PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                           August 13, 2011


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It was a typically tough and grueling Teon Kennedy fight Saturday night at Bally's Atlantic City. The action between the NABA champ and challenger Alejandro Lopez was fast-paced and performed at  a very high level. Throughout the bout, Lopez was the quicker, busier and fresher of the two battlers. Teon fought in spurts and struggled to close the distance all night. He plugged along, looking for his chance to turn the fight around, but seemed to lack the fire needed to actually create that opportunity. When the smoke cleared, Lopez claimed the NABA belt by unanimous decision, and Teon was saddled with his first pro setback and a full slate of questions as to why he'd come up short this time out.

Teon followed Alejandro into the ring, as is customary for defending champions. Little did we know, however, that the ring walk would set the tone for the rest of the night. For when the bell to start the fight rang, about 9:45 pm, Teon Kennedy, the brightest star of Philly's current crop of elite fighters, continued to follow his springy and energetic opponent for twelve full rounds. Kennedy didn't follow Lopez to the end of the earth, but he did follow him to the end of his unbeaten streak.

Kennedy has been a delight to follow as his professional career has developed over the past four years. He began as a highly touted national amateur champion, and before long he was a sure-fire-can't-miss pro with a world title belt all but guaranteed for his future. The only question was - "When?".

Parallels were drawn to Joltin' Jeff Chandler - one of the most sacred figures in Philadelphia's ring history. And Kennedy did his part. He kept rolling along, winning bouts and impressing everyone who watched him. He earned the nickname stitched on his blue boxing robe. "The Technician". He was beautiful to watch and seemed infallible.

Early in his boxing  career, while still a four round fighter, Kennedy left a gig with the Cement Masons Union to focus completely on the boxing trade. One of his former cement mason bosses understood the move completely, saying with a he's-crazy-not-to-quit-chuckle, "Teon's gonna make money in boxing". Who could argue that?

Teon continued to win and to climb the rankings. Golden and increasingly impressive performances began to pile up. Thomas Snow went in two. Andre Wilson provided a tough test but lost the 8-round verdict. Teon was on his way.

Even the first smudge on his blossoming record, a 10-round draw with Lante Addy in the same Bally's ring, was widely dismissed as robbery. Everyone felt Kennedy had won that fight and remained unbeaten and probably still unbeatable.

Teon went on to win the USBA title in his next bout, the classic Blue Horizon battle with Francisco Rodriguez. But this fight was a monumental struggle that required much more than an array of technical skills for Teon to survive. He did survive and showed exactly what the fighter in him was made of. He withstood a storm of punishment and came back to claim the title in spectacular fashion. As close as he came to losing, Kennedy never seemed more unbeatable.

A world ranking came along with that TKO victory, as did the first real test of Teon's focus and drive. But the tragedy of the Rodriguez fight didn't stop Teon's rise. He returned after a long rest and resumed his winning ways. But a different fighter emerged after the Rodriguez bout. 

Although  there had been clear early signs that there was a brawler lurking somewhere inside of this boxer-puncher, a tiger was released in Teon over the past two years. His fights became thrilling wars - great for fans, but potentially damaging for a young fighter still on the rise.

His fights became harder than they should have been as Teon traded his superior boxing skills for bombs. He continued to flourish, but we wondered if he'd spend all his precious reserves even before his world title opportunity would come.

Most recently, Kennedy defeated a fellow-standout in a high-profile match. Kennedy was spectacular, if less than perfect, in his 12-round victory over Jorge Diaz. In the fight, Teon seemed to find a comfortable balance between boxing and slugging, doing  both when required and coming away with his most head-turning win.

Going into the Kennedy-Alejandro Lopez fight Saturday night, there were flecks of over confidence in the Atlantic City air. If Kennedy wasn't over-confident, then most of the rest of us were. After all, Lopez had lost a decision to Diaz the year before, and had been knocked to the floor twice in the process. Despite Lopez' solid 21-2 record, surely Kennedy would win this one and go on to the many rumored big bouts on the horizon.

The only real concern we had was the way Teon's recent legal problems would affect him in the bout. With a list of serious felony charges against him, would Kennedy be focused enough to prepare properly and be able to keep his mind on business in the ring. Even though the consensus seems to be that Teon will be exonerated in the courtroom, who knows what toll it could be taking to his mental status?

The fight began well enough. Teon came out with his hands held high. From his wide stance, Teon whipped the jab at his dancing foe, cool as always. Everything looked normal. But slowly and subtly the fight slipped away.

Lopez floated around the ring, circling Kennedy. He tossed his jab Kennedy's way and it landed, over and over again. Teon followed him around the ring, stalking. But Lopez kept punching and moving and punching. Kennedy waited.

His loyal fans, myself included, felt it was just a matter of time before Teon trapped Lopez in the trenches and brought him off his bicycle. Teon was not the only one who waited. All of us did too.

Eventually Lopez started to mix in stiff right hand punches that repeatedly snapped Teon's head back. Lopez jabbed, moved, landed good right hands, and he moved some more. In the third round Lopez whacked Kennedy with another right hand, and Teon felt it. But Kennedy fought back. We thought that maybe the potent shots would wake Teon up. Later in the round, Lopez rocked Kennedy again.

As the rounds rolled by, Lopez' confidence grew and grew. Before long he was stepping inside and ripping hooks and uppercuts at Kennedy. He was landing too.

Lopez wasn't the first to land on Kennedy, but he was the first to get away with it to such an extent. In the past, Kennedy always found the range when opposing artillery came in. But not Saturday night.

By the halfway point of the fight, Lopez was up 4-2 in rounds. For Kennedy, the fight was not out of reach, but clearly he had to get moving. Lopez took the seventh round, and suddenly the 5-2 score on my card started looking bad.

Lopez stuck to his plan and Kennedy just kept following him. Not chasing him, which would have showed some urgency; he merely followed. But Kennedy buckled down and put together his best rally in the late-middle rounds.  He won two of the next three rounds - and the one he didn't win was extremely close. It seemed Teon was battling back, and yet the fight was not turning his way. Even  though Kennedy was doing better, Lopez was landing serious punches. As he did, Teon's eyes, already puffy, began to close. Before long, Kennedy's face was a swollen mask of lumps and bruises.

After ten rounds, Teon was down 6-4, but things weren't looking good. Clearly Teon needed a knockout or at least a knockdown to win the fight. It was just as clear that Lopez was not going anywhere. So the game-winner for Kennedy was in the miracle category. But a draw - or a close surprise decision - was still in the cards. However, Lopez took care of that.

Lopez used the final two rounds to close the show and seal his victory. He remained energetic and busy. He ripped Kennedy with hard combinations that sagged Teon's spirit. Lopez was giddy with his success and it helped him keep his hands and feet moving.

In the last round, the boxers clashed heads and Teon's swollen left eye burst open. As if this night wasn't bad enough for Kennedy, the cut meant he'd need to make another trip to an Atlantic City hospital for more stitches.

The official scores gave Lopez the victory and Kennedy's NABA belt. Judge John Poturaj had it 115-113 (7-5 in rounds) for Lopez. Lynn Carter and Lawrence Layton had it much wider at 117-111, or 9-3 in rounds. With the decision, went Teon Kennedy's unbeaten streak. He slipped to 17-1- with 7 KOs. Lopez improved to 22-2 with 7 KOs.

These days in boxing, a loss can be the kiss of death for a rising fighter. But this is one of the more idiotic unspoken rules of the sport. Lopez lost to Jorge Diaz, but clearly improved considerably by the time he met Kennedy. That's the way boxing  really works. Tough fights teach lessons, and lessons make fighters better. Undefeated fighters are not necessarily boxing's best.

But if this column reads like an obituary for Teon Kennedy, it is not. Teon is still an excellent prospect. He possesses enough skill to make it to the top. But skills are not the only factor in a successful boxing career. Often a fighter's internal struggles and other factors outside the ring, determine what he can achieve.

After the fight, Teon's dressing room was like a morgue. You could hear a pin drop back there. Co-manager and cut man, Jim Williams applied the ice bag to Teon's swollen face. Everyone else stared at the fighter. We waited to see where he was with this. But Teon isn't the most talkative guy.

He sat on a folding chair, slumped by fatigue and perhaps disappointment. Who knows? What do you say to a fighter after he loses? Comments like "good fight" or "you're still the man" ring false coming out of your mouth. Imagine what they sound like coming at you. So we all stayed quiet.

Finally Teon's father, Ernest Kennedy, tried to get inside his son's head.

"How do you feel about this?", Mr. Kennedy implored.

Teon just shrugged. "I guess it hasn't sunk in yet."

"You got to feel something. Just feel it. React to it.", the father said.

Ernest Kennedy was right. Teon needs to feel this feeling. He needs to remember what losing feels like.

Saturday night he was beaten by a better fighter. Sure it's hard to believe, but this guy out boxed and out fought Kennedy all the way. However, the Kennedy that collected this loss, was a Kennedy that none of us had seen before.

The fight was winnable for him, but he failed to win it. Lopez fought a great fight and did exactly what he needed to do. But Kennedy could make a long  list of all things he didn't do. Things he has the ability to do. Things he usually does.

Perhaps he could not execute in the ring because his preliminary court hearing scheduled for this coming week, and general worry about his future, weighed too heavily on his mind during the fight or throughout his preparation. That would be understandable.

Perhaps Teon was overconfident for Lopez, and did not prepare properly  for a fighter like Lopez, who was looking to make his bones.

Perhaps the emphasis and validation by modern day boxing for these regional semi-titles turns a young fighter into a tired old "champion" susceptible to the next young fighter on the rise looking to win a belt.

Perhaps Teon has had too many grueling wars already and is winding down prematurely.

Perhaps Lopez was just better than Kennedy.

Or perhaps Teon has mastered the art of fighting wars, but needs additional work when it comes to fighting other styles. It had been a while since trench warfare wasn't a part of a Kennedy fight, and he seemed unable to convert the fight to his advantage.

Boxing careers turn on fights like this. Kennedy can either give in and let his potential slide into mediocrity, or he can regroup, learn from the loss, and come back more seasoned than ever. Imagine how good a truly seasoned Teon Kennedy could be.

Who knows where Kennedy will go? Better fighters than he have fallen off the boxing map and fighters not nearly as talented have risen to the top.

This is why we follow boxing. We need to know the answers to riddles like Teon Kennedy. I look forward to the next time he  fights, and hope I get my answer then.

Saturday's undercard featured five additional bouts. 

Philly lightweight Karl Dargan looked sharp against Juan Suazo scoring a TKO at 1:20 of round six in their scheduled eight-round semi-wind up bout. Dargan left 10-0 with 5 KOs; Juan Suazo slipped to 8-5-3 (5 KO).

Local super middleweight southpaw Derrick Webster improved to 10-0 / 6 KO with an exciting unanimous decision over Romaro Johnson (11-4-1 / 6 KO).

Super bantamweight Camilo Perez (5-0 4 KO) stopped James Owens (4-6 / 2 KO) at 1:43 of round two.

Cuban Top Rank welterweight prince Yordenis Ugas won a six-round unanimous decision over Fernando Rodriguez (6-5 / 3 KO) to remain undefeated (9-0 / 4 KO).

Cruiserweights Elvin Sanchez and Pedro Martinez opened the show with a rematch of their 2010 bout. Sanchez won that four-rounder, but Philadelphian Martinez managed three knockdowns in the first two rounds this time out. Those extra points gave him the edge in the rematch. Martinez won the four round unanimous decision and improved his record to 6-4 with 3 KOs. Sanchez is now 4-2 with 3 KOs.

Peltz Boxing, in association with Top Rank, promoted the show. Peltz returns September 9th with a card at the Asylum Arena in South Philly. 

Note: The last four photos are video captures from the Fox SportsNet TV broadcast.




John DiSanto - Atlantic City - August 13, 2011