Saturday, May 7, 2016

On This Day: Billy 'Spider' Kelly Remembered: A Legend Who Inspired

Billy ‘Spider’ Kelly was a picture-perfect boxer, with speed, skill and style, which made him hugely popular.  Son of boxer Jim ‘Spider’ Kelly, Billy would follow in his father’s footsteps as a boxer, and win the same British and Commonwealth Featherweight titles that his father had won 20 years earlier. Making them the first father and son to accomplish such a feet.

Born on April 21, 1932, in Derry, Northern Ireland, Billy started his professional career in 1950, at the age of 18-years-old.  Kelly quickly became a top attraction, and rose up the featherweight ranks, and on October 2, 1954, Kelly won the Commonwealth featherweight title, by out-pointing Roy Ankrah over 15 rounds.  Three months later on January 22, Kelly added the British Featherweight title to his collection, by out-pointing Sammy McCarthy.

At this point Kelly was rated 4th in the world by The Ring magazine and on verge of getting a world title shot.  However on May 27, 1955, his ambitions were dented by a close and controversial point’s defeat at the hands of Ray Famechon, in a challenge for the European Featherweight title.  Six months later, Kelly’s career received another blow, when he was knocked out in the 8th round by Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey, losing his Commonwealth featherweight title.  Kelly’s downturn in fortune continued on February 4, 1956, when he lost the British Featherweight title, after being controversially out-pointed by Charlie Hill.  So incensed were the Kings Hall crowd by this verdict, that a huge riot erupted, resulting in casualties.

Kelly was never the same boxer again after losing his British title, he went 7-15-3in his last 25 contests, retiring in 1962, after drawing with Jim ‘Spike’ McCormack over 8 rounds. 

Billy ‘Spider’ Kelly remained a popular figure in Ireland until his death on May 7 2010, at the age of 78-years-old. His fights were broadcasted on the radio and brought hope and entertainment in a time where Northern Ireland's history that was very bleak. He inspired a generation to get in the gym and use boxing to excel. He lived a modest life, working in the DuPont Chemical factory for many years. 

On August 15, 2014, the city of Derry honoured Billy Kelly and his Father by unveiling  a plaque, which was dedicated to the memory of the late boxing heroes. Many family members, friends, and city dwellers attended the ceremony on Fahan Street. 

Billy 'Spider' Kelly family members gather to honour the boxing champs at Fahan Street. (Photo:  Derry Journal)

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