Jay: Kelly's eye on prize
Byrne insists Karl can stun McCrory to take Irish crown
The Irish boxing year ended with a shock.
While it was known that promoters were working to set up a fight between BUI Celtic super-featherweight champion Stephen McAfee (5-0-1, 2 KOs) and Karl Kelly (2-2), it was announced that Kelly would fight for the Irish national lightweight title in the Ulster Hall in Belfast on February 9.
Manager Jay 'The Negotiator' Byrne said: "I rang Karl on Christmas Eve and said, 'I have your Christmas present - an Irish title fight'."
Many punters are confused how Kelly, whose undistinguished record includes a BUI Celtic super-lightweight title fight loss to Victor Rabei and a controversial one-point win against Martin Quinn, could be considered a credible challenger for the prestigious national title.
But not Byrne, the canny manager/coach/fighter who won the British Boxing Board of Control Celtic super-welterweight title in Glasgow in November.
"When the fight was offered to me, I jumped on it," he said. "I'll have Karl on form and in the shape of his life for this one."
Kelly's opponent will be the undefeated Feargal McCrory (9-0, 3 KOs).
The Coalisland fighter comes with a highly decorated amateur record and pro coaching from respected veterans John Breen and Ricky Hatton.
But Byrne insisted: "This won't be Karl's toughest fight. Fergal's a good kid. I watched him on the Ryan Burnett Sky card in Belfast and he (should have) lost to a poor journeyman. He got the home decision. I thought he was poor.
"He's good. But he hasn't been tested with big shots."
There have been changes in Kelly's camp. Out goes coach Declan Geraghty Snr and in comes Byrne, who has brought new levels of intensity to the regime.
"He's only been in camp for two weeks and already he's the best I've ever seen him," said Byrne. "I've never seen him as hungry.
"He sends me his runs and his heart monitor results every day. He weighs-in in front of me on a daily basis and his diet is perfect. His weight is perfect. He's a total pro. I won't be shocked if he wins."
By the Negotiator's calculations, McCrory is in for a surprise.
"Karl is reluctant to take a step back," he said. "He has been in against heavier and better opponents. He went up two weights to fight Victor Rabei."
According to Byrne, Kelly has something special in his armoury.
"He can take a punch all day long," he said. "And he has a one-punch knock out. People will be shocked when they see Karl on February 9."