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Bosco’s Corner: Hanging on for one more shot at title

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Kevin Kelley won a big fight in July, a hard-fought 10-round decision over Humberto Soto for the lightly regarded NABA lightweight...

By Anthony Bosco

Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead — William Shakespeare

Kevin Kelley won a big fight in July, a hard-fought 10-round decision over Humberto Soto for the lightly regarded NABA lightweight championship, a regional title affiliated with the World Boxing Association.

And while the belt, though nice, does little for Kelley but hold up his pants, the victory was enough for the World Boxing Council to elevate the former Flushing resident to No. 10 in its world rankings of the junior lightweight or 130-pound division.

It is good news for Kelley, as long as the aging pugilist can keep his hands up and stay out of harm’s way as he continues a career in which anyone over the age of 30 seems positively ancient.

The 35-year-old Bowne High School graduate will lace up his gloves again on Nov. 14 in the debut of a new boxing series at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena called “Miami Fight Night.” His opponent is yet to be determined, but the fight offers Kelley another chance to stay active and another chance to bring in some money.

The bout will not be a defense of his new NABA crown, nor will it be televised to the masses. It will be a fight much like many of Kelley’s recent encounters, against a nondescript opponent with little or no press coverage.

To some, Kelley may seem to be hanging on to a sport that long ago tried to shove him into the has-been file. Once considered THE featherweight champion of the world, the most exciting fighter below 130 pounds and one of the pound-for-pound best in the sport, Kelley is no longer a prospect, no longer even a sought-after commodity. He is just a recognizable name to the largely ambivalent public, someone who can fill the house, even if he can’t fight as he once did.

Whether Kelley can still hang with the elite-level fighters is debatable. The last two times he stepped into the ring against a top contender or champion, he was beaten soundly, stopped by Eric Morales in seven and clearly outpointed by Derrick Gainer, a fighter Kelley once KO’d with a single left hand.

But he has won of late, most recently against Soto, but also a one-round bout in April, his first fight in 18 months, when he was stopped by Morales in a bout for the interim WBC featherweight crown.

When he steps into the ring next month, Kelley will be a 35-year-old fighter with a career record of 53-5-2 with 35 knockouts. The bout will be the 61st of his 14-year career.

Kelley began his career in 1988, fresh off his second-straight New York Golden Gloves title out of the Flushing PAL. He remained an unbeaten prospect, despite ongoing hand trouble, leading up to his assault on the rankings.

In December 1993, Kelley won the World Boxing Council 126-pound crown via unanimous decision over Gregorio Vargas. He lost the crown three defenses later to Alejandro Gonzalez.

He later held a minor version of the featherweight championship, lost a much ballyhooed match-up with Prince Naseem Hamed and then slowly and quietly faded away from boxing, concentrating instead on his second career, that of a fight color commentator.

But over the past year, Kelley has been less and less behind the mic and more and more in the ring. His longtime trainer Phil Borgia said that there are numerous reasons why Kelley has yet to step away from the ring for good, not the least of which in money.

“The guy’s got to earn a living,” Borgia said. “I think anybody should do what they love to do as long as they are capable of doing it. He’s definitely capable and I honestly feel, all kidding aside, I would not encourage him to do this stuff if I didn’t think he could be world champion again.”

But there is a caveat to what Borgia said. He believes Kelley still is capable of winning a world title only if the match-up is right, the opponent tailor-made for Kelley and that his fighter reinvests 100 percent into his boxing career.

“As long as he is focused on what he is doing and he is not concentrating on being a commentator, not that he’s not good at it, but what I feel is that if he is in training for a serious fight, all else should be secondary,” Borgia said.

“When it comes time for a title fight, I think being a fighter and what it encompasses, I think everything but the health of his kids and himself should take a back seat. As long as he does those things, I still think he can beat anybody in the world.”

It is a cliché to say that a fight, any fight, for a fighter of Kelley’s advanced years is a must-win situation. A fighter with Kelley’s name and reputation of being someone who mixes it up will always be able to make a buck with gloves on his hands, even if it means he is just an opponent.

But that was never who Kelley planned or hoped to become.

I can understand Kelley’s need to make a living and the lure of one more big payday, which is just what Kelley will get if he wins a fight or two more and remains ranked. But if things are not just as Borgia described — the perfect opponent with the perfect style — Kelley could risk a lot more than his career by taking such a fight.

As always, I hope for the best for Kelley. I wish him well and success as long as he fights. I just hope he doesn’t fight once too often.

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

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