Talking Contender Faces Challenge

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Boxers like to say they'll let their fists do the talking.

Kevin Kelley would never say that, and it might be the only thing he wouldn't say.

Recently, an interviewer stopped taking notes 15 minutes before Kelley stopped talking. The fighter didn't notice. Or he didn't care.

"I'm not fighting for the championship," he said. "I am the champion. I've proven I'm worthy of holding the title."

Despite his 35-0 record, being a champion is just a state of Kelley's mind unless he can beat power-punching Goyo Vargas of Mexico for the WBC featherweight title next Saturday in Reno, Nev.

The title is not the only incentive for Kelley. The card, also featuring heavyweight contender Michael Moorer against Mike Williams, will be televised nationally (HBO) and Kelley wants that spotlight.

"Everybody across the country will see me," he said. "I enjoy what I'm doing because people can enjoy it with me.

"I want to create the same aura Ali had as a heavyweight."

Kevin Kelley certainly is full of himself, but that's all he's full of.

He's a young man conscious of family and community.

For several years, Kelley, a father of three daughters and a son ranging in age from 1 to 4, has spoken at schools and community centers.

"It's giving something back to the community," said Kelley's wife, Valerie, who also is his business manager and partner in KeVal Entertainment, which manages and markets a wrapper named Overdose and a singer called Joe Flavor, and advises a couple of boxers.

"I talk about violence and drugs," Kelley said. "I call it my life speech. I talk right to them as if I was one of them. I use slang and street talk they understand. I dress like them. If it's a hardcore school, I approach it with a hardcore attitude. I grew up on one of the worst blocks in Flushing (Queens). I grew up with 10 guys and half of them are dead.

"I wanted to be not only famous, I wanted to be a role model. I got guidance from my father, Louis, who's an electrician and my mother, Iris, who works for the post office. I was an only child and I always tell people it was mother and father who put so much energy into me."

Before his family moved to Flushing when he was 11, Kelley lived in Coney Island and Benonshurst in Brooklyn, the borough that produced former heavyweight champions Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe.

"Tyson just wanted to be a guy who made a lot of money, become a champion and have a good time," Kelley said. "He didn't want to take on the responsibility of the role."

"Riddick Bowe left Brooklyn and forgot about people," Valerie Kelley said of the recently deposed champion, now living in a Washington suburb.

"It was my wife's idea to go to the people, to market Kevin Kelley," said Kelley, who does a few endorsements locally, hands out balloons, pencils and T-shirts with his name on them and gets involved in charity projects.

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