He turned pro in 1988 after winning two New York Golden Glove titles. Kelley just lost out on a place at the Seoul Olympic Games in a box-off against Carl Daniels.
After an easy KO victory against Willie Barnes in September 1988, Kevin quickly showed his potential by despatching his next 35 opponents in just over five years.
Proving his power with 13 KO’s in the first two rounds.
He picked up the WBC Continental Title along the way and was finally given his chance to win a world title in December 1993 against Gregorio Vargas, who was making his first defence of his WBC title.
Kelley outworked the rugged Mexican over the twelve rounds and took a three and four round decision from the judges to be crowned WBC Featherweight Champion of the world.
A successful defence followed five months later against Jesse Benavides and a sixth round knockout victory Georgie Navarro shortly after before Kevin was matched up against Jose Vida Ramos in his second defence.
With a record of 24-1-0 with 17 knockouts, Ramos was touted as Kevin’s toughest test to date but it turned out to an early night for Kelley as he knocked out the Dominican challenger in the second round.
With a record of 40-0 with 27 knockouts and the WBC Title in his possession, Kevin was regarded as one of the top ten fighters in the world in the mid nineties and made it 41-0 with a stoppage victory over Pete Taliaferro in November 1994.
Kevin defended his title for the third time against Mexican knockout specialist Alejandro Gonzalez at the Freeman Coliseum in Texas at the start of 1995 and got embroiled in an all out war with the heavy handed, come forward fighter.
From the fifth round onwards, the effects of the battle were far more apparent on the face of the champion and Gonzalez had him down in the sixth round with a great body shot, short uppercut followed by a stiff right hand.
Kelley never wavered from his tactics and showed the heart of a lion to comeback and put the challenger on the canvas in the eighth round, with his right eye almost completely shut.
“La Cobrita” continued to pound on Kelley’s bad eye for the next six minutes and with his left eye also beginning to close, Kevin was finding it harder to see the punches coming and his corner decided to pull him out after the tenth round.
Kevin started his rebuilding just two months later, stopping Ricardo Rivera in nine rounds, not without a scare along the way as he was knocked down in the second and fourth rounds.
Another knockdown followed in his next fight against Tommy Parks, which ended in a draw, as did a twelve round contest for the vacant WBU Featherweight Title against Clarence Adams in September 1995.
Kelley did pick up the lesser-regarded world title though in his next bout, a dominant points victory over Louie Espinoza to become a two time world champion and defended it a further four times until in 1997, he gained his second shot at a genuine world title.
In December that year he took on the man regarded as the number one in the division, the unbeaten WBO Featherweight Champion “Prince” Naseem Hamed, who was 28-0 with 19 knockout victories in the first three rounds.
It was British-born Muslim’s first US bout and was voted Ring Magazine “Fight of the Year 1997” as both men were dropped numerous times before Hamed ended the bout via 4th round KO.
Kevin got back in the ring five months later out-pointing Vincent Howard in a ten round contest, before suffering his third defeat, as Derrick Gainer avenged a knockout defeat to Kelley two years earlier by beating him on points in July 1998.
At a stop-start point in his career, Kevin then battered veteran Jorge Ramirez in nine rounds and out-pointed Hector Velazquez before an all-time low point for Kelley in August 1999 when he lost Benito Rodriguez, who had 30 defeats on his unimpressive record.
At the start of the new millennium, Kevin beat Frankie Archuleta to set up an unexpected shot at the interim version of his old WBC Title against the young unbeaten warrior, Erik “El Terrible” Morales in September 2000.
The 24 year-old Morales was 37-0 at the time and Kelley was again the underdog as he was against Hamed, and again came up short, losing on a technical knockout in the seventh round of a brave effort.
Since losing his WBC Title in 1995, Kevin had lost or drawn six of his last sixteen bouts and been knocked down on numerous occasions, almost as if the Gonzalez defeat had taken something out of him five years previously.
Kelley wouldn’t fight for 18 months and came back to the fight game refreshed, moving up to super-featherweight and picking up the NABA Super-Featherweight Title in his second fight of 2002 against Humberto Soto.
Soto, a future two-weight WBC Champion, was only 22 at the time but Kevin showed all his class and experience to out maneuver and out-class the Mexican, who would go five years without defeat after the bout with Kelley.
An easy victory over Johnny West led to an offer to fight two-weight world champion Marco Antonio Barrera, who had just vacated Kelley’s old WBC Title, which he won against Erik Morales in a much-publicised rematch.
It once again proved a step too far for the former champion as he was again found lacking in the punch resistance department and was beaten by Barrera in the fourth round.
Kevin’s decision to take on all comers may not have been the smartest move and may have cost him more world titles, but he won over an army of fans with his attitude and style in the ring and was always involved in great spectacles.
In 2005 and early 2006, Kevin put four straight victories together to be given the chance to regain his old WBC Continental Title against Manny Pacquiao’s younger brother Bobby at Madison Square Garden in June 2006.
Kevin again lost by KO and was down more than once and at 39 would face a tough decision on whether he would step into the ring or whether he would walk away from boxing for good.
He decided on the former and got back in the ring three months later, beating Carlos Hernandez on points. He was then lined up to face five-time World Featherweight Champion Manuel Medina in an IBF Super-Featherweight Title Eliminator.
In a very tight contest which swung one way then the other, Medina got the decision 115-113 on two cards, with the other judge scoring the bout a draw.
It seemed to be Kevin’s last chance to regain a version of the world title. Kelley once again stepped away from boxing, this time for almost two years, before embarking on a comeback in 2008.
Two defeats in three contests for Kevin seemed to spell then end for the former two-time world champion and he bowed out in May 2009 with his head firmly held high.
Kevin Kelley was one of the real entertainers of the last 20 years, being involved in some of the most exciting fights of his generation in his weight division.
His career to date stands at: 60-10-2 with 39 KO’s
(ROUND 1) How did you first get into boxing Kevin?
“I started boxing because I wanted a boxing jacket a kid was wearing around my way. He told me in order to get the jacket, I would have to join the boxing gym, so I did. (laughs) To this day I never received the jacket.”
(ROUND 2) What was your Amateur record?
“I think I was 70 wins 10 loses. I can’t remember my KO’s its been to long since the amateur days.”
(ROUND 3) Who influenced you as a young boxer?
“Sugar Ray Leonard, Jeff Chandler, Saad Mohammed, a lot of fighter’s from the 80’s.”
(ROUND 4) Toughest opponent you have faced?
“Troy Dorsey, who I decisioned to win the my first world recognised title in 1992.”
(ROUND 5) Who do you wish you had fought?
“Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson.” (who held the IBF Featherweight Title for four years between 1993-1997)
(ROUND 6) Which fight do people ask you about most?
“The “Prince” Naseem Hamed fight.”
(ROUND 7) Best fight you have seen?
“I have so many but would have to say Tommy Hearns v Sugar Ray Leonard I.”
(ROUND 8) Who is your favourite current boxer?
(ROUND 9) What are your future plans?
“I am broadcasting a TV show called XB (Xtream Boxing) in Las Vegas at The Hard Rock Hotel.”
(ROUND 10) What would you change in Boxing?
“I would let the fighters run the sport and not let lawyers buy the fights for TV. I would have one commission of fighters, trainers and managers and let them judge the fights themselves and be voted to judge by ex pro’s. That way you get three experienced views on a fight.”
“This is the only sport where they have people broadcasting the event and judging contests that have never thrown a punch, trained or managed a boxer and have no credibility in the sport.”
(ROUND 11) Mayweather or Pacquiao?
“Mayweather all day, a better boxer that would win the fight easily. He has too much knowledge of boxing around him.” (That’s 4-0 so far from the ex professional’s we have asked)
(ROUND 12) Finally…..Tell us something we don’t know about Kevin Kelley.
“I enjoy watching comedy, I like to laugh and have a good time with my family. I also enjoy going to church.”