Josh Kennedy
Life is good for ‘Handsome’ Josh Kennedy right now.  Nine fights into his professional career, he has picked up two titles, has amassed an unbeaten record, is English super bantamweight champion and has just picked up a sponsor to allow him to become a full-time professional. 

“Civil Rail Solutions (Mark Mason) said to me that if I won the English title, then I wouldn’t have to keep working anymore” says the Folkestone fighter.  “I won it and he stuck to his word, so I am a full-time athlete now.  I still have a local gym, Dynamics, who help me with strength and conditioning as well as Shepway Sports Trust, a local sports charity, who I help out with coaching courses.  I was kicked out of school at 13, so I like to go and help kids from my mistakes, make sure they stay in school longer than me!”

All of this success has left the likeable 25 year old in a positive mind set as he casts his eyes upon the other British contenders at 122lbs.  “I’m flying right now and even more so since seeing Robbie Turley win the Commonwealth title and Thomas Ward win the British, two lads I don’t rate highly” he says.  “I was disappointed Turley got that shot at the Commonwealth, he’s further down the British rankings than I am.  It was gutting.  It was hardly a memorable fight!  But now I’m excited because seeing that I know I have British titles in me and potentially world title ability.”

The fact that he can draw the direct comparisons with such confidence tells you a lot about Kennedy.  Single minded and focussed, Kennedy has had a phenomenal 12 months.  In December 2016, he moved up in weight to take on Jamie Speight for the Southern Area featherweight title, then moved straight back down in weight to capture the English title in March of this year.  Looking back to his pre-Christmas success, how was the experience of taking out the experienced Speight? 

“I boxed at featherweight as an amateur for ten years, so that wasn’t a problem.  Training as a professional I can get down to super bantamweight, but I felt comfortable at featherweight and it showed.  I stopped him in three rounds, and he’s never been down from a headshot before either.  That wasn’t even me trying to put him over, it was just accuracy and speed that got me the stoppage.”  So could we see Kennedy moving back up in weight over time?  “I only did it as I wanted a belt at the time and there was nobody to box at super bantam.  I’d do it again if the opportunities were there, but in my head I want to win everything I can at super bantamweight and then move up.  But I’m an ambitious fighter, I’ll take anything.”

We look back at the night he won the English title; March 18th 2017.  His opponent was ‘The Troublemaker’ Michael Ramabelatsa.  On paper, Ramabelatsa was a soft tough, 15 wins and 14 losses on his record.  But those in the know, knew that he carried a huge threat.  Those losses came at short notice in high level bouts.  The record didn’t tell the true story.  Kennedy had to survive the first knockdown of his career on the way to a tight, split decision victory.  How does he view it now?

“I knew it was going to be tough.  A lot of people wrote him off, saying he had so many losses, but I’m not an idiot.  I looked at who he’d boxed, who he was training with at the time and I knew it would be tough.  He’d stopped a former Commonwealth champion and had just changed trainer to Oliver Harrison, who is a top coach, and had gone full time at it so I knew he’d have a solid game plan.  I’m not living in a dream world, I know most of my opponents are just foreign exports and they didn’t have game plans.  Speight had a game plan and that didn’t work, then I dealt with Ramabelatsa.  I knew from the start what he was trying to do; hit and hold and be elusive.  I had to adapt, I knew I was going to stop him as he was so hard to hit, so I relied on my boxing ability, using my jab.  Someone from Boxing News summed it up, saying my work in the first 6 or 7 rounds won me the fight.” 

He reflects on the knockdown, acknowledging that a younger and less experienced version of himself would have bounced straight back up and gone after the opponent.  Instead “I stopped and told myself this is an English title fight, be sensible”.  He sees it as a positive that it happened in the biggest fight of his career.  “It shows what kind of fighter I am” Kennedy tells me thoughtfully.  
There is a tick over fight planned soon, a six rounder to keep him in action.  But plans may be changed by the time fight night comes on July 9th.  Alongside Manager Steve Goodwin, talks have taken place that Kennedy says may see him settle once and for all an old score.  “I spoke with Steve and I have to do a voluntary for my English title.  I didn’t like the way that Jamie Speight conducted himself after our fight, saying he was winning before the referee prematurely stopped it and called me all sorts of names.  I thought ‘you little cheeky…..” Josh stops momentarily, composes himself.  “If someone stops you like that, so convincingly, you don’t complain about it.  You shake their hand and say the better man won.  So I said to Steve I will do him a favour, give him a shot at my English if he wants it and beat him even more convincingly.  He’s fighting for the Southern Area featherweight title, so if he wins that then my six round fight may turn into an English title defence and then I can stop him even earlier.”

Whether that comes about remains to be seen.  One fighter though that is ruled out for now is Lucien Reid.  The two were due to meet in 2016 for a Southern Area eliminator, but after purse bid, Reid’s side withdrew from the fight.  According to Kennedy, he can now join the back of the queue.  “He didn’t conduct himself very well on social media, claiming he didn’t know who I was.  When it went to purse bids we won it; then they pulled out.  If you’ve just changed coach, why enter the purse bid?  I’m beyond him now.  If he wants a shot at it, he’ll have to earn it like I did.  I won’t do him any favours, not at all.”

With Reid dismissed, Kennedy has eyes for those that are holding titles after his July bout.  “There’s Thomas Ward or Robbie Turley that I want.  Ward, he’s young and not a big hitter; my strength would be a massive advantage there.  I’ve only seen clips of his last fight, but he didn’t like it when Jazza Dickens stuck it on him.  That’s a fight I’d take tomorrow.  With Turley, he’s not clever.  The way he moves, he doesn’t have a game plan, it’s like an amateur.  It’s like Prince Naseem, but nowhere near as good.  That’s two fights and two massive belts I would take tomorrow.”

It sounds like Kennedy is on a belt collecting mission, doing things the traditional way with Area, English, Commonwealth and British aspirations.  Is that fair?  “You only get to do this once.  In 20 years time I want to be telling stories of how I won everything, not boxed nobodies.  No disrespect to Thomas Ward, he has something like 20 fights, 20 wins and 2 stoppages.  He’s only boxed one or two half decent people.  I want to make a name for myself, box anybody and everybody.”

Outside the ring Kennedy is father to a young lad who he boasts with pride about.  Pictures often come up on social media of the two larking around, it shows a softer side to Kennedy and no doubt provides the additional drive he requires.  “He keeps me busy!” he laughs.  “But having a full-time sponsor I get more time with my kid, which is great.  I can train now when it suits me, without having to fit it around my work.  I can have a proper warm down and a proper breakfast, relax properly too.  I’m enjoying training again.  I’m in as good shape now as when I fought for the English title.  I was ready to fight a six rounder two weeks ago, I’m ready to fight a ten rounder now.  When fight night comes, I’ll be twice the fighter I was when I won the title.”

For those that have never experienced a Josh Kennedy fight, the action starts before the first bell rings.  Although I never saw the face of Michael Ramabelatsa, I can only imagine he was perplexed when Kennedy made his way to the ring dressed as a 1970’s pimp, rapping to Ice Ice Baby.  When he won the Southern Area title, Kennedy walked to the ring in a snowman outfit, throwing presents to the audience.  So is this a trend we can expect to be kept up?

“I think my vocal chords are warmed up now!” he tells me.  “It might be another sing-song when I come out, I love a good 90’s rap song!  Perhaps Outhere Brothers next, we’ll see.  That’s the kind of person I am, I’m not there to intimidate anybody.  You’ll see me at my best when I’m relaxed.  The bigger the smile on my face, you’ll know I’m going to perform.  If I walk out jittery and nervous, be worried about me!”  But is there a risk that in doing this, it takes away from the focus as he steps between the ropes?  “In the warm up room I was doing pads with Barry (Pluck, Coach) and in my ears I just had the music, joking about.  All the hard work is done by then in the gym, so when I get to the venue I’m buzzing with a smile on my face.”

Another member of the Kennedy team on fight night is experienced coach, John Cole.  Many years in the game and a smooth persona, what is John adding to the team?  “He knows his stuff, he’s nice and calm with me.  When we enter the corner we have a laugh, we play about in the changing rooms and he’s a relaxing guy to be around.  I’ve said to him I want him in my corner for as long as he wants to be there.  It’s a shame he isn’t closer to me or I would do more stuff with him in camp.  But my coach Barry Pluck trained me as an amateur and as long as he keeps progressing as a coach and helping me progress as a fighter then I’m happy to stick with him.”

We finished with Josh telling me the improvements he is making fight-on-fight.  He took away from the Speight fight some improvements to his elbow work, from Ramabelatsa it was his distance.  It’s easy to forget that Kennedy is only 9 fights into his career.  He oozes self-confidence and desire.  He’s fun, but serious.  There are paradoxes throughout Kennedy.  But one thing is clear; he is ambitious and he sees his future as being laden with titles.  In a single fight with ‘The Troublemaker’ you suspect he learned more than the eight fights previously.  Now, with his full time sponsor in place and the doors to titles opening up, Kennedy is looking to take full advantage. 

Josh wanted to thank his sponsors for giving him the opportunity to pursue his boxing career and is looking forward to repaying their faith.