Classic Irish Boxing: Dec 2006 Kelly retires

Classic Irish Boxing: December 2006
By Tomas Rohan
Damaen Kelly’s career came to a sad but dignified end in Sardinia on Saturday night when he suffered a third round defeat in his European bantamweight title rematch with local man Simone Maludrottu.
The Belfast man’s long time mentor, Mickey Hawkins threw in the towel with Kelly under heavy fire from the defending champion. It looked like the challenger could have ridden out the storm but he didn’t argue when referee, Erkki Meronen stepped in to halt Maludrottu’s assault when the Finnish official spotted the towel landing on the canvas.
Hawkins had seen enough and having been with Kelly since he first walked into the Holy Trinity gym as a kid he knew when to call time on his career.
Kelly had started brightly enough nipping in and out with fast, raiding attacks, just as he had done for 12 rounds in his first meeting with Maludrottu in April. On that occasion in Belfast Kelly was robbed of justice when the three judges inexplicably combined to deny him the opportunity of becoming the first Irish fighter to win European titles in two weight divisions.
This time though the judges were surplus to requirements not be needed. Back in his hometown of Olbia the 28-year-old champion was determined to make up for his lacklustre showing in April.
Both men weighed in at 117 and a half pounds and stood at 5 foot 5 but previously Maludrottu had weighed as high as 123 pounds while Kelly spent most of his career making the 112 pound flyweight limit. So while there was little between them on the tale of the tape last Saturday night there was no doubt that Maludrottu was the naturally stronger man.
However Kelly had been effective in negating that particular advantage in April and despite having to travel for the rematch there it was hoped that Kelly could once again use his superior boxing ability to frustrate the champion.
Kelly himself admitted before the rematch that the judges decision in the original bout had sickened him and taken away any desire he had left for the sport. Prior to travelling to Italy the camp claimed that preparations had gone well but there was a suspicion that Kelly would find it hard to “get up” for the fight.
Some might suggest that the idea of seeking justice for decision rendered in April should have been enough to fire Kelly up. But deep down Kelly must have known that he didn’t have the power or strength at bantamweight to oust Maludrottu and if he could outbox him in Belfast and not get a decision how could be expect to secure a verdict in the Italian’s back yard.
However the champion also deserves credit for ensuring that there was no doubt about the result this time around. He trapped Kelly in a corner midway through the third and landed a solid right left combination which immediately had Kelly on the back foot and covering up.
Maludrottu sensed he had Kelly in trouble and backed him up across the ring scoring with another right left combination before landing a sequence of heavy right hands. Kelly was hurt but still appeared quite steady on his feet. However Hawkins had seen enough and he threw in the towel.
Afterwards Maludrottu spoke of moving on to a world title fight. Having reigned as European Champion for over two years now he’s deserving of his chance.
As for Kelly the 33-year-old wasted little time in confirming that it was his last appearance in the ring. He told the Irish News, “That’s the end of the day, that’s me finished. I did have good successes but I knew that it was coming to an end. He was far stronger this time. He caught me early and that was that.”
“It’s a hard game, a sickening game too at times, lots of disappointments and messing about, a lot of bad decisions. I’ve been in the club since I was seven, boxing since I was 11. Now I’m 33 and it’s time to call it a day.”
You always got the impression that Kelly and indeed Hawkins were never truly comfortable with what went on in the pro game outside the ropes. Both had an intense dislike for the politics and business machinations that seemed to frustrate Kelly’s career at almost every turn. Kelly was at his best as a flyweight but flyweights were simply not box office hence the move up the weight divisions toward the end of his career.
His excellent amateur pedigree (5 time Irish senior champion and Bronze medals at World and European Championships) ensured he was always likely to give the pro game a go and when he did hang up his amateur vest in 1997 success came quickly. He was Commonwealth flyweight champ in just his eighth fight and he added a British title in fight number nine. A European title at flyweight arrived after just 12 fights but a genuine world title eluded him.
Following his European triumph he collected the lightly regarded IBO and WBF flyweight belts before moving up to super flyweight in 2004 to claim the IBO title in that weight division with a great win over Nottingham’s Jason Booth.
In between all that came a trip to Colombia for a shot at the IBF flyweight champion Irene Pacheco. It was an attempt at bringing Dave “Boy” McAuley’s old world title back to Belfast but Kelly’s brave bid challenge ended after six rounds courtesy of the Colombian’s withering body shots. Once again it was Hawkins who was first to protect his fighter and pull him out.
At his best Kelly was a sheer joy to watch, the term “sweet science” could have been invented for him. He had the kind of style that every boxing trainer would hope to instil in any youngster taking up the sport. His fast hands, accuracy and nimble footwork ensured that he was a real “hit and not get hit” merchant.
Kelly was also a master at spinning off the ropes and turning the tables on his opponent, turning defence into attack with a quick change of feet. While his talent never brought the riches or accolades it should have the little man from Belfast still enjoyed a fine career and his performances will be treasured by boxing purists for years to come.
Certainly he deserves his place amongst the great Belfast flyweights, Rinty Monaghan, Dave McAuley and Hugh Russell.
Hopefully in the years to come we will see Kelly return to the sport to pass on his knowledge to those coming after him at the Holy Trinity Gym in Belfast. If this quiet and unassuming little man can pass on just a fraction of what he learned in the sport then the Holy Trinity Gym has a bright future.

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