By Terence Dooley
Robin Park Centre, Wigan: “I proved I've got a chin tonight didn't I? People have probably said to you that I haven't got a chin but I have, I've also got some power and can fight. I hope this leads onto good things and opens up doors for me. I can come again,” declared Jon Kays in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's tenth round KO loss to Commonwealth super-featherweight boss Liam Walsh.
Pre-fight ringside talk had focussed on whether Kays would be able to withstand the defending champion's early onslaught. Kays had been drawn into a tear-up during his only previous defeat – a points reverse to Craig Johnson in 2008 – so there were fears that the Ashton-based boxer would be dragged into an early brawl.
Some, this writer amongst them, feared for Kays (128½lb) early yet believed that he could give it a real go if he worked his way into the Frank Warren/VIP Promotions-promoted fight. The International Masters title holder, however, was clipped with a left hook early in the opening stanza as Walsh (129½lb) piled on the pressure.
Liam, though, seemed unsure of whether he should box from the southpaw or orthodox stance; he produced some of his best early work as a portsider only to switch his approach as the rounds wore on, allowing Kays to use his own jab and movement to get into the contest. The Norfolk native's plans were further upset by a cut to the right eye in round three, referee Victor Loughlin called a head clash only for Walsh to later admit that a scraping right hand had inflicted the damage.
“That is the first time I've been cut,” confirmed Walsh when recalling the incident. “It was a shot, not heads, a right hand caught me – I felt it. I didn't realise I was cut so it didn't bother me. Jon clipped me again with the right in the eighth and I felt that one, he was swinging for his life, if you go into the ring then you're going to get hit.”
Kays himself was given plenty to worry about in a tough fourth. Liam's left hook caused Jon's legs to dip, a follow-up assault was topped by a sharp three punch combination which caused Kays to drop to the floor in order to buy himself a bit of time.
“I wasn't hurt in the fourth round, it was an accumulation of punches that stunned me so I decided to go down to give myself the eight seconds. I got up and showed that I'm a warrior,” said Kays as he looked back on the knockdown.
Indeed, the flooring shook Kays up and, perhaps, prompted Walsh to take his foot off the gas; his 27-year-old challenger was given the time and space needed to rack up his own points during the middle section. As mentioned, Kays had his own big moment in round eight, a roundhouse right hand put Walsh onto the back foot, the impetus helped the challenger carry the round.
This revival was brought to end in the tenth stanza. Walsh's left hook to the body, a constant feature of his best work, dropped Kays after both had exchanged blows, the shot was set up by a double right hook, head and body. Both had boxed on even terms for periods of the fight only for Liam's precision to end matters at 1:05 of the session.
Any suggestions of pre-fight bad blood was washed away in the aftermath, both acknowledged the effort put in by the other, with Kays adamant that they had shown a lot of fighting spirit. He said, “I stepped up to the plate on four weeks notice and did what I said I was going to do – I did myself proud. I got him with a great shot in the eighth but he recovered and came back, popping me with some great body shots that I couldn't recover from.
“I mean no disrespect to him because he only had four weeks notice as well. Me and Bobby gave it our lives but it wasn't meant to be tonight. Hopefully they'll soon have me back on Sky TV.”
Ironically, Kays had lost out in the race to fight British champion Gary Sykes due to concerns that Sykes-Kays was not a TV-worthy spectacle. “I got offered Gary Sykes and it was maybe too soon but I accepted that one and then had no doubts about taking this one,” revealed Kays, who falls to 13-2 (4 early).
“I hope I can get an English title shot and come back that way. This kid is probably the best young fighter in the domestic division so I showed what a good standard I can box at. Liam was better on the night but I did push him to the limit.
“I am a bit gutted, though. He kept popping his left hook to the body, I was feeling it. I felt it and felt it, then he popped it in the tenth and that was that. He did get in my head a bit by telling me not to be scared during the weigh in. His two brothers [Michael and Ryan] were around him yesterday as well. They came up to me after the fight to say nice things. It is all part of the game. We both put in a good show.”
Kays believes that he came close with that big right hand in round eight, telling me that Liam's mature response to the shot shows that the man nicknamed 'Destiny' deserves to be feted and picked for big things. “I got him good in the eighth, it shows what kind of champion he is, he's moving onto bigger things but I'll be back. I'm going back to the gym on Monday,” insisted the fallen challenger.
Bobby Rimmer, who trains Kays, admitted that he was feeling a curious mixture of disappointment and pride; he also believes that his charge's performance made a mockery of claims that Kays is not a TV-worthy fighter.
“The thing about Jon is that he's tough and rugged. I was a little bit upset when they said that Jon against Gary Sykes wasn't a TV fight, what were they talking about?” blasted Bobby.
“Then Jon goes out there against a really good kid in Liam and puts that type of performance on. I thought he had Liam almost out. We said in training that he might have to get off the floor to win, that is what Jon does, he always comes back from a punch. Liam was hurt in the eighth but Jon just couldn't finish it, the thing about Walsh is that he was never there to take the same kind of shot again.”
Rimmer read the riot act to '2 Smokes' after that torrid fourth round. Kays earned the nickname due to his laid back nature, something Bobby has worked hard to address. Saying, “Jon was a little bit wayward in the fourth round so I bollocked him at the end of the round.”
“Look, I watch Jon sparring all the time, I don't think he's got a questionable chin,” opined Rimmer when asked if Kays had answered a lot of questions. “Jon got hit from a cracking shot by Barrington Brown during his last Sky fight [in 2009]. He went down in that one but got up to win. Liam put him down but he got up and came back into the fight. It is not like he's going down against non-punchers, the criticism is mad. I'm not going home tonight with Jon as Commonwealth champion but I'll be taking a lot of pride with me.”
Walsh moves to 11-0 (8); the judges had it wider than many at ringside, scores of 90-81, 88-82 and 88-83 did not reflect the competitive nature of the fight. Walsh puts this down to the fact that he is still learning his trade.
“Jon fought the fight of his life so full respect to him. He pushed me but I got stuck in a bit of a lull and just couldn't seem to raise my game. I put him down early and thought I'd walk over him at that point but he fought a great fight,” marvelled the reigning champion.
“I was born in Rochdale and lived there for ten years before moving to Cromer so I had fans from both places, they were here for me tonight. I was meant to the away fighter but my fans were very loud so you wouldn't have known.”
“I kept changing my stance, really”, he mused, “everything was a bit all over the shop tonight. I'm bit annoyed by the performance. A lot of people will have paid a week's wage to make it tonight, all I can do is apologise to them and promise that I'll be better next time.”
Liam, though, did what a champion is supposed to do. As he iced his left hand, I reminded him that he had used his aching fist to produce a quality finish. “That finish is when it all came together,” answered Walsh.
“We were having a little swing at each other. I pulled away with my body shots and he went down. I probably should have done that a little earlier to try to surprise him but he fought a good fight.”
“I think you're right”, he said when asked if he is now a target, “everyone will be out to beat me and get my name and title. They want to give me a run for my money. Any champion is a target for people to beat. It means that I have to keep improving, I've only had eleven fights myself.
“That was only my second (scheduled) twelve rounder. A few of my earlier fights were over quickly so I'm getting used to gong longer. I will move on and Jon can go for the English belt now, it is there for him. Jon can certainly come again.
“I want to learn my trade, get the right fights and work my way up the ladder. I want to get better and better, this division is red hot at the minute so I want to go through the best in Britain. I am honoured when people say that I'm going to go far but it is no point people just saying it, I have to step up to the plate and prove it, performances like tonight don't do me any favours.”
Certainly, Liam learned a few lessons during the contest, most notably that you have to be careful when donning a pair of Mayweather-esque fur-trimmed shorts. “I've ruined me shorts!” he joked. “I was told not to get blood on them so that is egg on my face.”
Despite his harsh assessment of the fight, Walsh showed some fine qualities, ending the argument with quality shots. Dean Powell, Frank Warren's matchmaker, appreciated the finish.
“It was a great finish, he got a little bit involved when he shouldn't have and got hurt with a good right hand but shook it off and didn't get hit with the same punch again. Liam's a good learner, a quick learner and he's a developing champion,” noted Powell.
“That was Jon's world title fight tonight and he came out with a lot of credit after showing courage and guts early on in the fight to get up from the floor and drag his way back into the fight. A lot of credit has to go to Bobby Rimmer and [nutritionist] Kerry Kayes for getting him into great shape. Also, a lot of credit has to go to Liam and [trainer] Graham Everett, they've done a great job together and Liam's learning whilst defending his title, which is a tough thing.”
“Liam is progressing very well, he came from a tough patch in that eighth round and, to me, it shows he is a quick learner. I would think that would be the general idea at the moment but it depends on what is the best direction for Liam,” said Powell when asked if they intend to take Liam down the British and European route.
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