Monday, August 20, 2018

Thoughts On Fury And Jennings

August 18th featured two bouts in Boxing’s Heavyweight division, which depending on one’s perspective could impact the division in the months to come. Two fights that featured a former world champion and a top contender and former world title challenger each looking to rebuild their respective careers and improve their standing in the Heavyweight division.

The first of these bouts took place in Belfast, Northern Ireland at Windsor Park where undefeated former unified IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury faced veteran Francesco Pianeta. For Fury, this was the second fight in a comeback that began earlier this year following a near three-year layoff due to a plethora of personal problems.

In the first fight of his comeback Fury faced veteran Sefer Seferi in June in Manchester, England. Despite getting the victory via a stoppage after four rounds, Fury faced very little resistance and frankly, the bout did little to answer questions regarding Fury after such a long absence from active competition. Some may say however, that a fight that at times resembled what this observer has called a brisk sparring session, did serve a purpose in getting the fighter, in this case Fury, back in active competition while allowing him to work off some ring rust.

Going into this fight the primary question I had in mind was whether Fury would face more resistance than was the case in the first fight in his comeback. Despite being more than willing to engage with the former world champion and attempting to apply consistent pressure on him throughout, Pianeta simply could not land anything significant as Fury used his longer reach and lateral movement to evade most of Pianeta’s offense and outbox him to earn a convincing ten round unanimous decision.

While this fight had all the look of one that was a mere formality and did not feature any of the characteristics that most would consider an exciting Heavyweight fight, Fury’s performance was something that Boxing fans should take notice of. Fury is after all coming off of an extended absence from the sport and even though I felt that if he wanted to press the issue more that he could have stopped Pianeta as the fight progressed, it was clear that Fury had a fight plan in mind and executed that plan to near perfection. What should also be taken into account is the importance of a fighter’s ability to go rounds and extend themselves into the deep waters of a fight.

This ability is not only used as an evaluation of a fighter’s stamina, but also, an evaluation for a fighter’s team to use to determine when that fighter is ready to increase the quality of opposition in future bouts. For the former world champion, his next fight will come before the end of 2018 as Fury will attempt to become a two-time world champion when he faces longtime undefeated WBC Heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder in a fight that will take place in Las Vegas, NV that will headline a card that is tentatively scheduled to be televised in the United States on Showtime Pay-Per-View.

While some may question whether the thirty-year old former champion is ready to go right back in against one of the top fighters in the division after only two fights since his comeback began, before taking a hiatus from the sport Fury was at the top of the division having dethroned longtime division kingpin Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015. Although it is understandable how some both within the sport and Boxing fans might have a difference of opinion on this subject, it is also understandable how some might have the philosophy that after two one-sided wins against over matched opposition, there may not be a point in Fury fighting more fights that would ultimately be regarded as “Tune-Ups” and the true test for Fury will come when he faces a fighter that is currently at the top of the division.

While yours truly looks forward to sharing more thoughts once the fight is formally announced, a date is set, and as we get closer to that date, in Deontay Wilder, Fury will face the longest-reigning current world champion in the division, who has the size and skill to potentially give Fury trouble and a fighter who has knocked out every opponent he has faced. Simply put, outside of an encounter involving undefeated IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO world champion Anthony Joshua to determine an “Undisputed Heavyweight World Champion” a fight between Wilder and Fury is likely one that will draw the most interest of fans and experts alike across the globe.

With Tyson Fury having thus far shown he is still a player in the division, another fighter who has been a top Heavyweight contender in recent years has also been going through a rebuilding process. Bryant Jennings. Jennings, who emerged on Boxing’s radar in January 2012 in winning the Pennsylvania state Heavyweight championship with a decision win over Maurice Byarm, gradually worked his way through the ranks to earn an opportunity at a world championship when he faced unified IBF/WBO/WBA/IBO Heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko as an unbeaten challenger in April 2015 in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

In a highly competitive fight where he made a good account of himself against the longtime Heavyweight world champion, Jennings came out of the bout on the losing end of a hard-fought twelve round unanimous decision and had suffered the first loss of his career. Jennings would go on to suffer a second loss in his next fight following his loss to Klitschko when he was stopped by then unbeaten longtime top contender Luis Ortiz in December of that year.

Although it might be tempting for some to write a fighter off after suffering back to back losses, Jennings in defeat was very “Game” against both Klitschko and Ortiz. The rebuilding process for the Philadelphia, PA native Jennings began in August of last year with a second round knockout of Daniel Martz. Jennings was able to follow that victory by compiling a run of three more wins leading to his encounter against fellow veteran contender Alexander Dimitrenko at the Ocean Resort and Casino in Atlantic City, NJ.

In slight contrast to the comeback of Tyson Fury, Bryant Jennings came into his bout with Dimitrenko having compiled four victories in a relatively short period of time. While Fury was able to work himself back into contention for an opportunity at a world championship in just two fights, Jennings was not fighting for an opportunity at a world championship on August 18th, but was rather looking to continue building momentum by facing a fighter in Dimitrenko, who himself had experienced some setbacks throughout his career creating what some might argue was a crossroads scenario for both fighters.

Dimitrenko came into the fight with Jennings with a respectable record of 41-3, with 26 Knockouts and had previously held the European Heavyweight championship as well as international and intercontinental championships recognized by both the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Organization (WBO) in his career. Despite the solid resume and experience Dimitrenko had accumulated throughout his professional career, he had failed each time he had attempted to step up in class in terms of competing on the world level of the sport suffering losses to former world title challengers Eddie Chambers, Kubat Pulev, and former WBO Heavyweight world champion Joseph Parker.

While it might have appeared as though Jennings would have a slight edge prior to the fight, this was in my eyes in reality an encounter between two fighters at similar stages in their careers and this appeared as though it would be a more evenly matched battle than some might have anticipated. What I tend to look for in fights like this is to see if the talk that takes place prior to the fighters facing off will somehow influence how the two combatants approach the fight. This was a fight between two men who had shown the ability to be tactical boxers as well as an ability to get an opponent out of there should the opportunity present itself. Based on this as well as the skill level of the two fighters, I felt this fight could be fought as both a tactical Boxing match or more of a brawling type of battle where the question of who would come out on top would perhaps come down to which fighter had more stamina, particularly if the bout would extend into the later rounds.

While Dimitrenko had some success throughout the fight particularly in landing his right hand and scoring a knockdown on Jennings in the fourth round with an overhand right that appeared to land on the back of the head, Jennings was able to control the pace of the combat throughout, have success with his own right hand, and pick his shots. Jennings avenged the knockdown he suffered in the fourth round by scoring two knockdowns of his own in the eighth round, the first courtesy of a flush left hook to the head of Dimitrenko. With his opponent hurt and being gradually broken down over the course of the fight, Jennings closed the show landing a flush right uppercut that sent Dimitrenko down to the canvas for a third time and caused the fight to be stopped.

Now with five consecutive wins in his comeback and scoring four of those five wins by knockout, Bryant Jennings has himself re-entered the mix in the Heavyweight division. A question that will be answered in time is where Jennings will go from this fight.  While Jennings did score an impressive knockout win over Alexander Dimitrenko in exciting fashion, the upper echelon of the division would appear to be occupied for the remainder of 2018 with both undefeated world champions Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder scheduled to defend their respective portions of the World Heavyweight championship in the coming months.

Joshua will defend his unified IBF/WBO/WBA/IBO crown on September 22nd against longtime top contender Alexander Povetkin at Wembley Stadium in London, England. The fight between WBC world champion Wilder and Tyson Fury, while not formally announced as of this writing could take place between the months of November and December. This would leave other possible challengers including Jennings on the outside looking in, in terms of fighting for a world championship in the near future.

There is of course the possibility that Jennings, who is currently rated number eleven in the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) Heavyweight ratings could be a potential option for the winner of upcoming bouts such as the October 6th clash between undefeated top contender Jarrell Miller and former two-division world champion Tomasz Adamek or the recently announced bout on October 27th between former world title challengers Kubat Pulev and Hughie Fury.  While the bout between Pulev and Fury will determine a mandatory challenger in the International Boxing Federation’s (IBF) Heavyweight ratings and the winner will obviously be in line in theory of facing the winner of the Joshua-Povetkin championship bout, I believe Jennings could be a viable option in the event that the winners of the upcoming Heavyweight world championship fights opt to turn their attention to each other to determine one world champion in the division.

With several possible scenarios that could play out for the remainder of this year and into 2019, the Heavyweight division is certain to remain a topic of both discussion and debate among Boxing fans and experts. Part of the fun of the sport of Boxing after all, is seeing how such scenarios play out over period of time. We will have to wait and see what happens for the Heavyweights next.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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