Monday, December 21, 2015

What’s Next For Luis Ortiz And Bryant Jennings?

One of the bigger stories in Boxing in recent weeks has been Tyson Fury’s victory over longtime unified IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko. It was a victory that some might argue is the beginning of a new era for the division. Before Fury got his opportunity to face Klitschko however, another top contender produced an impressive showing against the longtime division king in April of this year. The fighter standing across the ring from Klitschko was Bryant Jennings.

Jennings, who was undefeated at the time he fought Klitschko provided the then unified world champion with what many felt was his most significant test in several years in losing a hard fought twelve round unanimous decision at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Although Jennings came out on the losing end of that fight, he was clearly not disgraced as he clearly established himself as a legitimate contender.

It is natural when a fighter suffers their first loss to wonder how that fighter will respond in their first fight coming off of that loss. Jennings would choose to face a fighter who like himself is a top contender in the division coming off of his loss to Klitschko. The opponent was the undefeated Luis Ortiz. Ortiz, who was an amateur standout with a record of 343-19, has become one of the division’s rising stars since turning pro in 2010.

In nearly six years as a professional Ortiz scored twenty knockouts in twenty-three career victories and also earned a position as one of two fighters who hold interim/regular champion status in the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) ratings prior to his bout with Jennings on December 19th at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, NY. What interested me heading into this fight was to see how not only Jennings would look coming off of his first career loss, but also how Ortiz would do against arguably the toughest opponent in his professional career.

In what was an entertaining battle, both fighters were willing to engage from the outset. Jennings looking to nullify Ortiz’ punching power by getting on the inside and the knockout artist Ortiz looking to land the blow that would bring the fight to its conclusion.

Although both fighters were able to have periods of effectiveness throughout this fight, it was clear from the early going that Ortiz had an edge in terms of punching power as compared to Jennings. This however, did not deter Jennings from not only being willing to engage, but generally bringing the fight to Ortiz by looking to apply consistent pressure and fight on the inside.

When he was able to get on the inside and let his hands go Jennings was able to be very effective particularly by landing combinations to the body and head. In contrast, Ortiz was most successful when he was able to control distance and catch Jennings with punches as Jennings came forward. Even though this was a very competitive fight one question that ran through my mind as it progressed was whether or not the difference would ultimately be the overall effectiveness of Ortiz’ power punches versus the volume of Jennings offense if the fight went the distance.

As the fight progressed the two fighters continued to engage in what could be described as a toe to toe battle with neither fighter wanting to take a backward step. Although Jennings was able to respond when rocked by Ortiz periodically throughout this fight, he was not able to land a blow or series of blows that would discourage Ortiz. Ortiz would catch up with the very “Game” Jennings in round seven knocking the former world title challenger down with a left uppercut and then getting a stoppage of the bout with a follow-up barrage. It was an impressive performance by an undefeated contender in Ortiz who one might argue could potentially fight for a Heavyweight world championship within the next two years should he continue to win.

Although Ortiz is currently one of two fighters who holds interim/regular champion status in the WBA’s Heavyweight ratings, it is important to remember the landscape of the WBA’s ratings system in cases where there is a unified world champion in a division where two fighters are designated as having interim/regular champion status underneath a fighter who is a unified champion. This can result in fighters who hold interim/regular champion status having to wait a significant period of time before getting their championship opportunity. In terms of the Heavyweight division, the WBA/WBO/IBO unified world championship will next be defended when Tyson Fury meets former champion Wladimir Klitschko in a contracted mandatory rematch. The IBF meanwhile chose to strip Fury of its portion of the Heavyweight world championship for failing to meet the IBF’s current number one contender Vyacheslav Glazkov.

It was recently announced that Glazkov will face IBF number four rated contender Charles Martin on January 16th at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY to determine a new IBF world champion. Although readers over the years are accustomed to hearing this observer discuss the various political elements that surround Boxing including when circumstances arise regarding a world championship becoming vacant, I believe seeing as the rematch between Fury and Klitschko was contractually obligated in the event that Klitschko lost his unified world championship and chose to invoke his rematch clause, all the championships that were on the line in the original bout should be at stake in the rematch. This would include the IBF world championship in the Heavyweight division. The opinion of this observer notwithstanding, it is my hope that the fighters themselves will not be looked down upon by Boxing fans due to the circumstances that have led to them fighting for a world championship.

Perhaps the winner the fight between Glazkov and Martin may be put into a position to face the winner of the Fury-Klitschko rematch in a would be unification bout. An interesting possibility that could exist for the winner of Glazkov-Martin might be either a bout against the winner of the upcoming WBC world championship fight between champion Deontay Wilder and Artur Szpilka, which will take place on the same card or perhaps a bout against Luis Ortiz.

In regard to the WBA, Ortiz and former WBA Heavyweight world champion Ruslan Chagaev each currently hold interim/regular champion status. With the status of the unified Heavyweight world championship, which includes the WBA world championship currently to be decided between Fury and Klitschko sometime in 2016 and with Chagaev currently scheduled to face undefeated contender Lucas Browne on March 5th in Russia, it seems logical that Ortiz and his promoter Golden Boy Promotions may want to pursue a world championship opportunity against one of the other two champions in the division outside of Fury-Klitschko should the opportunity present itself. A bout against either the winner of Glazkov-Martin or Wilder-Szpilka could be appealing to an undefeated fighter and knockout artist currently playing the waiting game as one of two fighters holding interim/regular champion status in the WBA’s ratings.

What will also be interesting in addition to what’s next for Luis Ortiz is what may be in store for Bryant Jennings coming off of his second consecutive loss and the first knockout loss of his career. Although some might say that a fighter losing twice back to back and perhaps more importantly losing one of those fights by stoppage could drop that fighter from world title contention, this observer is not so sure.

After all, Bryant Jennings put up one hell of a fight earlier this year against Wladimir Klitschko and put up an equally determined effort in this fight against Luis Ortiz. Although Jennings has suffered two setbacks in 2015, it is important to remember that the Heavyweight division is one that is wide-open and if Jennings can find a way to bounce back from the losses he has suffered this year, it may not be long before he is back in the discussion for a potential world title shot. For now, Jennings should take some time to regroup. If Jennings can bounce back, the setbacks he has suffered this year may ultimately be viewed as bumps in the road for someone who may one day be considered a great fighter.

“And That’s the Boxing Truth.”

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