|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - January 24, 2017|
In Philadelphia boxing circles, 2016 will be known as the “Year of the Rookie”. With more than twenty new Philly-area fighters turning pro during the year - newbies ranging from the average to the elite - our local pool of talent was infused with new blood like never before.
Leading this pack was switch-hitting welterweight, Jaron “Boots” Ennis, a boxer-puncher from one of Philly’s royal fighting families, who, in his first eight fights (8-0, 7 KOs), has exceeded the high expectations pinned on him after his excellent amateur career. Ennis fought frequently and impressively since his April debut, and set the bar high for all of the other young prospects.
On Saturday night, Ennis will kick off his sophomore season at the 2300 Arena in South Philly, headlining an eight-bout card promoted by Chris Middendorf’s Victory Boxing Promotions. The six-rounder is Ennis’ first main event, a fitting early honor for the top rookie in Philadelphia.
“It’s my first one,” Ennis said about fighting in the main event. “It feels great. I’m glad it’s at home. It’s a great feeling to have the crowd behind me in my first home main event.”
In 2016, Ennis closed the amateur chapter of his career, sifted through numerous offers, and ultimately signed with manager Cameron Dunkin and promoter Chris Middendorf. With his father, Derrick “Bozy” Ennis, by his side as head trainer, “Boots” Ennis took the leap into the professional ranks and into the family business.
Long before the youngest Ennis seriously strapped on the gloves, his father and two older brothers all fought professionally. Bozy posted a 4-1, 3 KOs pro record as a middleweight between 1978 and 1984. However, his boxing claim to fame would come years later as a trainer of Philadelphia boxing talent. His “Bozy’s Dungeon” has been one of the City’s best boxing gyms, and over the years, his own flesh and blood have risen as the club’s standout performers.
Derek “Pooh” Ennis, 24-5-1, 13 KOs, campaigned as a junior middleweight for twelve years, scoring wins over the likes of Gabriel Rosado, Eromosele Albert, and Troy Browning, while winning the USBA and the PA State 154-pound titles along the way. Pooh was a gifted boxer with serious title aspirations. However, a few losses stalled his progress, and the eldest Ennis brother eventually faded from the scene, despite his fine accomplishments.
Farah “The Quiet Storm” Ennis, 22-2, 12 KOs, younger but bigger than Pooh, had an excellent super middleweight run between 2006 and 2015. He won the NABF 168-pound title in 2010 with a stoppage of Victor Lares, and beat Richard Pierson, live on ESPN2, two years later. Farah’s loss to future world champ Badou Jack on Showtime halted his rise in 2013. He returned two years later, and like Pooh, may still have more rounds left in him.
While his two older brothers were training, fighting, and moving toward boxing’s top level, Jaron Ennis grew up in the family gym. At first he played while his father and brothers worked, but in time, he too got serious and began to develop as a promising young fighter.
“I had my first fight when I was eight,” Jaron said. “I stopped a guy. It was fun, but I liked playing basketball. So, I went back to basketball. Then one day when I was thirteen, I was just like, ‘I’m going to stop playing basketball’. It wasn’t as fun as it used to be. I went back to boxing.”
Ennis started winning amateur bouts and quickly began building an impressive record. He was young, but as Jaron’s amateur wins piled up, there were hints that, in the long run, his future in the sport would be bright. Ennis began to win tournaments, and like any promising amateur, began eyeing the Olympics.
In 2014, he lost a national competition to Gary (Antonio) Russell, but the following year topped Russell to win national honors. A rivalry was born.
Although 2015 was Jaron’s best year in the free ranks, he won everything in sight except the Olympic Trials at the end of the year. Jaron zipped through the competition in the Trials, including a points win over his rival, Russell. However, in the final round of the competition, Jaron dropped a razor-thin decision to Russell and then lost their tie-breaker one day later.
Although disappointed, Ennis, 58-3 as an amateur (with all three losses to Russell), abandoned his Olympic dreams and set his sights on the pros.
Offers to sign the amateur star poured in from every direction. Ennis and his father sifted through them all, and eventually chose Cameron Dunkin (manager) and Victory Boxing Promotions (Chris Middendorf) to guide his promising career.
“To me, that was the best choice,” Ennis said about picking his promoter and manager. “I saw how they moved Terrence Crawford, and I liked it. So, I was like, ‘I’m going to go this way’. All the other offers weren’t the best fit for me. I think it was the best one.”
In Boots, promoter Chris Middendorf saw something special.
“Sometimes, a fighter just jumps off the page,” Middendorf said. “That’s the way it was with Boots. The fact that he was such an incredible young fighter and great kid, we just knew that he was tops on our list to try and sign.”
On April 30, 2016, Ennis debuted with a 42-second KO of Cory Muldrew to launch his career, and has kept an active fighting schedule ever since. Ennis has fought every month since his debut – May, June, July, August, September, November and December – and brings an eight-fight winning streak into Saturday’s bout.
“I have two opponents right now,” Ennis said about Saturday’s assignment. “So, I’ve got a backup, in case the other one backs out.”
In his eight bouts thus far, Jaron has looked like a future champion. He hasn’t been perfect, but his ease in the ring and obvious talent give Philly boxing fans much to be excited about.
Only one fighter, Eddie Diaz, lasted the distance (September 2016 in Philadelphia). The four-rounder was clearly Jaron’s hardest fight to date. Diaz was tough, but it was perhaps Ennis’ passion for training that got the best of him in the bout.
Unlike some fighters, Ennis needs no coaxing to train. The youngest Ennis rarely leaves the gym. Once a fight is finished, he dutifully returns to the gym just a day or two later. Even his notoriously hard-working father has suggested some rest might be in order. However, Boots wants nothing more than to prepare for his next fight.
“He’s had eight fights so far,” Middendorf said. “There’s only one where he wasn’t exceptional. Clearly, he knew it, and he addressed the situation. He had been training (for another fight) and then that fight fell out, and he just kept training, right on through. (For Diaz) he was just kind of flat.”
Still, Ennis dominated on the scorecards of his toughest bout, but it was a lesson well-learned. He began another knockout streak in his very next start.
“I don’t get nervous,” Ennis said about heading into a fight. “I just go out there and have fun. I’ve been in this boxing game since I was little. I just focus on going out there, having fun, and coming out with that win. That’s all I think about.”
The nineteen year old has the skills, loves what he is doing, and embraces the sport’s necessary grind. These are some of the qualities that make Jaron Ennis one of Philadelphia’s best hopes for another world championship in the future.
Today Danny Garcia is on top, with Tevin Farmer and Julian Williams appearing to be next in line. However, with only eight months and eight fights in the books, it is Ennis who is attracting the attention of the demanding Philly boxing fans. Some even say that he’s the best prospect in Philly since Meldrick Taylor. Only time will tell.
Ennis still has plenty of time to perfect his craft and mature as a fighter. However, his fans are ready, and they should get plenty of opportunities to watch him rise this year. Victory Promotions is planning to bring at least six boxing shows to Philadelphia in 2017, and Ennis figures to be a big part of the series.
“We’re going every other month in Philly this year,” Middendorf said. “And I’m committed to Boots, Joshua Jones and Manny Folly, who we’ve worked with so far. I also plan to sign at least two or three other (local) fighters that I’ve known and had some discussions with. This fits into my whole way of promoting fights which is “Hometown Heroes”. With Boots and Jones and Folly and some of these other fighters still to sign, we’re going to have some “Hometown Heroes”, and we’ll just continue to promote them. People are going to come out to see the shows because they know they are going to see some of the best prospects out of Philadelphia.”
If Ennis can keep his schedule as busy as last year, he’ll perhaps move to the next level by the end of the year. Then things will really start to get interesting. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Ennis knows that another meeting with Russell (who has not yet turned pro) may come, assuming they stay close in weight as professionals. To Ennis, Gary Russell is an arch rival with whom he has a score to settle.
“We’re 3-2,” Ennis said of his history with Russell. “I would love that fight. If we fought in the pros, I think I’d knock him out. I think me and Russell would (eventually) be a big PPV matchup in the future. I think everyone would love to see us go at it.”
With his fighting family behind him, Ennis has both direct and indirect experience that will help him sidestep the pitfalls that typically await rising boxers. His father and brothers have seen a lot through the years, and despite what must be a super-competitive family dynamic, Jaron Ennis says that no sibling rivalry exists among the Ennis brothers.
“It’s no rivalry,” Ennis said. “They want the best for me. We joke around sometimes, but they always tell me if I stay focused, keep doing what I’m doing, I’ll be a world champion.”
Ennis takes his next step toward that goal on Saturday night at South Philly’s 2300 Arena, with the entire Ennis family and an army of Philly boxing fans in the house to support him.
Joining Ennis on Saturday’s card are junior welterweight Joshua Jones, 3-0-1, 2 KOs, Manny Folly 8-0, 6 KOs, several other young hopefuls looking to make their mark.