|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY January 25, 2014||
A number of Philly fighters took to the ring this weekend, one the busiest of recent memory. There were five major cards on Friday and Saturday, in Atlantic City, New York, DC, Bethlehem, and again in AC. More than ten Philly fighters saw action, including Bryant Jennings, Gabriel Rosado Miguel Cartagena, and Joey Dawejko in main- or co-main events, and several others (Jesse Hart, Hasan Young, Decarlo Perez, Khalib Whitmore, Lonnie Jackson, Mark Rideout & Brian Donahue) in supporting bouts.
It wasn't a clean sweep of victories, but all of the fights were key steps in the careers of our current crop of boxing talent.
JENNINGS TKO10 ARTUR SZPILKA
Bryant Jennings took the biggest stride this weekend, making both his HBO and MSG debut on Saturday night. More importantly, Jennings took a step up in class and put his skills on display for the world to see.
Jennings is no stranger to local fans or viewers of NBCSN Fight Night, but for the first time BY-BY officially introduced himself to the rest of the boxing public. And what an introduction it was.
Bryant took on Artur Szpilka, another undefeated heavyweight hopeful. It was a fine matchup between fighters of similar size, similar experience and with similar questions surrounding them. This was a fight to reveal which of these prospects was ready to move to the next level.
Jennings was favored in the bout, but his fans still felt some jitters as fight night approached. A renowned late comer to boxing, Jennings has made his education in the Sweet Science a crash course, cramming his lessons in with a brief amateur career and snappy run as a pro. Although a bit light on experience (Can you ever have too much?), Jennings is a hard worker that hardly ever leaves the gym. Call it home work.
Trainer Fred Jenkins has done a fine job prepping Jennings for big things, and thanks to Bryant's performance against Szpilka, important fights with other top contenders now lie at the North Philadelphian's feet.
Against Szpilka, Jennings showed that he is a legitimate title contender. Szpilka isn't a Klitschko, but going in, he was a well-regarded prospect with good power and that European breeding that all the best heavyweights of this era seem to have. Jennings was not only out to prove himself, but to also start reclaiming the division for the United States. To make the point, he entered the ring under a giant US flag.
Jennings showed poise, power and a lot of intelligence in the fight. He warmed up in the first few careful rounds before taking control of the bout. Jennings landed a hard right hand at the end of the fifth that wobbled Szpilka, and set the tone for the rest of the night.
Jennings asserted himself in round six, and dropped Szpilka with a shot to the body. The punch sent the Polish fighter a message, but also carried one for the sold out live crowd and everyone watching at home. Bryant Jennings had arrived as a major heavyweight attraction.
Jennings surged after the knockdown, landing with greater ease thereafter. Szpilka was tough and stubbornly stayed in the fight. However, Jennings had plenty of punches still to throw, and the sustained attack slowed Szpilka down over the second half of the bout.
Bryant showed that he was no lumbering, wild-swinging heavyweight. Instead of storming ahead and recklessly chasing his future, Jennings carefully picked up the pace and began sweeping the late rounds. It was a good display of both Jennings the fighter and Jennings the man.
Jennings surprised everyone last year by making some changes in his career and choosing inactivity and team reconstruction over status quo. It was a risk, but that is Jennings. He has a vision for his career and his life, and wanted to do it his way.
The closing act of the Szpilka fight was cut from the same cloth as Jennings' personal philosophy. It was a careful and thoughtful effort, that was leading him toward victory. However, this was a moment in his career that needed to end with an exclamation point rather than a period.
So with a not-so-subtle nudge from trainer Fred Jenkins before the 10th, Jennings came out for the final round looking to close the show. And he did exactly that.
Bryant is a fighter who relishes the spotlight, and what better stage is there than at MSG on HBO? Fred Jenkins had it right. Even though he was going to win this fight, Jennings needed a knockout.
Jennings picked up the pace and floored his game opponent halfway through round number ten. Szpilka regained his feet, but Jennings refused to let the moment pass. He kept up the pressure and eventually landed another combination that sent Szpilka into the ropes. He didn't hit the floor, but he was a beaten fighter, prompting referee Mike Ortega to step in to save Szpilka at 2:20 of the last round.
If this was his coming out party, Jennings did it in style. The win pushed him to 17-0, 10 KOs, and set the stage for a very exciting year.
JESSE HART W6 DERRICK FINDLEY
Before Bryant Jennings won his MSG debut, super middleweight Jesse Hart did the same in his first fight at the legendary arena. Hart pitched a perfect shutout in his 6-rounder against tough Derrick Findley, who on paper, was his best opponent thus far. Hart was gunning for a KO, but Findley was just too durable.
The win pushed Hart to 12-0, 10 KOs, and furthered the opinion that the hot prospect, and son of Philly legend Cyclone Hart, is a champion in the making. Jesse has all the tools needed to make it to the top.
Thus the younger Hart will likely find more overall career success than his father ever did, but when it comes to knockout streaks, it appears that Cyclone will retain the family bragging rights. He began his legendary career with 19 straight KOs, while Jesse has only managed two streaks of six and four straight so far. But many more wins - and knockouts - are in his future. Hopefully in 2014, Jesse will keep up the busy scheduled that filled his first two years as a pro. He's getting close to his own HBO debut.
JERMELL CHARLO W10 GABRIEL ROSADO
Rosado had an eventful 2013, but desperately needed to start this year with a victory. To better his chances of staying on track in his career, the North Philly warrior returned to the junior middleweight division to face undefeated prospect, Jermell Charlo. Rosado spent the entirety of 2013 at middleweight.
Going in, the fight appeared winnable for Rosado, assuming he could drop the weight, retain his strength, and turn back the clocks to 2012, when he was a fearsome, hard pressing 154-pound contender who used pressure and power to climb to the #1 spot in the rankings. It would also help if Charlo turned out to be a pumped up fraud of a prospect.
Rosado did his part. He lost the weight, reducing from 178 pounds and hitting the 154 pound limit on the nose. However Charlo, now 23-0, 11 KOs, turned out to be a very real talent who took Rosado's experience and pressure in stride, and put on a fine display of boxing skill.
The usually slow-starting Rosado came out hard in round one and took the round by a whisker. But starting in the second, Charlo took control of the fight by staying cool under pressure, lashing Rosado with his jab, and mixing in select power shots.
All night long, Rosado was there to be hit. Although he pressed the fight, he could not land often enough to win rounds or punch hard enough to turn the tables. Occasionally Charlo would land a crisp right that jolted Rosado's head and reddened his face. He also did well with his left hook, which landed with authority.
Still Rosado came forward, trying to salvage the fight and his career.
In round five, that troublesome scar tissue above Rosado's left eye opened up once again, and gave Gaby yet another problem to deal with. A slow motion replay on the Showtime broadcast indicated that the cut was caused by an accidental clash of heads.
Despite the blood, Rosado stayed in the fight as he always does. He kept pressing and kept trying. However, instead of the pre-fight strategy to "Chop Down Charlo", the goal quickly became "Chase Down Charlo". Rosado chased, but he never caught up to Jermell. The Philadelphian was pressing, but he was not punching, at least not enough.
With the fight and everything else on the line, Rosado dug down deep in round eight. He fought through that profusely bleeding eye to land several good shots on Charlo. When Gaby sensed the window of opportunity was cracking, he did his best to smash it open. He caught Charlo with a hard overhand right and later with a good right uppercut.
The punches had an effect on Charlo, but Jermell fought back well and landed himself. As the round wound down, Rosado trapped Charlo on the ropes and went hard to the body, then punctuated the round with another right hand to Charlo's chin. The effort won Rosado the round on my card, but it was the closest that he ever came to winning the fight.
During the last two rounds, Charlo fired away and stayed mobile, while Rosado fell further behind. His eye kept bleeding, and was gaping by the time the final bell sounded.
The official judges all gave the decision comfortably to Charlo. Tammye Jenkins had it the closest, 97-93. Steve Rados gave Rosado one round for a 99-91 tally, and Wayne Smith saw it a shutout, 100-90. I scored the bout 98-92, giving Rosado the first and eighth rounds. Charlo was just too fast and too accurate to score it any other way.
"It's kind of my Achilles' heel I guess," Rosado said about his left eye. "It's real tender right there. So unfortunately, it gets cut early. It's disappointing that I'm forced to fight this way, aggressive. Charlo, he boxed a good fight, but sometimes it's a little frustrating that I have to fight a different style. I've got to be aggressive. If you look at the scorecards... it's crazy. I didn't get a round."
"Gabriel Rosado was a tough fighter," Charlo said. "He came to fight. He was strong. My strongest fighter to date. I want to give him his props."
Rosado deserves props. This was another gutsy and exciting performance, but it was not the life raft that Rosado, 21-8, 13 KOs, 1 NC, needed to regain his ranking and keep his career options afloat. Gaby has plenty of fight left in him, but career-wise, his options are running low. He badly needed to do a 180 in this fight, but couldn't do it. Now what?
JOEY DAWEJKO W8 DERRIC ROSSY
Heavyweight Joey Dawejko did seize his opportunity to turn his career around on a single night, scoring an upset 8-round decision over veteran Derric Rossy. The verdict was split, but most reports described a clear victory for Joey. After a slow start, Dawejko stated moving his hands and began racking up rounds. It was the performance many of us have waited to see from him.
A standout as an amateur, Dawejko has struggled as a pro since his 2009 debut. He never quite realized the potential so many believed he had. Dawejko started 7-0-1, but then slid through his next five bouts, going just 1-3-1. He was stopped his last time out against undefeated Charles Martin, and at 8-3-2 with 3 KOs, was clearly at a crossroads.
So the opportunity to fight 35-bout pro Derric Rossy appeared to be a mixed blessing for Dawejko. Of course there was a huge upside. A surprise win could breathe new life into his sagging career and turn it on a dime. However if he lost, which most thought he would, Dawejko would become a perpetual opponent. That's a tough place to be for a talented 23-year old.
So with his back against the wall, Dawejko came to Atlantic City to fight, and left the Golden Nugget with a split decision that revitalized his career. Rossy was his most experienced opponent to date, and Joey showed why he still has so much promise.
However, to optimize his new surge, Joey will have to tackle his aversion to training which has held him back as a professional. But this is a time for celebration. Dawejko pulled off a victory when he needed it most, and that feat has earned Joey a fresh start.
Cruiserweight Brian Donahue dropped a 4-round decision to Dave Valykeo at the Golden Nugget Saturday night. Donahue was outraged by the verdict given the fact that Valykeo was penalized twice for low blows during the bout. Those punches sent Donahue to the canvas, but the referee called them both fouls. Still, all three judges scored the fight for Valykeo, 37-36, 37-36 and 37-35. Valykeo remained undefeated, 4-0. Donahue slid to 2-7-2.
MIGUEL CARTAGENA TKO6 FELIPE RIVAS
North Philly's Miguel Cartagena extended his undefeated record to 11-0, 4 KOs, with a dominant stoppage of veteran Felipe Rivas at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, PA. The scheduled 8-round junior bantamweight fight was the co-feature of the card, and Cartagena made the most of the opportunity. After a single warm up round, Cartagena began punishing Rivas to the head and body.
Rivas remained game, applying pressure and landing a few good shots. However, Cartagena's punches had Rivas bleeding from his mouth, and eventually halted his forward motion. Miguel won round after round.
The Philadelphian did lose a point in the fourth for hitting Rivas from behind with a looping punch, but that was the only mark against him.
Cartagena had the advantage in every round of the fight and was on course for an easy points victory. However, after the sixth round, Rivas' corner called it quits claiming the Mexican had injured his right hand.
The win was clear cut and impressive for Cartagena. However, he is ready for tougher fare than Rivas, 15-16-2, 9 KOs. The Mexican brought much experience into the ring, but had only beaten two fighters with a winning record.
Miguel did his job, but how great would it be to see Cartagena in a fight that isn't a guaranteed win? He is very good and it is time for him to show us just how talented he is. We won't know until he beats a more substantial opponent. Hopefully that will happen in 2014.
Also on the Sands card Saturday night, light heavyweight Khalib Whitmore won his fifth straight fight with a second round TKO of Antonio Liles. The 29-year old continues to look better and better. This was his fourth straight KO. (Photo by Jonathan Moyer)
Lightweight Lonnie Jackson Jr. also won in Bethlehem. Jackson opened the show by dropping Robert Ramos in round two and went on to take a shutout 4-round decision. (Photo by Jonathan Moyer)
HASAN YOUNG W6 JUSTIN JOHNSON
Junior welterweight Hasan Young dropped Justin Johnson four times on Friday night, but had to settle for an easy decision win on the undercard of NBC Sports Network's Fight Night show. Young's fight was televised thanks to the brevity of the main event (Curtis Stevens TKO1 Patrick Majewski). Young pounded Johnson to the canvas twice in round two, and once each in the fifth and sixth rounds. Johnson, however, would not stay down.
With the win, Young improved to 5-1-1, 2 KOs, and scored a wipeout on the cards. Two of the official judges scored the bout 60-50, and the third had it just one point closer at 60-51. My card also read 60-50.
Atlantic City's Decarlo Perez (an unofficial Philly fighter), dropped an action-packed 8-rounder to Wilky Campfort. Both junior middleweights fought hard and scored well. I though they split the eight rounds, four apiece. However the official judges turned in a split nod for Campfort.
Henry Grant favored Campfort, 77-75. Ron McNair scored the bout 77-75 for Perez. George Hill broke the tie with his 78-74 tally for Campfort, now 16-1, 9 KOs. The loss snapped a five-bout winning streak for Perez and left him with a record of 11-3-1, 4 KOs.
Philly heavyweight Mark Rideout fought to a 4-round draw over Pittsburgh's Fred Latham on the Resorts card. It was a sloppy battle with both fighters winning two rounds each on the official cards (and on mine). Both fighters remained unbeaten, Rideout 4-0-2, 1 KO, and Latham, 4-0-1, 2 KOs.
It was truly a hectic weekend of boxing with the different cards competing for the attention of local boxing fans and making them wish they could be in more than one place at the same time. At least that's how I felt. But it was certainly a memorable two days.