‘If Josh’s fight had been at home, he might have won’
Glenn McCrory has almost certainly felt what Josh Kelly is feeling now.
In 1986, the North East boxing legend lost an incredible four fights on the spin before turning his career back around to win the IBF cruiserweight world title three years later.
Fast forward to 2021 and Kelly was stopped in the sixth round of his European welterweight title fight against David Avanesyan.
The card, put together and promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, was broadcast live on Sky Sports last Saturday.
And it is that sort of big pressure, under the lights, with millions potentially watching, that McCrory believes was a contributing factor to the loss.
“He’s potentially very good but he’s had big fights before he’s really ready,” McCrory, who is eyeing a comeback fight with Roy Jones Jr, exclusively told the Echo.
"He’s ended up on a big stage, on television, in a big fight before he’s really done his groundwork.
“When you’re a high-profile fighter and you get a good promoter like Eddie Hearn, it’s two-fold.
“It’s a double-edged sword and things are expected of him because he’s an Eddie Hearn fighter so he’s supposed to be a superstar when really he’s not yet.
“When you’re put up there and everyone says you’re going to be a superstar you’ve got to have those high-profile fights.
“Yeah, it’s great because you get paid much better, but there’s also a lot of pressure on you, so it has its drawbacks as well.
“And I think sometimes people are expecting a lot more, they expect Josh to be better than he really is because he’s getting that coverage.
“Often it’s good to learn without that pressure.”
The Ryhope-born puncher started the fight well and there could be a case made for him winning every round up until the stoppage.
A close third was followed
by some superb work by Kelly in the fourth, who slipped a cluster of shots, had time to look at the referee and managed to pepper Avanesyan back.
But the Russian, who once defeated three-weight world champion Shane Mosely, would not stop relentlessly walking Kelly down and stopped him in the sixth.
But how did McCrory rate Kelly’s performance?
“He started very sharp, very fast and looked like mentally he was all there, but one of the things I’ve always said about him is that he drops his hands,” he said.
“You have to keep them up because you can’t afford to take any shots. Even if you take them okay early on, they still have an effect.
“I thought he would do better and I thought it was a fight he could win.
“When the pressure came, he started to tire, it’s tough.
“It could have been conditioning, I’m not sure how his training has gone but his conditioning
didn’t look good.
“It’s now about how he can take this and how he can take the loss. There’s no shame in losing to Avanesyan, he’s a good, solid fighter who is proven.
“It’s a lesson. The sort of personality Josh is, he will learn from it.”
The show, staged at Wembley Arena in London, was a behind-closed-doors affair, with no fans permitted as the United Kingdom still comes to grips with coronavirus.
And that lack of support from passionate Sunderland people, McCory believes, played a part in Kelly’s demise on the night against Avanesyan.
“If that fight had been in Sunderland, it would have been a different thing altogether!”
Indeed, when McCrory won his world title in 1989, he was roared on by a fanatic North East boxing crowd on home soil in Stanley.
“If I’d have fought Patrick Lumumba 30 years ago in Las Vegas or with no crowd,
I wouldn’t have won,” he said.
“Because we’re passionate up here, we’ve got passionate people around us, the North East fans are the best fans in the world and we need that, that pushes us on.
“I think Josh would have done far better if he had fought at home and with all his people behind him.
“Josh is a talented fighter but it’s about how much you want it, and it’s tough times at the minute because you’re boxing without a crowd.”
But can Kelly emulate McCrory in bouncing back to win a world title, and would a step up in weight help him?
McCrory said: “He definitely is that sort of calibre and has that sort of potential, but there’s a lot of boxes to tick to get to those heights.
“It takes an awful lot of things both inside the gym and outside the gym.
“I saw him just before the weigh-in and he looked emancipated. Lots of people are saying he was cut to bits in the fight, which he was, but for me, the weight looked very tight.
“Sometimes just saying, ‘Look, I’m not a welterweight’ can make all of the difference.
"It’s about weighing everything up.
"Is he comfortable living down south? Would it be better to come back to the North East? I don’t know.
“This is where you have to go back to the drawing board and see what is right and what is wrong and there’s only Josh that knows that.
“What he has to do now is reflect and be truthful to himself.
“But I think he can come again.
“I lost five out of six before I won my world title.
"There’s plenty of time for Josh to come again, one loss is nothing. Back in the day that was part of your education.
“All of the greats lost back in the day: Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard…everybody lost.
"It’s what you do after that and how you pick yourself up.”
Lee Johnson says planned improvements to the Stadium of Light pitch will be crucial in helping to realise the club's new playing philosophy.
Johnson had called for investment after the 2-1 defeat to Plymouth Argyle earlier this year, on a difficult night where the poor condition of the turf had left the game in doubt in one stage.
Confirmation of the takeover of the club by Kyril Louis-Dreyfus means that a resolution is now on the horizon, with the new chairman understood to be preparing to sanction a sixfigure investment.
Johnson was recruited to help the club play a higher-tempo and more attacking style of football, and the head coach believes improving surfaces across the board is essential.
"I think the playing surface is really important," he said.
“Again it’s something you can control, well, at home anyway.
“I know the Stadium of Light has been used for some great concerts – and I’m looking forward to hopefully getting a freebie at some stage in the future because I miss the music scene! - but at the same time we want to play a certain brand of football.
“A good pitch is conducive to good, slick, football.
“I always say to the boys ‘I don’t want football, I want ice hockey’, because that’s how fast I want us to move the ball and obviously the pitch can really aid that," he added.
“It [a new pitch] is something that we have discussed.
"But obviously there are short-term plans and longterm plans and the pound has got to stretch across a number of different areas in the club.
“The pitch is one of them, and the pitches at the training ground are important as well.
“I’m pretty sure that we will get it right because we have got great groundstaff who have been brilliant so far, top drawer.
"I’ve been very impressed with those guys, and investing in a new pitch would help them."
Louis-Dreyfus has quickly moved to address some of the issues with the infrastructure at the club since his takeover was confirmed, with the club currently advertising for key appointments to their data and analysis operations.