IN AN alternate universe, Josh Kelly is on the Stadium of Light pitch as a player in Sunderland's red and white rather than a special guest previewing a big fight.

As a kid, Kelly played for his hometown club but walked away to pursue a boxing career. It was a bold step for a boy who wasn't yet a teenager but life in the ring has worked out well, even if he admits "sometimes I look back and think you silly b*****d".

Kelly laughs. In truth, it's been impossible to wipe the smile off the face of the 29-year-old for months, ever since a date to fight back in Sunderland for the first time as a pro was confirmed.

Plans have changed, with initial opponent Roarke Knapp forced out through injury, but in stepped big-punching Colombian Placido Ramirez, who will be in the opposite corner at the Beacon of Light tonight.

For Kelly - who swapped the North East for London a decade ago - it's been a special week back home, but nothing compared to what his "dream" 2024 would look like.

Kelly was presented to Sunderland's fans at half-time of Tuesday night's win over Leeds United. If he has his way, next year he'll be returning to the Stadium of Light to fight. It's a bold ambition but there are big names out there in and around his division: Conor Benn, Chris Eubank Junior and Kell Brook.

"I think I marmalise every single one of them. Absolutely marmalise them. Any of them," roared Kelly.

"They just keep dancing about each other, why don't they fight each other?!

"Get in there, get it done and see who is the best."


First, Kelly has to be the best tonight. There are countless examples over the years in boxing of fighters paying the price for looking beyond their next opponent. Kelly insists there's no chance he joins that long list.

"Every fight is the most important fight," he says.

"I never put too much pressure on myself.

"I just go out there and enjoy it, I lace my gloves up, put my boots on and go out and enjoy it.

"I'll get rid of this guy then 2024, there are some huge fights out there.

"I want to bring a fight to the Stadium of Light, that would be massive. If Sunderland get promoted and I get a stadium fight, that's the dream.

"I'd love a world title fight, I'd love a big domestic fight. I know I've got the capabilities to beat anyone. Anyone who disagrees, I'd love to prove wrong. Next year is going to be huge, but first I need to beat this kid."

He's loving being home.

"The last time I boxed here was 10 years ago, the place was electric and I was only an amateur. Boxing back home as a pro, it's just going to be special. I've been so excited.

"It's been mental in the build-up. I've been down in London since I was 22, 23, so to get back and see all my family and mates is great."

He's already celebrated one victory this week - with his beloved Black Cats seeing off Leeds.

"I was only about 10 or 11 at the time when I played for Sunderland," says the super-welterweight.

"For a couple of years I was in development, had a trial at the academy, was back in development, back having another trial. I was back and forth. I started boxing and I was starting to get more success. I eventually left Sunderland because I just wasn't enjoying it.

"I would love to play for Sunderland now but as a kid I wasn't enjoying it and was doing it alongside my boxing. So I ended up leaving, focusing on my boxing and playing some Sunday league with my mates."

His mates will be there tonight roaring him on, as will promoter Kalle Sauerland, who, like Kelly, has high hopes for next year.

He said: "This young man is number one in the world.

"I am expecting him to come up against a full powered Ramirez on Saturday night, a Colombian banger, and his compatriots have a history of causing upsets on these shores. But there will be no upset in Sunderland.

"I see big fights for Josh in 2024. Everyone knows I like a domestic blockbuster and there are a few names circling - Chris Eubank Junior, Conor Benn and I hear that Kell Brook is returning."

Josh Kelly's Sunderland homecoming fight tonight is live around the world on DAZN.  Tickets are still available at