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Bosco’s Corner: Another

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It’s the same old story, really. I was just hopeful it wouldn’t happen to him. And maybe it won’t turn out the way it has for so many others. I can hope.

Kevin Kelley, the “Flushing Flash,” the former World Boxing Council featherweight champion of the world, the two-time New York Golden Gloves champ and perhaps the most dominant American featherweight of the 1990s, is making a comeback.

He will face Raul Martin Franco on April 27 in Las Vegas and all I can ask myself is “why?”

Kelley will be 35 years old in June and is a good eight or nine years past his prime, when he snatched the world title from Gregorio Vargas in a 12-round war televised live on HBO. Kelley went where few fighters his weight had ever gone and he did it with personality, not just fists.

When he was at the top of his game, Kelley was as engaging a boxer as ever there was in the sport. He talked a mile a minute, was personable and charismatic and had the goods to back it up in the ring.

As an amateur, Kelley was a can’t-miss prospect. Though he did not reach the pinnacle of amateur boxing — the 1988 Olympics — he certainly was good enough to make waves and a name for himself before ever stepping into a professional prize ring.

He dominated his early opponents the way a rising star should, knocking out Billy Barnes in the second round of his professional debut on Sept. 8, 1988. And the wins just kept on coming.

He fought quality opponents and beat them all on the way to the title — guys like Harold Warren, Rafael Zuniga, James Pipps and Troy Dorsey — in a bout which set a record for the most punches thrown, more than 2,800 combined. And then he reached the pinnacle, knocking off Vargas on Dec. 4, 1993 and claiming the crown.

It was everything he had worked for and it could not have been any better. Kelley has realized his potential all the while keeping his head squarely on his shoulders. He never came off as arrogant, though, like just about every fighter in the world, and got into the habit of referring to himself in the third person.

When he won the title Kelley sported a perfect record of 37-0. In a little more than a year he fought six times, defending the title three times and winning two non-title bouts.

The first was a tougher-than-expected bout with Jesse Benavides. Kelley won in 12. Then came a non-title knockout win over George Navarro. He knocked out Jose Ramos in his second defense of the crown and stopped Pete Taliaferro in another non-title bout.

His third defense would be his last, however. Fighting with an eye swollen shut for the better part of the fight, Kelley finally succumbed to Alejandro Gonzalez in 11 rounds on Jan. 7, 1995. It was a fight many expected Kelley to easily win, but one that marked the end of his reign

The next few years were wildly erratic. Kelley needed a dramatic comeback to stop the unheralded Ricardo Rivera, had a technical draw with the nondescript Tommy Parks and looked downright uninspired in a 12-round draw against Clarence “Bones” Adams.

Kelley got his act together long enough to put together a few solid wins, starting with a 12-round unanimous decision over Louie Espinoza. He scored a memorable eighth-round knockout of Derrick Gainer on June 15, 1996, and beat Edwin Santana, Jesus Salud and Orlando Fernandez in a row to earn a title shot at the featherweight king, Prince Naseem Hamed.

That shot came on Dec. 19, 1997 in Madison Square Garden, arguably the biggest night of Kelley’s career. And in the last great performance of his career, Kelly went toe-to-toe with Hamed, whom many considered the best pound-for-pound puncher in the game.

Kelley had Hamed on the deck three times, but could not finish him off, as Kelley went down — also for the third time — in the fourth round.

And that’s been about it for Kelley. He lost a rematch to Gainer in 1998, scored a couple more wins, none too impressive, and lost his last fight, a seventh-round TKO to Erick Morales, who went on to win a portion of the featherweight title in his next bout.

That was almost two years ago. Kelley hasn’t been in a competitive boxing match since, sticking to sparring in the gym and the occasional color commentary on radio and television.

So why now?

Why else? It has got to be the money. I spent a lot of time talking to Kelley and his trainer Phil Borgia over the years to know that Kelley is recently divorced — with five kids — and is a single man living in Las Vegas. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out.

Kelley made some good change in his career, but a little more can’t hurt. So he is stepping back into the ring later this month to fight a 38-year-old with a record of 23-15-2 and 18 KOs.

This is a fight Kelley should win in a walk, even though he is well past his prime, an old fighter looking for one last payday.

Maybe Kelley will defy the odds and ride this comeback all the way back to the title. Unfortunately, this story seldom ends that way.

I wish him well.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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