David Avanesyan, with the help of Neil Marsh and Carl Greaves, has retained his focus throughout the winding saga that will at last lead him to Josh Kelly this weekend, writes John Evans
WE’VE all seen and scrolled past them. Supposedly inspirational quotes and mantras, typically laid over a moody photograph of somebody looking out towards a perfect sunset or a lion walking proudly beside its cub. Shared by people who want others to know that they have discovered the path to enlightenment in an internet meme, they usually stay in the mind for as long as it takes to thumb past and like the latest video of somebody falling over. David Avanesyan would rather spend his time with his friends and family than the anonymous followers who live in his phone but one slogan which recently did the social media rounds might just have struck a chord with the European welterweight champion: “Someone you met two weeks ago can have better intentions than someone you met two years ago. Don’t let time fool you.”
Avanesyan lives in Pyatigorsk in Southern Russia, equidistant between the mysterious sounding city of Krasnador and the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. When the 32-year-old has a fight to prepare for, he places his trust in a low profile manager from the North West of England and a former British title challenger and small hall promoter from Newark in Lincolnshire. Over the past few years, “Ava”, Neil Marsh and Carl Greaves have formed one of the more unlikely teams in world boxing.
“We have become a strong team indeed,” Avanesyan told Boxing News. “I have a very good relationship with every single one of them. I am learning something from them regularly and thankful for it. We listen to each other and do our respective work. It’s also worth mentioning another member of our team, my friend, Erik Teymour, an ex-boxing champion who currently lives in London. He puts a lot of effort in helping me personally and as a part of our team.
“We are all different from each other in all respects but I believe boxing has made us very similar. We all love boxing. It’s our life and I am delighted indeed how things are working out so far but I’m still hungry and I’m ready to go for more.”
For better or worse, boxing is a business where it is very easy to gain new friends. Promises and compliments fly around and flattery isn’t hard to find. One of the most valuable skills a boxer can acquire is the ability to quickly figure out exactly who has their best interests at heart and who is capable of delivering what they promise.
“When we first started I repeatedly told my team that it is crucial to be part of each others’ lives, not only from a business and career angle but, more importantly, as people who do care for one another,” Avanesyan said. “We should be friends. I believe we managed to grow that bond by being honest, supportive and respectful to each other.
“When I received the offer to come and work in England everyone around me was sure that I should go and give it a shot. Maybe only my parents were worried about me – as most parents would be – because London and Newark are not just around the corner from my home. Prior to my decision to work with my team-to-be, I made more than 20 appearances and won most so I had a feeling that the future had something interesting in store for me and I still have the same feeling.”
After spending years traipsing around Russia collecting minor titles and looking for a break, one of those strange link-ups that keep the wheels of boxing turning found Avanesyan fighting at the Titanic Hotel in Liverpool. His first taste of boxing in England didn’t last long but it did bring him into contact with Marsh.
Trust isn’t something that can be gained overnight and as much as Avanesyan needed to be certain he was handing control of his career to the right people, before getting Greaves involved and investing time and money in him, Marsh also wanted to be sure that Avanesyan was a good person as well as a good fighter.
“David came back over and we had a look at him. He was struggling financially so I gave him five grand and told him to go and look after his family,” Marsh told BN. “He was asking if he needed to sign a contract but I was testing his integrity. I thought if he runs off with five grand it’ll save me a lot more in the long term. He came back.
“We made a fight with Dean Byrne and let David sleep at a friend’s hotel. I knew the owner and I knew the chef and we watched how he ate, how he lived, absolutely everything. He showed a burning hunger and desire. He was absolutely desperate for a chance. When he got in the ring with Byrne he savaged him. He was like a man possessed. I have a lovely photograph where after the fight he came over to me and although he didn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak a word of Russian, his body language said ‘Give me an opportunity.’ I could read him like a book. I can feel it now. His performance and preparation deserved it.
“I knew Carl was great at getting lads fit. He’s been in the away corner a lot and his defensive coaching is great in my opinion. I knew Carl and knew he was a good trainer but I’ll be honest, I’ve seen even more in him than I had before David joined him.”
“I always dreamt to become successful in my life and I worked and still work very hard to make my dreams come true,” Avanesyan added. “I do not like loneliness so the only thing which was difficult – and is still difficult – was to leave my family, but I knew that it’s another step in my career and I needed to be patient. In the beginning it was not easy to be away for so long, to be focused only on training and not be able to properly communicate your thoughts in English.
“It is much easier for me now and I consider Newark my second home. In our era of technology, you could be thousands of miles away from people and be connected so I do not feel cut from my circles when I am in England.
“I like Newark. Clean and tidy streets surrounded by nature and a quiet, green town with very friendly polite people. I made a lot of friends in Newark and I stay in touch with some of them when I am away.”
Newark may have become a second home but it has been little more than a base. Since joining forces the globetrotting team have won an interim WBA title in Monte Carlo and beaten Shane Mosley in California. They have lost to Lamont Peterson in Ohio and in early 2018 they were stopped by Ejidijus “Mean Machine” Kavaliauskas in Reno. Marsh even made a trip to Panama to doorstop Mosley and secure the fight.
“It’s been hard work but David is an intelligent kid,” Marsh said. “He knew that there was danger in fighting Mean Machine but he also knew that if we won we had Terence Crawford next. The same with Lamont Peterson. If we won we were next in line for Errol Spence. David knows the risk has always been worth the reward.”
While Marsh set about plotting Avanesyan’s route back after the Kavaliauskas defeat, the fighter went home to Pyatigorsk where the physical pain inflicted by Mean Machine subsided long before the disappointment of missing out on a massive payday for the second time did.
Distance can stretch even the strongest relationships to breaking point but although here have been ups and downs, at the root of everything is a tacit understanding that everybody on the team has done exactly what they have promised when they began working together.
As his absence from the ring lengthened, those unaware of the ambition Avanesyan’s team still held began to see his name as a useful addition to the CV. Josh Kelly’s team were the first to take the bait – more on that later – but it was a thrilling stoppage victory over the dangerous and unbeaten Kerman Lejarraga in hostile Bilbao that re-established Avanesyan as a force and demonstrated the importance of remaining together as a team. Marsh picked the fight, Greaves prepared him thoroughly and Avanesyan carried out the tactics to perfection and tore the European title from the Spaniard. The whole team stood strong during an intense week in Northern Spain and repeated the feat inside a round six months later.
“The defeat to Kavaliauskas was a quite dramatic turning point for me and it was very difficult for me to realise and accept that I actually lost the fight but in professional sport it is normal,” Avanesyan remembered. “I managed to find positivity in this negativity. A defeat is a good reason to reflect on your career, take away some lessons and move on with your life. It took me more than a year before I accepted the fight against Kerman [Lejarraga]. I was not favoured by the boxing world but that motivated me even more. I knew that EBU title would get me back in the rankings and here I am again.
“I feel that the moment of truth is now. I’ve been reborn and I am keen to continue the strike. To become stronger, faster and wiser for everything that has come together should stay together.”
That moment of truth is finally upon him. Back in December 2018, Avanesyan and Josh Kelly stepped off the scales and faced off for the cameras. Avanesyan’s team believe that the calm confidence their fighter exuded during fight week was the main cause of the symptoms which forced Kelly to pull out of the fight before the timekeeper could sound the first bell.
The fighters’ teams have been in conflict ever since. So far, real hostilities have been restricted to the back rooms of a Sheffield hotel and a press conference dais but things will finally be resolved – they hope, we all hope – on February 20. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the younger Kelly would be the one who has grown and improved since the saga began but remember that internet meme? ‘Don’t let time fool you.’
“The only memory I have is that he [Kelly] pulled out of our previous engagement and it is not a pleasant memory,” he said. “You put in so much effort and make the weight for the fight only to find out three hours before that it’s not going to happen and all the effort [you have put in] is wasted.
“I do not put too much attention on delays and demands. Neil is dealing with it. My job is to be ready for the fight once the agreement has been reached. My only concern is to show the best of myself in the ring and my only expectation is to win the fight.”