As for Bastida, Kelly knew very little about the South American until he was presented to him as an opponent, but has since watched enough of him to get a handle on what he does well and not so well. For the rest of us, meanwhile, it’s harder to tell. Bastida, on the face of it, has a good-looking record of 18-1-1 (10), though has never fought outside his home country and, furthermore, has beaten nobody familiar to anyone outside his home country.
“He’s good, he’s decent,” said Kelly. “He brings a big winning record, he’s game, and he’s tall (6’1 according to BoxRec). He says he’s going to bring war. He says I’m a good boxer and fast but the way he’ll beat me is by bringing me into a fight.
“If that’s the way they want to fight, and that’s the way opponents want to fight me in the future, based on that one loss I had with everything going on in the background, they’re going to have a rude awakening.
“I’ve been boxing on the back foot against people who want to come forward all my life, so it’s a natural thing for me to counterpunch and look for shots from different angles. I’m punching hard now, so these guys are going to be getting hurt. They won’t be able to put the pressure on like they think. I’ll flip that plan on its head and he’ll end up getting hurt. I want to do a job on him, 100%. I believe I’ll take him to school and move on.”
Now 28, and with the pain of defeat serving as fuel, there is a sense that “moving on” means something different to Kelly, 11-1 (7), than it would have done back in 2017, the year he turned pro. He knows now that the professional game offers nobody a smooth path to the top and that no two paths will ever be the same. Moreover, Kelly knows the sport itself is in a state of flux, changing year after year, which in turn has made his goals less specific but no less ambitious in scale.
“Before, when I was a kid, I used to take things to heart,” he said, “But it’s all like the WWE really. Everybody is saying something just to get some sort of limelight. It’s not like the old days when the world championships were a real achievement. Back in the day, you had the world champion. Today, you’ve got a different belt for Canelo (Álvarez) every Cinco de Mayo. It’s crazy.
“Are the belts worth it? Yes. Do they legitimately hold the same value as they did back in the day? I don’t think so. But it’s the sport we’re in. You have to move with the times or get left behind.
“I’m just focusing on winning and looking good doing it and also enjoying myself. In five or six years, when boxing comes to an end for me, I just want to know I did the best I could, secured my family’s future first and foremost, and fulfilled my potential.”
*** This Saturday (July 30) Kelly fights in the North East for the first time since 2018 when he takes on Argentina’s Lucas Bastida over 10 rounds, live on Channel 5 from 10pm ***