On February 23, 2008 Wladimir Klitschko successfully unified his IBF and IBO Heavyweight world titles with a lopsided twelve round unanimous decision over previously unbeaten WBO world champion Sultan Ibragimov at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. Klitschko’s one-sided victory over Ibragimov would be Klitschko’s last fight in the United States for over seven years.
In the years following that fight bouts fought for versions of the World Heavyweight championship took place outside of the United States. Wladimir along with his brother Vitali established themselves as two of the sport’s marquee draws regularly defending their titles in sold-out arenas and stadiums around the world. The brothers’ dominance and ability to consistently draw large crowds regardless of their opposition resulted in an absence of Heavyweight championship fights being staged in the United States.
The retirement of Vitali Klitschko in 2013 however, opened the door for a return of World Heavyweight championship Boxing to America. In May of last year Bermane Stiverne scored a knockout in his rematch with Chris Arreola in Los Angeles, California. The fight, which was to determine a new WBC world champion following Vitali’s retirement was the first World Heavyweight championship fight to take place in America in five years since Arreola’s failed bid in his challenge of Vitali in 2009 in Los Angeles.
Stiverne’s victory in his rematch with Arreola and subsequent loss to Deontay Wilder earlier this year in Las Vegas, Nevada showed growing demand for the Heavyweight championship of the world to be defended here in the United States. It seemed only natural that the unified world champion of the division would soon make his return to America.
Wladimir Klitschko’s return would come on April 25th as he looked to make the eighteenth defense of his world championship at Madison Square Garden. Standing across the ring from Klitschko was undefeated top American contender Bryant Jennings.
Jennings, who entered the fight unbeaten in nineteen professional fights was clearly at a disadvantage in terms of experience compared to Klitschko, who had competed in sixty-six professional fights prior to this encounter. The challenger however, had established himself as one of the best American Heavyweights and entered the fight ranked in the top ten of the WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO Heavyweight ratings.
There may have been some who felt that this fight was a mere formality for the unified IBF/WBO/IBO/WBA world champion Klitschko who in his second reign as a Heavyweight world champion has compiled seventeen successful defenses and had not faced a stern test in quite some time. The challenger however, would show that he came to fight.
One of the things that Jennings was able to do early on in the fight was disrupt Klitschko’s rhythm by using lateral movement and as well as moving his head. This seemed to disrupt Klitschko’s ability to land his jab followed by his straight right hand, which has been a focal point of his offense over the last several years. As has been the case for previous Klitschko opponents however, Jennings would have difficulty getting on the inside of the champion as Klitschko looked to clinch him every time the challenger could get close.
As the fight progressed it became in large part a battle of Klitschko’s jab versus Jennings’ ability to land body punches when he was able to get close. One thing that Jennings increasingly did as the rounds went on was continue to try and let his hands go even when Klitschko looked to tie him up on the inside. Despite not being able to consistently land his right hand throughout the fight, Klitschko was able to win rounds strictly off of his ability to throw jabs and thus constantly have something in front of Jennings to go through in order to get on the inside.
Jennings however, would gradually have more success landing to champion’s body and was able to occasionally mix in offense to the head of Klitschko as the rounds went on. The challenger was clearly not awed by the occasion of fighting for a world championship for the first time in his career and doing so in a venue rich in Boxing history as Madison Square Garden. Jennings was also not intimidated by the champion and was not discouraged even when Klitschko would clinch him.
Klitschko’s holding of Jennings would lead to the champion being penalized a point in round ten. Despite losing a point on the scorecards, Klitschko was able to maintain a lead and fend off a determined effort from Jennings to retain his unified world championship via twelve round unanimous decision. Official scores were 118-109, and 116-111 (on two scorecards) for Wladimir Klitschko.
Unofficially, I scored this fight the same as two of the official judges on 116-111 in favor of Klitschko. Although Klitschko continues to sit atop the Heavyweight division and continues his march towards Boxing history having now successfully defended his title for the eighteenth time, this observer believes that Bryant Jennings became the fighter who was able to provide Klitschko with a stern test.
Even though it is logical to assume that there could be a difference of opinion in regard to Klitschko’s performance in this fight as compared to previous outings, I believe the story of this fight was not so much that Klitschko had difficulty in executing his offense, but rather a determined effort from a challenger who proved his legitimacy as a top contender in the Heavyweight division.
It will be interesting to see who Klitschko chooses to face next in what will be his nineteenth title defense and if successful would put him one defense away from tying Larry Holmes’ mark of twenty successful Heavyweight title defenses, second only to Joe Louis who has the all-time record for successful title defenses in any way division in the history of the sport of twenty-five. Although fighters such as Tyson Fury and Vyacheslav Glazkov are currently awaiting mandatory title shots as the WBO’s and IBF’s top-rated contenders and demand to see Klitschko face WBC champion Deontay Wilder to determine an undisputed Heavyweight world champion is likely to increase, this observer believes Bryant Jennings has earned a rematch.
After all, Jennings not only faced a dominant world champion who was vastly more experienced, but he also made that champion fight and was able to win rounds in the process. There have not been many challengers during Wladimir Klitschko’s current reign as champion who have brought the fight to him. Although Jennings suffered the first defeat of his career, his stock as a player in the Heavyweight division has gone up as a result of the determined effort he put forth in this fight.
Whether or not Jennings will get a rematch in the near future remains to be seen. If an immediate rematch is not in the cards for Bryant Jennings, it will be interesting to see whether or not his performance in this fight may lead to a title shot against Deontay Wilder for the WBC world championship assuming Klitschko will make a mandatory title defense in his next fight against either Fury or Glazkov.
One thing however, is certainly clear. After a long absence, the demand for World Heavyweight championship Boxing here in the United States is alive and well. It is my hope that the resurgence of World Heavyweight championship fights here in America continues.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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