01 July 2008 – by Cormac Campbell
It is an unfortunate reality that boxers in lower weight divisions struggle to garner the same attention and financial rewards as their more heavy-set contemporaries.
There have of course been notable exceptions in this small part of the world, with Wayne McCullough, Dave McAuley and Barry McGuigan all pushing through the glass ceiling into the general publics hearts. However, despite his notable achievements, which include British, Commonwealth, European and IBO crowns, public recognition and the traditional trappings of success avoided Damean Kelly.
In truth, Belfastman Kelly could probably navigate the main thoroughfares of his home city in relative anonymity. Timing has something to do with this.
Kellys peak was in the middle of the bad old days when professional bills in Ireland were as rare as hens teeth. Had he come along five years later it would seem absurd that someone of his world-class ability should not be at the forefront of the thriving domestic scene. In truth one could be forgive for believing that Murphys Law whereby if anything can go wrong it will was written specifically for Kelly.
A stoppage defeat to Keith Knox in a title defence in Belfasts Maysfield Leisure Centre in 1999 clearly highlighted this.
It is no exaggeration to say that Knox failed to land a single blow on the Holy Trinity mans ever young visage, yet roughhouse tactics managed to secure a sixth round victory for the limited Scot.
Speaking exclusively to Irish-boxing.com, Kelly, now 31, seemed remarkably calm about such an injustice.
I realise I learnt a lot from that when I look back to keep my head out of the road, he joked.
He (Knox) said that was going to happen before hand in the papers and that is what he did.
Kelly regrouped lifting the EBU and IBO crowns in 2000 before finally securing a shot at the IBF title in 2003. Travelling to Columbia wasnt exactly what the former Olympian had in mind and in the end taking on Irene Pacheco in his own back yard proved to be a painful lesson. Suffering a comprehensive seventh round stoppage defeat could have been the end, but once again Kelly was pragmatic.
I took the opportunity when it came, he said.
I trained very hard and went out there to do my best. But there are no excuses. I came up against a very good opponent and thats what happened.
Again Kelly went back to the drawing board. Victories over Jason Booth and Ian Napa re-established Kelly as the domestic number one, securing a 2006 European clash with Simone Maludrottu in the Andersonstown Leisure Centre in Belfast.
This proved to be another kick in the proverbial teeth. A dreadful unanimous decision in favour of the Italian warranted a rematch. But having to go in to Maludrottus back yard proved to be the final nail in the coffin of Kellys career as the Irishman suffered a third-round KO defeat.
Announcing his retirement it seemed to be the end, but after a well-deserved break the 31-year-old is contemplating a return to the squared circle.
If something comes up I would take it so well see what happens, he admitted.
I took time out, announced my retirement but I have kept myself sharp. It is in your blood and it will always be in your blood. Well see if there is an option out there.
No doubt Brian Peters and Tommy Egan will be reaching for their telephones.