Josh Kelly maintained his place in the race for a world title shot but he hardly left cruise control against the over-matched Gabriel Corzo in Newcastle.
Like all the other contenders at 154lbs, Kelly is hoping Jermell Charlo’s move up to face Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in September may present him an opportunity to fight for one of the belts currently held by the undisputed champion from Texas.
A statement here, against the previously undefeated visitor, might have helped him in that quest but, although Kelly dominated just about every second of this encounter, this did little to enhance his standing. Judges Salvador Del Pino and Howard Foster both had him a shut-out victor at 120-107 while Stephane Nicolo somehow had it 117-110. This was easy work.
He coasted at times and was unable to find the finish against Corzo, who would have done well to last three rounds against someone like Tim Tszyu. But a win is a win and Kelly marches on.
The 29-year-old has recently opened up about his battles with what he described as ‘chronic hypochondria’, where he spent the build up to fights worrying that he would get ill. He revealed that at its peak, he started taking antibiotics for no reason and was drinking whiskey just to help him sleep during fight weeks.
As a result he took a 16-month break from the ring before returning with an impressive victory over Troy Williamson in December. This was his first fight since that career-best performance and knew that another impressive display here would help his positioning in a division which seems in flux.
Kelly is currently ranked at No.7 with the IBF and No.2 with the WBO and is hoping to get the opportunity to fight for a world title inside the next 12 months. However, all of those plans would have fallen down had he made a mistake here against the Argentinean.
The 28-year-old arrived at the Newcastle Arena with an undefeated record but with just three stoppages in his 18 wins as a professional.
And he would have been reasonably encouraged by the start he made, looking to absorb Kelly’s work and then catch and counter with the left hook. He would also have been heartened by the cut sustained by Kelly in the first round near his left eye.
But although Corzo was landing here and there, it was only because Kelly was choosing to walk him down with his hands at his waist before attempting to land with uppercuts through the middle.
In the fourth, Kelly really began to turn the screw and Corzo spent much of the round with his back against the ropes and the Sunderland man landing left hooks to head and body. But the home favourite picked up a second cut, this time on the bridge of his nose, before he decided to switch to southpaw as he went in search of a showreel knockout.
By the eighth it was little more than target practice and Corzo had retreated to survival mode. But, although Kelly was landing at will with either hand, survive Corzo did. Kelly, whose only trouble came from Corzo’s head, was even standing between rounds in a demonstration of how easy the whole affair was for him.
It was more of the same for the final three rounds as Kelly cruised to victory. There was one moment of excitement, however, after the final bell as the victor seemed to take umbrage with something said by Corzo which caused some pushing and shoving between the teams.