By Anthony Bosco
After being dropped for the second time in the fourth round, Kevin “The Flushing Flash” Kelley looked like a beaten man, mentally and physically. The once great champion had had enough and he wanted out.
Though he would never admit it, Kelley did not want to get up, did not want to take one more shot from featherweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera. After more than 60 fights and 15 years as a professional prize fighter, the 35-year-old Kelley was done.
When the bout was officially over, Kelley had lost his final fight — or at least what should be his final fight — via technical knockout to the fighter recognized as the world featherweight champion, Barrera, though no belt was officially on the line.
It was sad in a way to see Kelley like that, a fighter I first met while he was just a fledgling pro, stretched out on the canvas before thousands in attendance and a bigger Pay-Per-View crowd watching at home. It has been a long road since I first met Kelley more than 10 years ago.
I first noticed him while hanging out at the Westbury PAL. He was a slick boxer wearing a gray T-shirt and black shorts, shadowboxing alongside an elevated ring. His movement was fluid and compact, and he just looked like someone whose name I should know.
I asked an older gentleman sitting nearby who the boxer was and he replied, “That’s Kevin Kelley.”
The gentleman turned out to be Kelley’s manager at the time, Bill Bikoff. And no sooner did we get to talking than I began following Kelley’s career in earnest.
I had known of Kelley for some time before that, and if you lived in New York City and followed boxing in 1990, it was hard not to have heard of him. He was a friend and rival of Bayside boxer Freddie Liberatore, a former top-10 junior lightweight contender who once fought for the world title.
I had written a number of stories about Liberatore, who was trained by the same man who taught Kelley, Phil Borgia, while both were still amateurs at the Flushing Police Athletic League. Both turned pro in the same year, 1988, and the both were expected to do big things.
Freddie, now a father of two living on Long Island, came by my apartment Saturday night to watch his old friend fight. I had always dreamed of sitting ringside at a fight between Kelley and Liberatore, both of whom were featherweights at the time. The fight never took place, of course, unless you count the three-round exhibition they once held for charity. History remains unclear as to who won.
Liberatore gave up fighting in 1995 after losing his lone shot at the world championship on cuts to Gabriel Ruelas. A nagging hand injury, which plagued Liberatore for years, forced him out of the game at a point when he just seemed to be peaking.
But he never came back, instead turning his attention toward a new career, that of a cameraman.
He and Kelley traded punches more than a few times while they were coming up through the ranks, sparring one another regularly. It was clear by talking to him that Freddie still is fond of Kelley, even though the two haven’t really spoken since Kelley left Queens for Las Vegas a few years back.
Liberatore’s experience in the ring would not let him believe that Kelley was about to pull an upset. The writing was on the wall going into the fight. Barrera was, as one friend put it, “no paper tiger,” and Kelley was a boxer well past his best years.
I wasn’t as sure as Freddie. I thought Kelley could pull off the upset if he came into the fight in top shape. The best Kelley had ever been was what he needed to be Saturday night. And maybe my longtime working relationship with Kelley led me to believe that perhaps that guy still existed, regardless of all the recent losses.
Hope didn’t stick around long. About 100 seconds into the fight, Barrera caught Kelley with a hook that dropped the Bowne High School graduate on his backside. Kelley popped right up, but it was a bad omen. Flash knockdowns have a way of repeating themselves, and on the canvas was a place Kelley did not want to be.
Kelley was unable to mount any kind of offense against Barrera. There were a few moments when I thought he snuck in a straight left hand or tried to flurry, but nothing hurt or even moved Barrera.
The same could not be said of the opponent. Kelley seemed to feel every shot Barrera landed, and when Kelley hit the canvas for the first time in the fourth from a body shot, we knew the end was near.
Kelley got up and tried — I have to give him that. But Barrera was too strong and pounded him to the canvas again. This time Kelley stared at trainer Borgia from his prone position, seemingly begging for the white towel that never came.
So Kelley did what he always did — he got up and went back to work. Barrera needed only a few more seconds to polish off his opponent. The end came mercifully at the 1:34 mark of round four.
I told Freddie after the fight that I didn’t think Kelley should fight anymore. Liberatore agreed. I hope Kelley will, too.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.