweight championship with a unanimous decision win over Gregorio Vargas in December 1993, never showed flashes of his former self. The fighter who made a name for himself as one of the gutsiest and most entertaining boxers below 135 pounds was simply trying to survive against a 29-year-old champion in the prime of his career.
But he wouldn’t survive long.
Despite standing in from of each other, neither puncher really opened up in the next two rounds, though Barrera was clearly winning the fight. Both seemed content to counter punch with neither wanting to take control or risk getting hit.
But soon enough Barrera found a home with his body shots. A hard hook in the second seemed to sting Kelley, and Barrera continued his attack in the third, slowly bringing Kelley’s hands down.
The big knockout blow never really came, as a right to Kelley’s midsection followed by a left to the liver put Kelley down for the second time about 40 seconds into the fourth.
Kelley got up and tried to fire back, but he had nothing to offer. Barrera continued to attack Kelley’s body and put his foe down again with several more punishing body blows and a right up top. Kelley, lying face down on the deck, looked into his corner before barely beating the count.
Moments later a Barrera flurry along the ropes forced Byrd to stop the fight.
“I hit him on top and he withstood it, but the body shots weakened him,” Barrera said.
Kelley, who made $300,000 for the fight, said he did not take the bout just for the money, but to preserve his place in boxing history. And he did, joining a long line of former champions who fought one fight too many.
“I didn’t show up for a payday. I wanted history,” Kelley said. “He’s the king. He’s definitely the king.”
One look at the post-fight numbers tells the story plainly. Barrera, who entered the fight as a 15-1 favorite, landed nearly as many shots, 85, as Kelley threw, 97. Kelley was only credited with landing 16 punches.
The bout should end any hopes the 35-year-old Kelley had of recapturing a world championship. His record stands at 54-6-2 with 36 KOs. Barrera, who earned $1 million for a short night, raised his record to 57-3 with 40 KOs.
Afterward, Kelley said he would take some time before making a decision about his future.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.