|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - April 25, 2015|
Bryant Jennings, 19-1, 10 KOs, suffered the first defeat of his professional career but earned validation and respect from the legions who gave him little chance of lasting a round or two with champion Wladimir Klitschko, 64-3, 54 KOs, on Saturday night. The world heavyweight champion defended his crown for the 18th straight time with a unanimous decision, before a packed Madison Square Garden crowd of 17,056 and a national television audience watching on HBO.
Although Jennings entered the bout a significant underdog (about 15-1), he showed solid skills, a sturdy chin, and perhaps even a blueprint to defeat the dominant champion of the world. All in all, it was Klitschko's sternest challenge in years, but Jennings ultimately fell short of his goal to wrest Klitschko's belt collection.
Klitschko established his jab early in the fight while Jennings took a few rounds to get his engine revving. The champion's jab and now-perfected holding tactics controlled the pace and muffled any inside attack attempted by Jennings.
The challenger missed a number of wild rights early, but managed to land one good left hook off of a clinch in round three. Klitschko walked through the punch, but the shot assured Jennings that the champion's chin was within range if he could untangle from Wladimir's clutch.
Klitschko continued to dominate with the jab, while Jennings tried to make something happen from a distance. When he moved around looking for openings from different angles, Klitschko just kept jabbing and scoring and winning. Round after round passed with Jennings slipping further behind. Fighting from outside wasn't working for Jennings.
However, by the mid-point of the fight, a new rhythm was being established. Every time the fighters fell into a clinch, Jennings would pound the champion's body whenever he had a free hand. Jennings also began to regularly land with his hook upstairs as their clinches loosened up.
Jennings began to score frequently, and he gathered steam in rounds nine and ten as Klitschko appeared to tire. For Jennings, the decision was getting out of reach, but a knockout was still up for grabs.
After a stern warning by referee Michael Griffin (not his first of the fight) in round ten, Klitschko was later penalized Klitschko one point for holding. The deserved penalty helped Jennings with his points deficit, but really had no impact on the outcome of the fight.
By round eleven, the champion was back at work with his jab and controlled the final two rounds, despite Jennings' attempts to land a punch that would change the course of the fight. That punch never came and Klitschko closed the show with a strong combination as the clock ran out.
Before the announcement by Michael Buffer, the final result was not in doubt. Buffer informed the pro-Klitschko crowd that the champion defended his title by comfortable scores of 116-110 (Robin Taylor), 116-110 (Steve Weisfeld) and 118-109 (Max DeLuca). Although DeLuca's score felt too wide (only one round for Jennings), the other two tallies were fair. My score was also 116-110.
“Jennings was challenging,” Klitschko said at the post-fight press conference. “He was trying in his own way, and I need to give respect for that. Bryant Jennings was really mobile and it was really tough to hit him. The punches I threw unfortunately hit his arms and his defense. I was expecting to get a win and was confident that I was going to defend my title, but unfortunately I didn’t defend it in an impressive way.”
Jennings not only claimed a moral victory with his respectable showing, he even implied that the decision should have gone his way.
“This fight does not penetrate my confidence or anything negative towards my career,” Jennings said. "Tonight I fought all 12 rounds. I expected to do well, which I did. But not everybody expected me to do well. So I’m hoping I gained some respect, and I know I gained some fans. I’m not bitter. I’m not upset. I’m not mad. But I really think that I came out with the fight, and you already know what I’m calling for – let’s do this thing again. Let’s do number two.”
Klitschko disagreed that Jennings deserved a rematch.
“It was really tough to get him to fight,” Klitschko said of Jennings. “It is said, a tango belongs two. And the styles make the fight. I’ve been in this business for a very long time. This was my 67th fight. There were some fights that were more exciting. There were other fights that were less exciting. Probably this one belongs to ones that were NOT as exciting. But as it is said, a win is a win. The Klitschko story continues, and hopefully the next fight will have a more exciting result.”
“I seen him huffing and puffing,” Jennings said. “I brought it to him every single round, and whatever that Steel Hammer was, it didn’t penetrate this inexperienced, too small, bad foot work… I done heard it all. Man, please! I still consider myself the best heavyweight in the world.”
Although the scores were one-sided, the COMPUBOX final punch-stats told a tighter tale for this fight.
Klitschko out-landed Jennings 144 to 110 in total punches. He also threw more punches (545 to 376). The champion dominated in the jabs landed, 92 to 16. However, Jennings landed more power shots, 94 to 52. Jennings also landed a higher percentage of total punches and power shots. Klitschko's jab percentage was higher.
Clearly once Jennings got into his groove, his late-fight surge helped his numbers greatly. But Klitschko won this fight with his jab. 64% of Klitschko's punches were jabs; 85% of Jennings' punches were power shots.
“This is still like a dream to me, because I never even imagined I’d be accomplishing these things,” Jennings said. “It did take me about three rounds to get in there and start moving. But at the same time, always have to be safe, always have to be careful, and attack at the same time. According to what I’ve seen Klitschko do in the past, that jab didn’t set anything up. That wasn’t a dominant Klitschko jab. That was something else. The jab was not effective. So please, don’t say that."
The numbers say exactly that. However, Jennings fought well and established himself as a true contender for the heavyweight championship.
“My rise to the top is still on, Jennings said. “It’s still on and it don’t matter who it is. We’re not wasting no time. We’re going after the best. That’s what we do, and that’s what I’ve been doing my whole career. I think I went out there and did what I was supposed to do. And it’s magnified because my doing it was unexpected. So even in a loss, they should not praise me but they should be showing respect.”
There is no question about that.