By Anthony Bosco
Kevin Kelley will step back into the prize ring Saturday in what can realistically be called his last shot at the big time. The fighter, known to fans around the world as “The Flushing Flash,” will attempt to wrestle the featherweight crown from atop the head of the recognized champion of the world, Marco Anthony Barrera and, quite frankly, not many are giving Kelley a chance.
A former two-time world champ himself, Kelley is on the downside of his career. At 36, he is past the age most 126-pound fighters would consider to be their prime by some 10 years. And while I certainly have not written Kelley off, I have been around the fight game long enough to see the writing on the wall.
First off, let me start with the positives. Kelley is a young 36. Yes, he’s been in a lot of wars during his career, including a memorable 12-round battle with Troy Dorsey, life-and-death struggles against Ricardo Rivera and Derrick Gainer, and his recent win over Humberto Soto, which catapulted him back into title contention. But periods of inactivity throughout his career have left him with his faculties intact and the ability to still be a viable threat.
The one thing Kelley had demonstrated throughout his career is his ability to bang. Say what you will, but Kelley has some pop on his punches. He holds a knockout win over Gainer, the current IBF featherweight champ, and he had Prince Naseem Hamed on the deck three times during their memorable four-round war, eventually won by Hamed.
Kelley also has superior hand speed, innate boxing skills and the heart of a lion.
Anyone wanting to find a reason to think Kelley can win this fight has plenty of fodder from which to choose. However, Barrera is the odds-on favorite to win and has a heck of a lot more reasons in his corner.
First off, while no spring chicken, Barrera is younger and still in his prime. He can box on the outside and bang on the inside. He has displayed some solid whiskers in his career — despite a knockout loss to Poison Junior Jones — and has beaten two guys who stopped Kelley, Hamed and Erik Morales.
One of the things Kelley has to hope for is that Barrera will take him lightly. But in a recent conference call, the current king of the featherweights does not seem to be selling the Queens native short.
“With this fight against myself, he (Kelley) has had two long months to better prepare himself and to be able to give a great performance,” Barrera said. “He’s a great, aggressive fighter, with a great heart and will come into the fight prepared to win.
“I have never regarded any fighter an easy rival in boxing or even him (Kelley),” he added. “Kelley has prepared himself very well to beat Marco Antonio Barrera. I think he has trained himself accordingly, and all fighters are a threat at these levels of competition.”
There is an old boxing adage that says the last thing a fighter will lose is his punch. Kelley will have to bring his best against the iron-jawed Barrera, but I don’t think even the most ardent Kelley supporters think that their man is capable of stopping Barrera, even in his prime.
When he was at the top of his game, Kelley never displayed the kind of power — Thomas Hearns power — that can end a fight at any time. He hit Dorsey, Goyo Vargas, Jesse Benaviedes, Alejandro Gonzales and tons of others with his best shots, but he could not get them out of there. He can’t go into this fight thinking he has to score a knockout. If he does, Barrera can start celebrating now.
Kelley has to out-box Barrera with the intention of winning a decision. With his hand and foot speed and left-handed stance, Kelley has several advantages he needs to exploit. But, unfortunately, boxing smart has not been something Kelley has shown a propensity for.
Maybe it’s the New York City in him, but Kelley is a fighter who loves to mix it up. Often times Kelley likes to be the aggressor, stalking his opponent, loading up on power shots and trading on the inside. This is something he absolutely has to avoid against Barrera.
If Kelley can keep Barrera in the middle of the ring using his speed and jab, he could build up enough points to take a decision. But Barrera will be punching back, too, and, despite his Mexican heritage and straight-ahead mentality, Barrera can box as well as slug.
Kelley is going to have to get Barrera’s respect at some point. And that point will have to come early if Kelley is going to have a shot. In one of the first three rounds Kelley is going to have to stop moving, plant his feet and unload with a left hand or right hook. If he’s lucky enough, the punch will land solid, either stopping Barrera in his tracks or even putting him down.
But I just don’t think Kelley has the power to do it. I think this fight — as in the case when most former champions get a last shot — will end with Barrera’s arm raised.
There is a chance, though. Lightning can strike. The last thing anyone should ever do is count Kelley out. Barrera knows this and will do everything he can to stop the miracle from happening.
Kelley will get his shot. The question is, can he hit the bull’s eye?
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.