December 18th, 2004 – by Tomás Rohan
Bruised, bloody but happy, Damaen Kelly wore the expression of a man who had just started his Christmas holidays, The little Belfast stylist claimed the IBO super flyweight title with a unanimous 12 rounds point win over Jason “Too Smooth” Booth. It was Kelly though who displayed the smooth boxing skills to outfox the defending champion in Huddersfield last night.
Going into the fight there were questions about Booths preparations given upheavals in his personal life recently though. Those questions looked to be unfounded with Booth giving his all over twelve intensely hard fought rounds. The champion got off to the better start winning the opening round as Kelly struggled to get into his rhythm.
There was a marked improvement from the second though in Kelly’s work with the challenger starting to display the classic boxing skills that brought him such success in the amateur code. Kelly was beginning to establish control when a clash of heads in the fourth round left him with a nasty gash running across his left eyebrow. Kelly of course is known as a “bleeder” so the cut didn’t seem to bother him too much although there were concerns when referee Terry O’ Connor had the doctor inspect the cut in the seventh round.
In general though cuts man Benny King managed to control the bleeding and allow Kelly to get on with his work. As the contest progressed though Booth began to establish himself more and more and by the middle rounds he was making Kelly miss and countering with his own chopping shots. The rounds remained close but there was a sense that the tide was about to turn in the champion’s favour.
Kelly’s long time trainer Mickey Hawkins sensed this as well and urged his man to get back to the controlled boxing that had served him so well in the early part of the fight. Kelly responded in style and from the eighth round on he looked the boss in the fight. Once again the jab was the key for Kelly and he was also starting to find the target frequently with eye-catching right hands.
The eleventh was by far Kelly’s best round and rubber-stamped his superiority in the fight. He repeatedly tagged a now ragged looking champion knocking his head back time and time again. Both corners roused their men for one last effort in the final round although unbeknown to them Kelly barring a knockout was already a winner on the scorecards. My own card read 117-112 for Kelly, which mirrored one official scorecard. The other two judges had it for Kelly as well by 116-112 and a wide 119-109 margin, which didn’t reflect Booth’s contribution to an absorbing contest.
Booth was unhappy with the decision and felt that he had done enough to win. It was certainly a difficult contest to score with only a handful of the rounds having clear-cut winners.
In general though Kelly was the boss early and late in the fight and deserved the verdict. Afterwards both men said that they would like to do it again and politically it should not be a difficult rematch to make.
For now though Kelly can push aside the Christmas cards on the mantelpiece and replace them with the IBO belt which although lightly regarded on the World scene is certainly a welcome Christmas present for the Belfastman.