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‘Flushing Flash’ Kevin Kelley back inside squared circle

"The Flushing Flash" Kevin Kelley will step back into the prize ring Saturday against Mexico's Eric Morales in a bout for the interim-World Boxing Council featherweight championship at the Don Haskins Center at the University of El Paso, Texas.

Kelley, who took the fight on three weeks' notice, was already in training for a bout against another opponent on the same card as Morales, who was slated to challenge current WBC champ Guty Espadas. But when Espadas broke his collarbone while training for his title defense, the WBC mandated that Morales fight for the interim title against Kelley.

"It's a blessing," Kelley said from his Las Vegas home Monday. "I'm going to take advantage if it. I feel very ready, I feel good. If they think I'm not ready for one instant, they're in trouble."

Kelley's manager, Tom Loeffler of Mouthpiece Sports, said the fight fell into Kelley's lap and was one they simply could not pass up.

"There really wasn't a question as to whether Kevin was going to fight Morales," Loeffler said. "The only question was whether he could make the weight and be strong at 126 pounds on short notice."

"He's very motivated for this fight," Loeffler added. "If Kevin's 100 percent, Morales is going to be in for a long night."

Kelley, who also does color commentary for HBO's boxing series "KO Nation," had been in training for his own fight, but had also sparred a solid 50 rounds with Augie Sanchez in preparation for the latter's title shot at World Boxing Organization champion Prince Naseem Hamed on Aug. 19. Getting down to 126 pounds was the only adjustment Kelley said he had to make.

"I never talked about fighting Morales," Kelley said. "I never figured it would happen. I made a decision and I said 'Let's do this.' I think Morales is in for a big, big surprise. We know it's a hard fight and we're prepared for war."

It is also an opportunity Kelley's trainer, former Whitestone resident and Queens native Phil Borgia, is extremely excited about.

"I don't think [Morales] can be any more ripe than he is right now," Borgia said from Las Vegas, where both he and Kelley relocated more than a year ago. "We've been ready to fight. We couldn't be any more prepared. Kevin's a great bet, a great bet, not just to beat him, but to knock him cold."

Kelley, a longtime Flushing resident and Bowne High School grad, held the WBC championship from Dec. 1993 through Jan. 1995, but has been inactive since January of this year, when he knocked out then-undefeated contender Frank Archuleta in nine rounds. Since then Kelley had two scheduled bouts, one in April and one in June, that fell through.

The former two-time New York Golden Gloves champ last fought for a world championship in Dec. 1997, when he was knocked out by Hamed in four rounds. In that bout, held at Madison Square Garden, Kelley had the champ on the deck three times before succumbing.

Since failing to get Hamed to agree to a rematch, Kelley has had an up-and-down career. He rebounded from the loss to defeat Vincent Howard, then lost to Derrick Gainer, beat Jorge Ramirez and Hector Velasquez, lost to journeyman Benito Rodriguez and beat Archuleta.

Kelley's career record stands at 54-1-2 with 29 knockouts. He is ranked No. 6 by the WBC.

"I still punch as hard as I did, I'm still as fast I was," Kelley said. "Kevin Kelley's an artist, the fists are his paint brushes and the ring is his canvas. This fight, this is my Picasso."

Morales, on the other hand, has had little in the way of failure in his career. Sporting a record of 37-0 with 29 knockouts, Morales is the former WBC super bantamweight (122 pounds) champion and holds wins over such notables as Daniel Zaragoza, Junior Jones, Wayne McCullough and, most recently, over former world champion Marco Antonio Barrera on Feb. 19 - his last fight at 122.

In his lone fight at 126 pounds, Morales needed just three rounds to dispatch Mike Juarez in June.

His match against Barrera, a 12-round war that many boxing experts believe Barrera won, is what Borgia is hanging his hat on as evidence that the Tijuana native is ready for his first professional defeat.

"I think he's a strong, kid, I think he's a knowledgeable fighter and I think he's highly overrated," Borgia said of Morales. "It's going to be brutal."

A win by Kelley would force the Flushing-bred boxer to take on the injured Espadas for the title, but may also open the door for what he has longed for - another crack at Hamed.

"When I beat Morales I have to fight Espadas, then I'll fight the Prince sometime next year," Kelley said.

His manager agreed, saying, "If Kevin beats Morales, the Prince will not have any more excuses."

The bout will be televised live on HBO.

"[Morales is] trying to take food out of my kids' mouths," Kelley said. "When that bell rings, that's what I'm looking at."

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