Jay Kelly – Fighting for redemption

Jason "Jay" Kelly.
Jason “Jay” Kelly.

About a half a mile from Fields Corner train station in Dorchester, there is a beige and green gym surrounded by an array of warehouses. On this Thursday afternoon the only music that can be heard from outside the upstairs entrance, labeled “D.B.C” for Dorchester Boxing Club, are rhythmic Cuban tunes accompanied by the hard breathing of Jason “Jay” Kelly.

Dressed in a grey hoodie and navy-blue track pants, Kelly is alone in the dimly lit boxing club his father began renting about three years ago.

A buzzer goes off every 30 seconds, signaling time left in the practice round. His white and blue sneakers move gracefully as he dances around the red and blue ring at the back of the gym, pretending to trap his future opponent against the ropes.

“I just like the groove, the rhythm,” Kelly says as he cuts through the air with his left jab. But the Irish-American knows the lyrics to each song. Spanish was one of the few classes he excelled in while at Boston Latin high school. The Dorchester-native plans on using it to excite Spanish audiences in future fights.

“Hopefully, one day, when I get big enough and fight in front of other walks of life,” Kelly says.
The fighter’s goal has always been to travel the world and train as one of the best. He sees himself eventually selling out any arena and beating any fighter in the world. Becoming a champion, would mean the prior trials of his parents and his individual failures weren’t for nothing.

“I can beat world title contenders when I can get to that level once I get that experience,” Kelly says. “I believe I have the talent and the ability and the intelligence.”

The 24-year-old has only two professional fights to his name. His upcoming welterweight match against South Boston-native Jimmy LeBlanc (13-25) at the Royale, a Boston nightclub on May 16 will be his first fight in over eight months. But he’s been fighting for the better part of his life.

He left boxing after his last fight to take on a courier job and take on more hours at his family-owned South Boston bar.

Kelly’s comeback fight may not be the competition that he wants but it is a step towards relieving himself of the pressure on his back.

He knows the money his father dumps into the gym would be better spent somewhere else. He knows money would be a second thought if he had stuck with his first career – acting.

But the ring has always provided a path towards legitimacy.

“It’s supposed to be his savior,” says Kelly’s father Danny. “It’s his redemption.”

Round one
Kelly has the skill and fan base to fight some of the nation’s best in sold out arenas like Boston Garden in at least the next four years, according to Artie DePinho, who is promoting Kelly’s upcoming fight. DePinho has promoted for Terrence Crawford, a 28-year-old, who was named Fighter of the Year by ESPN.com.

“Jay’s biggest quality is a fan base, which is extremely important boxing in Boston,” DePinho says.

But Kelly has been used to having a fan base since he was a child. In 1998, four years after his Irish-born father Danny Kelly introduced him to boxing, Kelly was cast in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River to play the child-version of Sean Penn’s character.

St. Williams elementary, now the Cristo Rey high school, even put up a poster of the film in the front of the school building.

“He was the talk of the show for school,” says Julian Del Solar a personal trainer at the Equinox gym in Boston and Kelly’s best friend since grade school.

He was also the pride of the family. Danny remembers being in awe as he watched his son transition seamlessly from playing with the other child-actors to acting terrified as soon as Eastwood said “action.”

“First [audition tape] Eastwood looked at [what] was his and he said ‘this is perfect, this is the one I want,” Danny says.

But Kelly had no aspirations to be a Hollywood star at such a young age. He had never even been in a school play. The only reason he got involved was because scouts were recruiting in Dorchester youth centers.

Kelly’s had around 100 auditions, but besides a short stint on Showtime’s “The Brotherhood” and a United Way commercial, he had little success.

“I thought that I would get more from it,” Kelly says. “Over the years it didn’t really pan out to what I thought it would be.”

He remembers taking four hour drives to auditions in New York City, only to be met with rejection after rejection. By the time he was 18, he realized his acting career had already faded with directors looking to cast child actors to save money.

But boxing had always been consistent. Danny says after taking his three sons to a fight when he was 7-years-old, Kelly was the only one who truly stuck with it.

As a child, he would stay up late to watch every fight on television. When he got older, he studied boxing clips on YouTube more than his schoolbooks.

By the time he was in high school, he was sparring against much older opponents in various gyms in South Boston and Quincy. The teenager had developed power that allowed him to hold his own against much older opponents.

“It was kind of my prime so I kind of had a false sense of security and sense of invincibility,” Kelly says.

At a young age, he lacked discipline and was no more than an amateur-level boxer.

“I didn’t take it seriously at all,” Kelly says. “I was out partying and everything like that. Boxing was just a labor of love for me.”

He was arrested for drinking and smoking marijuana during his time in high school but never saw a court date or any served time.

Kelly’s grades declined at the prestigious Boston Latin high school, which requires potential students to take an entry exam. He transferred to the Fenway high school, mainly because Del Solar was there.

By the time Kelly graduated in 2009, he says his GPA was just in the high 1.0s. He figured he could get a solid career out of the NAVY and did very well on the aptitude test. The test projected he would not serve in combat but rather be a mass communicator, which writes stories about the NAVY experience.

Plans changed again when the 18-year-old Kelly decided to visit Del Solar at his school, the University of New Hampshire. While in a bar, another guy was heckling the two and Kelly, never one to back down from a fight, knocked him out and was arrested. He served no time but his plan of going to the NAVY was derailed.

But his father, Danny, luckily had a friend at the Boston Sports Club in the Fenway area so Kelly started training people as a certified trainer in February of 2010. He finally found his niche: he could still box while making money.

It only took a month for another knock down.

Kelly went out to watch one of his friend’s boxing matches at the Police Athletic League in South Boston and drank a bit too much for it. He didn’t expect to see a rival in the streets outside of the fight.

Kelly says the tension with Sean Provenzano began just a couple weeks prior when he saw the South Boston-native bullying someone outside of his house and intervened.

This time, Provenzano, accompanied by friends, asked Kelly if he wanted to walk around the corner. A drunk Kelly, not thinking of the value of his new job, or the fact that he was alone, agreed.
Provenzano pinned Kelly and beat his face against the concrete. His friends held back an emerging crowd so no one would interfere. By the time Kelly was conscious he would need wire wrapped around brackets attached to his teeth to hold his jaw in place.

“I convinced myself that I would never box again,” Kelly says.

His only source of food was through a tube for seven weeks and he lost 20 pounds. His morale and work ethic quickly declined.

“I just kind of lost interest in anything positive and was just off the deep end,” Kelly says.
It didn’t take long for him to quit the job.

“Actually living with the injury and having to adjust in life, that was the worst I’ve ever seen him,” Del Solar says.

The low point was still to come even after his jaw was unwired that summer. Kelly saw a former friend about to get jumped by a group of guys in Toohig Park in Dorchester on a random summer day. Just like he’s always done, he joined the underdog.

It turned into a brawl but Kelly was able to make it home. Later that day, police came by and arrested Kelly in his home, in front of his family.

“They arrested me in the kitchen and took me out of there,” Kelly says. “[My mother] was just worried about the neighbors seeing. She was mortified and so ashamed.”

Kelly did not serve any time. Breda Byrne refused to give comment for this story.

“It might have been part of what snapped me into it,” Kelly says of the arrest. “God willing, it snapped me out of it and into my old self to do some positives.”

Round Two
Slowly Kelly began working out again with his father’s support. He also started to train children from the community in the club.

Danny spends $2000 a month to rent the space for Dorchester Boxing Club, because he wants to see the sport grow among youth in the community but also because he loves seeing his son train children.
Father and son also work at the family-owned “Whitey’s” Bar, in South Boston. But the investment in the gym hasn’t proved to make money.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m a burden on him because he’s doing it for me but he knows that I think the money would be better spent better otherwise,” Kelly says.

He can’t dissuade his father from the gym but he can train, in hopes of being a prized fighter.
“For me it’s a monetary thing,” Kelly says. “I want to make money off of it. I love boxing, I love to box but not enough where I’m going to be up there taking huge punches for free.”

Danny realizes the gym is costing him money. He also knows a son in Hollywood would have made the family more money.

“But what can you do? You got to encourage your kid to do what he wants to do,” Danny says.

But Danny realized his son still needed closure if he hoped to move on as a fighter.

“I didn’t think I would box again but my Dad thought I would,” Kelly says. Thanks to him and his belief.”

Round three
Provenzano, sporting black shorts and gear, stood opposite from Kelly in the ring inside Dorchester Armory in 2012. It was his first amateur fight back after the wired-shut jaw kept him out for more than a year.

Provenzano was not a seasoned fighter by any means. Kelly doesn’t even know what he did for a living.

Kelly, in white shorts and a red top, remembers surveying the raucous crowd of 600, and wondering if the fans from South Boston really thought his opponent had a chance. He had fallen far too low to not rise to the occasion.

“You have to get real low and everything to try and bounce back from it and to get back in boxing,” Kelly says. “I just started exercises again and this is just something I know how to do.”

Shortly after the bell rung, Provenzano had already hit Kelly so hard, his head was spinning.

“I’ve boxed all sorts of pro fighters obviously, all sorts of different levels of fighters from different weight classes and no one hit me as hard as this kid does,” Kelly says.

Danny remembers an infuriated, anxious Kelly coming back to the corner after the first round.

“Obviously he wanted to kill the guy,” Danny says. “I freaking wanted to kill him myself.”
Del Solar remembers the second round being close and entertaining as Kelly held the bigger Provenzano at bay with his jabs.

“The first two rounds were pretty entertaining,” Del Solar says. “And the last round just got everybody off their feet.”

Kelly knocked Provenzano out and roared to the electric crowd as the Southie-native hit the floor.

“He just set the tone for what boxing really is,” Del Solar says. “They were too old for street fights so they just kind of squashed the beef in the ring.”

But Kelly didn’t just end an old grudge. He restored pride, not to his family, but to himself.
“I would have had to get out of town definitely,” Kelly says. “But the way it played out it was just so perfect.”

Round Four
After leaving after his second win in the summer of 2014, Kelly knew he wasn’t living the life he wanted.

He quit his courier job and took a trip to California and Colorado this past winter, hoping to clear his head and find out what he truly wanted in life. The only thing he could think of was boxing. In fact, he was soon training in the high altitude.

When he got back, to Dorchester Boxing Club in early March he found joy, once again, training kids in the community.

Kelly trained 8-year-old Stephen O’Malley to the Silver Mittens tournament championship. He has trained Dorchester youth since the gym opened.

“I don’t think I’d like to see Stephen with anybody, at any point, other than Jay,” says O’Malley’s father, also named Stephen.

Currently, Kelly isn’t training as much as he would like to. His trainer Billy Conway, of Dorchester, also works at another South Boston boxing gym. Kelly also still works at Whitey’s bar.

Even though he won both of his fights in first-round knockouts and his upcoming opponent has a weak record, LeBlanc is an experienced fighter. The last time he fought a guy who was 2-0, he knocked him out in the first round.

“I think he’s good but it’s just a matter of time before I hit him,” Kelly says. “With [25] losses, it’s just as soon as I hit his chin.”

He thinks LeBlanc will push him away from his strong side and towards his left, which is why Kelly is relentlessly working on his left jab and hook.

“I hit him with the jab, it will make an effect on the fight,” Kelly says. “Mark my words.”

If LeBlanc gets him on the ropes or even knocks him down, based on Kelly’s past, he should expect to get right back up.

“I don’t want to do nothing but boxing to have some sort of legitimacy,” Kelly says.

The fight is just another step for Kelly to traveling as a seasoned professional and maybe even revving up future foreign crowds with a little Spanish.

Tickets for Jason Kelly’s fight vs. Jimmy LeBlanc are available for $40. The fight will start at 3pm at the Royale.