|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY March 26, 2011||
KENNEDY RETAINS USBA BELT WITH 12 ROUND BRAWL
Philadelphia junior featherweight Teon Kennedy retained his USBA 122-pound title with a hard-fought thriller against Jorge Diaz over twelve rounds at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall. Although the nip and tuck trench war was fought at a ferocious pace and saw both fighters land a truckload of punches, the official scores came in surprisingly one-sided in Kennedy's favor: 118-109, 117-109 and 115-111. Both fighters came into the ring with undefeated records, and many thought Diaz would be too much trouble for Kennedy to handle. But it was Teon Kennedy who came out on top with a gutsy and gritty win, proving that he still may be Philly's best rising fighter.
The match itself was exciting the moment it was announced. Teon Kennedy, 16-0-1 (7 KO), versus Jorge Diaz, 15-0 (9 KO) - two young undefeated boxers with strong amateur backgrounds going at it over twelve rounds for Kennedy's USBA title. As the fight grew near, there was a lot of talk that Diaz would be too tough for Kennedy.
Now I've always maintained that Teon is Philly's most talented rising fighter - better all around than his stable mate Mike Jones, who has fought his way to the brink of a welterweight title shot, further along than the gifted and golden Danny Garcia, more poised and better schooled than the skilled but impetuous Hank Lundy, and more naturally blessed than the hard-working Gabriel Rosado. But I must admit that Teon's penchant for brawling in his last several fights - his urge to make bouts way more difficult than his silky and solid skills should allow - have made me wonder if the "can't miss" tag that was hung on the North Philadelphian early in his career would stick. The way Teon had been going, it looked like he might burn out in some glorious battle before he ever got an opportunity to fight for a world title. Still the assertions that Teon was doomed in the Diaz fight didn't sit well with me. But the buzz did make me nervous.
So on the day of the fight I did the only thing that can take my mind off boxing. I went to the movies. For me, movies are the only thing that can make me stop thinking about boxing - and boxing is the only thing that can make me stop thinking about movies. I toggle the two and remain perfectly balanced (and relatively limited). So off to the movies I went. And it worked. I stopped worrying whether this match would be a bad one for Teon. But the hour drive to Atlantic City gave the worries time to bloom again.
When I reached AC and made my way to the boardwalk, the first person I saw was Mr. Kennedy - Teon's father. I approached him and told him how much I was looking forward to the fight. He said, "me too, but I'm kind of nervous." I said the only thing I could think of. "I think he'll be alright tonight." The truth is, I really did believe what I said.
Once the fight started, my worries were not relieved right away. Jorge Diaz was a tough, busy fighter who was landing on Kennedy easily. He intentionally butted Kennedy in the first round to prove he was willing to do anything for the win. I wondered if Diaz would be too much after all. When Teon stuck and moved and jabbed, he was effective. But then again and again, Diaz would rock him with flashy right hands. Suddenly Teon looked a little fragile. The incoming punches snapped Kennedy's head back, and no matter where he bounced, Diaz found him and cracked him good. By the end of round two, Teon was lumping up under his right eye.
But Teon didn't run under fire. He stayed right with Diaz and fought him hard. Teon's nickname, "The Technician", which had been poorly fitting over the last several fights, was still a little loose. Over the past couple of years, we have all gotten used to the new reckless Teon, the guy just as happy brawling as he is boxing. Yes it makes his fights fun to watch, but it's no way to extend a career.
In past fights, his taste for a fight was exactly what Teon didn't need (although he came out on top regardless). But against Diaz, Teon's willingness to go to war was exactly the thing that turned the fight around.
In round three, Diaz was cruising toward his third straight banked round, when Kennedy caught him coming in with a thudding left hook. Diaz went down briefly. He bounced right up and resumed control of the round, but Teon had made his statement. The best I could do was give Teon a 10-9 round, since the knockdown was his only real output in the session. (Two of the three official judges awarded Kennedy a 10-8 round).
Beginning in the fourth, a pattern began to set. Diaz was the busier and stronger fighter, but Kennedy possessed the harder punch.
In rounds four and five, Diaz stayed busy, often bullied Kennedy to the ropes, threw and landed a lot of punches, and maintained his edge. But Teon the Tiger didn't just take. In response to Diaz' aggressive attacks Teon repeatedly popped him with strong single shots that made an impression. Kennedy's punches were the exclamation marks to most of the exchanges. And for all of Diaz' advantage at this point in the fight (I had him up 4 rounds to 1), there were hints that Teon had what he needed to turn the fight around. It happened in the sixth.
In round six, Teon began the round jabbing. It worked far better than it had earlier in the fight. Perhaps Diaz was getting cautious. Suddenly a lighting bolt from Kennedy dropped Diaz hard. He fell awkwardly, his body twisting and folding in sections. This knockdown was much more damaging than the one in round three.
Diaz pulled himself to his feet but looked like he was ready to fall back to the canvas. Referee Steve Smoger, who always gives a fighter a chance to fight his way out of danger, allowed Diaz to continue - although there would not have been a riot if the fight had ended right there. Diaz smartly held on to Kennedy for dear life. Teon tried to pull loose and they tumbled to the mat together. The round ended with Diaz still on his feet.
In the seventh, Diaz allowed himself to further recover while Teon relied on his jab. It produced a slower round than the prior six.
Diaz came out hard in the eighth, attempting to regain control. He landed a right that snapped Kennedy's head back, but Diaz was breathing heavily through his mouth. Teon responded with a steady body attack that further exploited Diaz' sapping strength, and ripped a left hook to the head to end the round. The fight was tightening up but Diaz still had a slight edge on my card.
The final third of the of the fight was grueling. Both boxers were tiring, but they forced themselves to fight on. For Teon it seemed easier. His confidence was cresting with the knowledge that he was the power puncher. He also dusted off the "Technician" in him, using his jab and movement to more or less control the action. But Diaz wasn't dead yet.
As Kennedy boxed and lashed Diaz with sharp punches, Diaz went to the body. A good shot downstairs seemed to hurt Kennedy, and Diaz followed it up with a low blow. Smoger issued a warning. Diaz responded well, going upstairs with a hard right, a nice combo and then another good right before the bell.
Diaz started the tenth by boxing and backing up. Kennedy cut through his movement with a hard right that hurt Diaz, who began to paw at his closing left eye. Teon wasn't looking much better with lumps and nicks around both eyes. Clearly this was a war. Diaz flurried at the end to almost steal the round.
In the eleventh round, Kennedy was in the zone. As Diaz pressed him and punched away, Kennedy looked through the shots with a laser focus. He strolled through the incoming bombs to get into the pocket where he punched away. For a moment, it felt like I had been transported back to the 1980s for a Cornelius Boza Edwards fight. Teon was cutting through the danger with steadfast forward motion, taking a little shrapnel to land his own weapons - just like Boza.
In the last round, it was no surprise the two boxers fought to the finish. Diaz landed two good rights but had to look through a badly swollen left eye to find Kennedy. Teon kept busy, throwing and moving. Near the end of the round, Kennedy's left eye sprung a leak and the blood cascaded over both fighters.
The bell sounded ending a terrific fight. The HBO execs must have been shaking their heads, knowing that the entertaining and high-level battle should have been included in their national broadcast.
After it was over, the fight felt extremely close. Diaz had dominated the first half - besides the two knockdowns and Kennedy had controlled the second half - except for one solid round by Diaz - and more than a couple close ones.
My tally totaled 115-112 for Kennedy.
The official scores came out a bit differently. Steve Weisfeld seemed to watch the same fight, scoring 115-111 for Kennedy. But the remaining two judges saw it all for Teon.
John Poturaj called it 117-109 for Teon (9-3 in rounds including a pair of 2-point rounds).
Alan Rubenstein saw it 10-2, giving Diaz the first two rounds and Teon everything else - including one 2-point round (the sixth). Rubenstein's final score was 118-109.
In the end, it was a grueling and spectacular win for Teon Kennedy. He faced an opponent who was considered perhaps the most dangerous of his career and came out on top. Teon won the fight with a blend of his technical skills and that love of a good fight. It wasn't pretty but it was beautiful.
I'd say Kennedy stepped up nicely in this tough bout, and probably secured a spot for his next fight on national television. Teon is a talented crowd pleaser.
At the beginning of his career Kennedy was often compared to Jeff Chandler. There are similarities, but that one didn't quite fit. Then when Teon was waging war in what should have been easy fights, we thought we had another Meldrick Taylor. Although that sounds like a compliment, the comparisons were more of a caution. The caution is still out there, but his brawl with Diaz showed that he is still able to lay back a bit and utilize his skills. He's not addicted to the action like Taylor was.
I like the comparison to Boza Edwards. Speed, power and heart. Big fights, classic wars, and maybe even a world title. He's in a steep division, but then so was Boza. The best part is that Teon will play out the next and most critical stage of his career with everyone watching. If the networks don't pick him up now, they are crazy.
Also on the card, Philadelphia's Miguel Cartegena made his professional debut with a four-round shutout of seven-fight vet Omar Gonzales of San Antonio. Gonzales slipped to 2-6 with the loss to Cartegena, 1-0.
In the walkout bout, Philly's Rashad Brown halted southpaw Darryl Parker of Louisville at 1:41 of round three. Both fighters came in 2-0. Brown left with his record unblemished and with his first KO.
The main event featured Yuriorkis Gamboa's four round blast out of Jorge Solis. Gamboa scored five knockdowns (two in the second, one in the third and two in the fourth). Other results included:
Miguel Garcia TKO 10 Matt Remillard