This past Saturday night, Wladimir Klitschko and Bryant “By-By” Jennings had the attention of the boxing world. Over 1.7 million people tuned in to HBO, making it the highest rated TV boxing event in the past three years. People from around the globe came out for a Heavyweight title fight at Madison Square Garden, creating an atmosphere that was nothing short of electric when it came time for the main event. For some, it was an opportunity to see Klitschko fight on US soil for the first time in over seven years. For others, it was a night to see if Jennings could become Philly’s first Heavyweight champion in 30 years.
The Philly Keith Sports crew made the 90-mile trek to Midtown Manhattan to cover one of the more anticipated Heavyweight fights in years. The ring walks alone made it a night to remember. While the action in the ring fell a little short of expectations, it did give surprising glimpse into the future of both contestants. Before I get into specifics, treat yourself to this eight minute video of the introductions to get a feel for how lively MSG was for this title bout.
The lead up to the contest offered the element of intrigue that makes boxing a special sport. Klitschko, the long-time Heavyweight champ, was returning to the USA to continue a winning streak that is threatening to re-write the history books. At 39 years old, he is still running roughshod over all wanna-be contenders with intentions of taking his title. His last outing was his strongest performance in years, blowing away then #1 contender Kubrat Pulev in 5 rounds.
Jennings, the “raw and athletic” late comer to the sport, was pegged with the unavoidable Rocky Balboa comparisons. Most industry “experts” weren’t giving him a shot to go past 6 rounds. By-By had a small army of hometown supporters who ignored the national consensus. They whole heartedly rallied behind their man at the Garden, believing that the belts were coming back to North Philly.
There were media days, press conferences, conference calls and everything you can imagine to promote this fight. Finally, the time to talk was over. The people were ready for twelve rounds of world championship competition from the Mecca of Boxing. As Michael Buffer announced the participants, the arena was buzzing with energy. When the opening bell sounded, that juice started to dry and full tilt action never arrived.
This fight was not a complete dud – but when people pay top dollar to see a heavyweight title fight – they want to see the leather flying and asses about to hit the canvas. In this particular fight – Klitschko jabbed, grabbed and held his way to a twelve round unanimous decision win. The champ couldn’t find a good distance against his smaller foe.
Jennings had moments where he forced Klitschko to work harder than we’ve seen in recent years. There were instances when he made the champion look old. There were also many spots where Jennings seemed to settle for being to be pretty good instead of daring to be great.
The fight went the full twelve rounds with the final scorecards reading 118-109, 116-111 and 116-111 all in favor of the Champion from Kiev, Ukraine. Klitschko improves to (64-3, 53 KO) while Jennings falls to (19-1, 10 KO).
In the grand scheme of things, Jennings did enough to raise his stock even though he lost the decision. No longer can he be considered a “green” boxer. First the first time in a while he has an opportunity to see areas where he can truly improvement.
While Jennings had some shining moments, there were other times where he came off a being too friendly in there with the champ. With the long odds against him, I thought Jennings would fight with a fire as if Klitschko came up on 26th & Master and started talking trash. He conducted himself like a professional, but maybe a bit too professional. There is nothing wrong with fighting that way. It just won’t win you a decision when facing a long tenured titleist, at the Garden, in front of a partisan crowd, on a network that came to see the champ.
I guess I wanted to see Jennings try to rip the champs heart out and snatch the title. A little rough house action may have gone a long way.
With only 20 professional fights under his belt, he proved that he is good enough to go the distance with the best in the business. Bryant has shown to be a willing learner over the course of his short career. He comes off as one who strives for improvement in all aspects of life. Call this fight “one to grow on” for Jennings. With a few more wins and a little more seasoning, a rematch down the road is not far-fetched.
The question is – with a career payday under his belt, does he want to hang around long enough to overcome the first career obstacle that he wasn’t able to overcome right away?
As for Klitschko, I am realizing that he is a fighter that fools me every time. When I see that he has a title defense lined up, I take a minute to reflect on the true depth of his amazing accomplishments as a boxer. He has won Olympic gold, he has the second longest title reign in Heavyweight history with a legitimate chance to break Joe Louis’ record. Dr. Steel Hammer has made millions of dollars, selling out huge arenas around the globe. These are some serious credentials that rival any great in any sport.
When it comes time to sit down and actually watch Klitschko fight, I often leave disappointed. More times than not I walk away thinking to myself “Man, that fight sucked”. Call me spoiled, call me an old soul, but when I see a 6’6″, 240+ pound of solid muscle heavyweight in a boxing ring, I want to see that man impose his will on the opponent. I want to see that fighter take chances. I want a fighter who is in the conversation of being a top 10 all-time heavyweight champion to be on willing to make a statement every time out. What I do not want to see is this person use his long arms to fight at a distance for the majority of the contest or use his height and weight to grab, hold and lean on the opponent whenever they make it inside. The Heavyweight Champion of the world should entertain, not induce yawns.
I understand that it is easy for me to say things from my position “in press row” or “behind the keyboard”. I’m not the one in there getting hit with the punches or sacrificing time away from my family to prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or going through the other hardships that a fighter must go through to make it to the top. Realize that I write for the fans of the sport and call it as I see it so take my writings with a grain of salt. But you must also realize that the fans are the economic engine that drive the sport.
Understand that at the end of the day I have the utmost respect for Bryant Jennings and Wladimir Klitschko as men and as fighters. I was just hoping for a little bit more out of them on this occasion.
Check out the slide show and then share your thoughts on how it all went down on April 25, 2015!