Roarke Knapp’s march towards a world title takes a big step forward in December when he travels to Sunderland in the UK to fight local hero Josh Kelly.
Both have designs on the WBC junior-middleweight belt – Kelly is ranked 11th, Knapp 12th – and a win on December 16 would propel the victor into prime position leading to 2024.
Knapp has steadily built his record against a stream of rugged local and overseas opposition. Gritty and hard-working, his combination punching and aggressive style have made him a fans’ favourite.
In running up a 17-1-1 record, he’s increasingly faced tougher tests – and passed each one.
Notwithstanding the contrasting styles that Knapp has encountered, Kelly promises to be far different, and trickier. He has a flashy fighting style, said to be reminiscent of Naseem Hamed, and fast hands.
A former Olympian, Kelly (14-1-1) yearns for a fight against Tim Tszyu, the top dog in the division, but must first get past Knapp to do so.
Once touted as the best prospect in Britain, his career threatened to veer off course in 2021 when he lost to David Avanesyan after being cut and knocked down before his corner rescued him in the sixth round.
It later emerged that he had suffered chronic hypochondria in the buildup. So wracked was he by worry, he took to drinking whisky in the week of the fight.
But he went away, took 16 months out to sort his mental issues, and has since won four in a row, including the British title. He’s now highly rated in three world bodies, including number one in the WBO.
By all accounts he has put his ghosts behind him and is training hard for what should be a fascinating clash of styles.
Tattooed and talented, this will be Knapp’s first foray overseas, but he’s not the sort to be spooked by a baying foreign crowd. He loves fighting at Emperors Palace, but understands that hitting the road is an important step towards fulfilling his dream of fighting for a major title.
“Make no mistake, this is a major showdown for Roarke, who has passed every test so far,” said promoter Rodney Berman. “But it’s different when you travel and must cope with unfamiliar surroundings. He must block it all out and produce the best performance of his career – as I expect him to.”