Billy (Spider) Kelly
Name: Billy Spider Kelly
Birth Name: William Kelly
Birthplace: Derry, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Died: 2010-05-07 (Age:78)
Hometown: Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Boxing Record: click
By Denis O'Hara
BILLY 'Spider' Kelly, one of Ireland's most accomplished professional pugilists, passed away yesterday afternoon (FRI) in his native Derry city, following a prolonged illness. He was 78.
Born on April 21, 1932, Kelly's ring record of 84 bouts featured 56 wins (KO 15), 24 defeats and four draws. The highlight was in securing a special place in British ring history, when he followed in his father Jim's footsteps by winning the British and Empire Featherweight titles.
The Kelly's became the first father-son combination to achieve this special status.
During the 1950's, Billy, the classy master of defensive boxing skills, was a matinee idol. He attracted record gates at the Belfast King's Hall.
The young 'Spider' was an amazingly gifted glove artiste, and there was every reason to believe he could follow Belfast's Rinty Monaghan to a world crown.
He quickly became a fight favourite, the wizard a marquee attraction. He beat Ghana's Roy Ankrah for the old Empire belt and then London's Sammy McCarthy for the British Championship.
Kelly once remarked: "My father won the two titles on the one night. I won the Empire title first, through a 15-round decision against Roy Ankrah in the King's Hall, on October 2, 1954." It proved a third-time lucky meeting for Kelly against the talented Ankrah, following two previous points defeats.
On what became an extra-special Saturday night in Belfast, on January 22, 1955, and two fights after beating Ankrah, Spider clinched the family double-double by beating Stepney's defending British champion Sammy McCarthy.
Just when it seemed Billy would almost certainly gain a shot at trying to win the world title, when rated No 4 by the respected Ring Magazine, his career turned to tailspin because of two cruelly harsh points decisions and a chilling knock-out loss.
The first major setback was having to endure heartbreak in a converted Dublin bus depot.
On May 27, 1955, Donnybrook Garage hosted it's first European title fight. The promoter was London's Jack Solomons. Kelly was 23, and the holder of the British and Empire crowns.
In the unlikely surroundings he faced one of the greatest fighters France ever produced - Ray Famechon, who took a hotly disputed points decision.
Two fights later, on Saturday, November 19, 1955, he was sensationally crushed in an eighth-round knockout when defending the Empire title. He walked into a thudding right-hander from Nigeria's Hogan 'Kid' Bassey. It was a shock to the system, as Kelly suffered a sickening first knockout of his illustrious career.
The downward spiral continued for the slippery Spider. On February 4, 1956, he lost his British belt to Scotland's Charlie Hill. A riot broke out in the King's Hall, Belfast, after Hill was awarded a hugely controversial decision over 15 rounds. Kelly always kept the painful memory of that result to the minimum of words, stating: "Fighting Charlie Hill. That was an awful decision."
Classy Kelly's boxing interest was unavoidable, because his father Jim was a prominent prize-fighter who won the British and Empire Featherweight belts in November, 1938 over 15 rounds against England's Benny Caplan. The contest took place in the King's Hall, Belfast.
Born and reared on Derry's Leckey Road, he made his paid ring debut in August 1950 at 18 years of age, and in Morecambe, Lancashire.
Later this brilliant box-office fighter featured 26 times in the Belfast King's Hall, and it was fitting he should bow out of boxing at the famous fight venue on the Lisburn Road.
On March 3, 1962, he featured on the undercard of the Freddie Gilroy-Billy Rafferty rematch for British and Empire Bantamweight honours.
Spider drew over eight rounds of cat and mouse with Belfast's also wonderfully skilled ring technician Jim 'Spike' McCormack.