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JONES GOES FROM “RELUCTANT ROY” TO “RUSSIAN ROY”

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It isn’t the kind of box-office smash more likely to draw teenaged crowds to movies about the fictional exploits of a billionaire crime fighter dressed in a bat costume, a flying man from the planet Krypton, a science nerd bitten by a radioactive spider or a guy with extractable steel claws, but “Bridge of Spies,” currently in theaters, is a gripping, inspired-by-true-events tale of early 1960s Cold War tensions starring Tom Hanks and directed by Steven Spielberg.

Fortunately for all of us on either side of that great ideological divide, the Cold War began to thaw on June 12, 1987, with American President Ronald Reagan’s plea to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev “to tear down this wall” during a speech in West Berlin. Demolition of the infamous barrier separating East and West Berlin did, in fact, begin in June 1990 and was completed in 1992, two years after the reunification of Germany.

Of even more significant note, the dissolution of the Soviet Union formally was enacted on Dec. 26, 1991, bringing sighs of relief to hundreds of millions of Cold War-era survivors around the world who dared to believe that the leaders of the United States and Russia no longer were apt to consider actually punching in the numbers to nuclear launch codes that would mark the beginning of World War III and, quite likely, the end of civilization on a global scale.

Recent events, however, have raised alarm that the old Cold War is again getting frosty. Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has hardly made a secret of his desire to resurrect the USSR, and his first step toward that end, but quite possibly not the last, was Russia’s forcible annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine. The United States and Russia seemingly are at cross-purposes in Syria, a crisis that has sent millions of refugees scurrying for safe haven in any country that will take them in on compassionate grounds.

Into this maelstrom of intrigue, deceit and apprehension steps a onetime superhero of the boxing ring, Roy Jones Jr., who represented the U.S. with distinction at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and once possessed such luminescent skills that his many admirers could be excused for mistaking him for one of the Avengers.

In his June 24, 1995, bout against Vinny Pazienza in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, Jones unleashed a burst of eight left hooks, a one-handed combination so blurringly quick and accurate it stunned even those who had come to expect uncommon feats from the boastful Floridian.

“George Foreman (who did color commentary for HBO that night) told me after that fight that Roy fights like a great jazzman plays,” former HBO Sports president Seth Abraham told me in 2007. “He improvises. He does riffs. I thought that was such an insightful way to describe Roy Jones. George said, `Seth, I’ve never seen anyone throw eight hooks in a row like that. I’ve never seen anything remotely close to that.’

“And that wasn’t the only such conversation George and I had about Roy. George told me something later, not at that fight. We were talking one night and he said, `You have to understand something about Roy. The better he is at his craft, the less people understand it because he breaks the mold.’”

Jones’ mold-breaking apparently is a pendulum that swings both ways. No longer the electric talent he was in his prime, the now-46-year-old holder of world titles in four weight classes (middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight) is still an active boxer, albeit a severely diminished one, and still capable of feats that are perplexing and, to many, polarizing.

Once called “Reluctant Roy” for his seeming proclivity for sidestepping dangerous opponents and his aversion for fighting abroad, Jones picked up a new nickname – “Russian Roy” – last month when he was personally handed his Russian passport from Putin inside the Kremlin. Putin signed a decree to grant immediate citizenship to Jones after the boxer made the extraordinary request during a trip to Crimea in August. Jones said at the time he hoped boxing could help “build a bridge” between the U.S. and Russia.

“Thank you very much to everybody, mostly Mr. Putin for presenting me with a passport,” Jones said at a press conference in Moscow. “Nothing feels better than to be a citizen of the United States of America and Russia, two powerhouses of the world.

“This was definitely something that was ordained by God and not myself. I had no clue, no thought in life of ever becoming a Russian citizen. This is much bigger than life. For me, personally, I am here to be happy, to enjoy people, to help make it a better place, to encourage other people to come to Russia because Russia is good and the people of Russia are good. This is one of the happiest days of my life.”

Jones further stated his intent to learn the Russian language, to establish residency in Russia and “earn 2 or 3 billion dollars” from what remains of his career as an active fighter while opening boxing schools in Russia and continuing his attempts to become a well-compensated rapper, presumably a bilingual one.

In and of itself, Jones’ divided loyalty isn’t as startling as it would have been in “Bridge of Spies” 1960 or even 1980, when the U.S. hockey team shocked the heavily favored USSR squad in the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. There are Russian fighters happily living in America these days, such as IBF, WBO and WBA “super” light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, who now calls Fort Lauderdale, Fla., home. The once-stark lines of demarcation separating the U.S. and Russia have gotten fuzzier; an avowed socialist, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is seeking the Democratic nomination to the Presidency and capitalism-loving Russian billionaire Mikhail Dimitrievitch Prokhorov owns the Brooklyn Nets NBA franchise. At first glance, it does seem that what for so long was, no longer is. If there is a loose-cannon American sports figure, Jones would have to take a back seat to retired power forward Dennis Rodman, who traveled to North Korea several times without State Department approval and is the subject of a documentary, “Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang,” which details his failed efforts to organize a basketball game between retired NBA players and a team of North Koreans to “celebrate” the 31st birthday of the communist nation’s dictator, Kim Jong Un.

No doubt, it is a different world than it was in December 1989, when California entrepreneur Lou Falcigno brought the first three Russian professional boxers to these shores in an experiment to bring about peace through pugilism. But for the most part, those early U.S. tour stops by middleweight Viktor Egorov, heavyweight Yuri Vaulin and lightweight Sergei Artemiev, presumed representatives of what President Reagan had termed the “Evil Empire,” were met with undisguised hostility.

“He wants so much to be liked,” New York-based trainer Tommy Gallagher said of Vaulin, “that when he hears that `USA! USA!’ stuff, he feels like a villain. He has to be able to learn how to deal with that b.s., to block it out of his mind.”

Maybe the supposed “good guys” aren’t always so good, or the “bad guys” so dastardly, when viewed through a less-judgmental prism. Progress toward a higher purpose almost always is slow and arduous. Whether or not any athlete, even an internationally renowned one, can accelerate the process remains to be seen, particularly when his rationale for the healing of old wounds can be deemed to be self-serving. And that is the test that Jones must pass as he straddles the gap between the U.S. and Russia that alternately expands and constricts, depending upon the political climate of the moment.

Would RJJ be doing what he is doing now if he were still at the top of his game, as he was in being voted “Fighter of the Decade” for the 1990s by the Boxing Writers Association of America? Are his motives for making nice with Putin as unsullied as he would have people believe? Or is he merely seeking to trade upon the remnants of his ring fame in a closed society that had previously known him mostly by reputation?

Jones’ star power began to dim, precipitously so, in 2004, when he was knocked out by Antonio Tarver in the second of their three bouts and then even more emphatically by Glen Johnson. The man who made HBO dance to his tune suddenly found himself without a backing orchestra, and he was reduced to playing off-off Broadway in places like Boise, Idaho, before getting his passport stamped for working trips to Russia (three times), Latvia and Australia. He is still a champion, but the only title he holds now is the German version of the low-rent WBU cruiserweight crown.

So why does a man, who had no qualms admitting that he feared sustaining the kind of permanent injuries that left his friend, former WBC/WBO middleweight champ Gerald McClellan, severely brain-damaged, blind and nearly deaf, continue to court disaster inside the ropes?

Money, or lack of it, and ego, a surfeit of it, are two possible answers.

Retired HBO boxing commentator Larry Merchant, who at various times has described Jones as a “prima donna” and a “diva,” in 2007 said that financial pressure and an inflated sense of worth has kept more than a few elite fighters in the game well past the time when good sense dictates that they step away.

“Will somebody pay him what he wants to see if he has anything left? You never know,” Merchant said. “It all depends on how desperate he is for money and attention. I’ve heard he had significant losses in investments he made in the hip-hop industry. Then again, this (making outlandish purse demands) may be his way of retiring. He gets close to the fire, then pulls out before he gets burned.

“As long as he was performing at the top of the world, people would let him get away with anything. But once he started to sink, nobody was eager to throw him a rope. Look, Roy Jones is not the only fighter who looked at himself as being above it all. Ray Robinson was like that. But you can only rub people’s noses in it so often.”

Perhaps Vladimir Putin is the Russian rope-thrower who finds it suits his purpose to haul Roy Jones, who has maintained his vanity and billion-dollar dreams, onto dry land. Who knows? Perhaps there really is a last hurrah for a fighter who, at his absolute peak, had faster hands and more pulverizing power than Floyd Mayweather Jr. ever demonstrated, if not Mayweather’s defensive genius.

Just last week British promoter Frank Warren and Russian promoter Vlad Hrudnov announced that Jones (62-8, 45 KOs) would take on former WBO cruiser titleholder Enzo Maccarinelli (40-7, 32 KOs) for the WBA’s vacant “super” cruiserweight championship in Moscow. But WBA president Gilberto Mendoza Jr. responded to an inquiry from ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael by stating in no uncertain terms that a sanctioning request had not been made for Jones-Maccarinelli, and likely wouldn’t be granted in any case.

“Well, I’m not fighting for a regional belt,” a miffed Jones texted Rafael when informed his shot at a world title in a fifth weight class might never be fired.

It might or might not have occurred to Jones that Putin has welcomed him to Russia not so much for his charm and engaging personality as for his usefulness as a propaganda tool. Echoes of the Cold War are beginning to be heard again, and it just might be that what was, still is.

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Saunders vs. Andrade Spearheads Eddie Hearn’s British Invasion of Boston

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Boston has a strong boxing history. Marvin Hagler defended the world middleweight title here twice; his long road to the championship running through the old Garden where he went 9-0 with 9 KOs. Brockton’s Rocky Marciano won two of his historic 49 fights in this city. British boxing promoter Eddie Hearn is well aware of all this nostalgia.

He hopes to tap into some of it this fall.

Hearn is also well aware of how stagnant the fight scene has become in Boston since the long past glory days of promoter “Rip” Valenti—of champions Sandy Saddler, Paul Pender, and Tony DeMarco. Today, world title bouts and world championship boxers rarely get made in Boston. Hearn now sees an opportunity to grow his own legacy as a world renowned boxing promoter.

The 39-year-old Hearn is the new barker for New England’s top dog: 25-0 (16) middleweight Demetrius Cesar Andrade. Trained by father Paul, Andrade sat mired in stagnation during key periods of his now ten year career. Andrade, 30, briefly held two junior middleweight titles under the promotional guidance of Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing; failing to gain any meaningful career momentum before moving up in weight and signing with Hearn. In his biggest win to date, Andrade got off the canvas in 2013 to earn a split decision over Vanes Martirosyan in Texas.

In Chicago to announce his October 6 ‘Worlds Collide’ show, Hearn revealed to ​AB Boxing News that his October 20 plans for “Boo Boo” in Boston involve outspoken Billy Joe Saunders—rival promoter Frank Warren’s Hatfield U.K. Traveller. With victories over Chris Eubank Jr., David Lemieux, Spike O’Sullivan and Andy Lee, Saunders 26-0 (12) has an obvious advantage in quality of competition over his mandatory challenger. He’s also two years younger.

According to Hearn, Saunders, 28, will defend the WBO title against Andrade, Providence, Rhode Island’s 2008 U.S.A. Olympian, in what Andrade’s ambitious U.K. promoter describes as an “elite 50/50 fight” and one of the best available matchups at middleweight. It happens a mere five weeks after the biggest money matchup in the division, the over-marinated Golovkin-Canelo rematch in Las Vegas on September 15 for the unified world middleweight championship.

Theoretically, a path now exists for Andrade to follow in the footsteps of Hagler and become undisputed world middleweight champ. A victory over Saunders in Boston for the WBO strap could lead to a future showdown with Gennady Golovkin, the middleweight champion most likely to covet the last remaining middleweight title belt and target the holder of it for a unification fight.

While Hearn appreciates praise for bringing the sport back to forgotten American cities like Boston and Chicago, any well informed fan would have to wonder how marketable a “fight” between Andrade and Saunders will actually be given the defensive proclivities of both speedy southpaws. Saunders often wheels around like he’s on a ten speed bike and the emotionally reclusive Andrade has never been a terribly popular or engaging action fighter. In plain terms, the bout could be dull in the ring with socially awkward promotional encounters outside of it.

Hearn has his work cut out for him.

He’s brought in some reinforcements for his growing Matchroom USA promotional outfit. Retired fighter Kevin Rooney Jr. has been hired as media event manager—a role the son of Mike Tyson’s ex-trainer worked in previously for American promoters Joe DeGuardia and Lou DiBella. Photographer Ed Mullholland and matchmaker Eric Bottjer have also joined Matchroom.

“I’m very excited to get into another city that hasn’t had the big fight nights as regularly as it should,” says Hearn. “It’s going to be a big card in Boston,” he told the boxing media in Chicago.

Hearn didn’t necessarily agree with all he spied here in 2015 when he and Londoner James DeGale took home the vacant IBF super middleweight title, besting Al Haymon’s Andre Dirrell at Boston’s Agganis Arena. “Fighters want to win world titles, that’s what they dream about,” Hearn insisted at the time in opposition to the fact that Haymon’s PBC encouraged de facto TV censorship of the major world title belts. Hearn has since ripped down the PBC banner and planted his own promotional flag here in Boston with DAZN.

This time, he’s doing things his way.

Expect “character defining” boxer ring walk music.

Hearn is confirmed to be working with Ken Casey’s Boston based Murphy Boxing. Promoter Casey is also the lead singer of a fighting Irish band called the Dropkick Murphys. The Dropkicks perform in concert at his boxing shows and already have a pair of popular boxing songs for Hearn to make requests from should this night at the fights also feature live music.

Fortunately for people interested in these sorts of things, Hearn also understands the value of a stacked undercard (and of ethnonational rivalries) in generating real world ticket sales to build his live gate. This boxing promoter credibly promises value for every dollar spent on his product.

What will be required to fill even half of the nearly twenty thousand seats at the TD Garden (and to establish a lasting promotional presence in Boston) is a deep lineup of quality bouts featuring the best regional talent available in New England—pitted competitively against Old England.

Evander Holyfield’s Rhode Island featherweight Toka Kahn Clary was rumored to be in consideration for the co-main event while a cursory look at BoxRec shows Irish female sensation Katie Taylor to be listed on the undercard opposed by Cindy Serrano with British lightweight Tommy Coyle versus TBA. Despite his obvious limitations as a boxer, Framingham, Mass native Danny “BHOY” O’Connor could add value as a potential opponent for the 24-4 (12) Coyle.

O’Connor won big at the Garden in 2013. I talked to Danny at ringside after he defeated Derek Silveira by decision. ​“I’ve been dreaming about this since even before I started boxing. In any sport you compete in, you dream about doing it at the Garden if you’re from around here.”

Murphy’s 34 year-old Irish heavyweight Niall “Boom Boom” Kennedy is 11-0-1 (7) with a Gorey story to tell. Kennedy beat tough Lawrence, Mass prospect Alexis Santos last year at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, moving his hands and his fair share of tickets. Stoneham, Mass super welterweight Greg “The Villain” Vendetti 19-2-1 (12) is another popular Murphy fighter who could spice up Hearn’s Boston undercard with his determination and huge heart.

U.S Marine Mark DeLuca is one more local name in the mix. The Whitman, Mass “Bazooka” lost for the first time as a pro last June in New Hampshire, dropping a split decision to Seattle slickster Walter Wright. DeLuca, 30, is now 21-1 (13) but still one of Murphy’s top draws.

The British are indeed coming.

Get ready Boston.

Saunders vs. Andrade will live stream on October 20, 2018 from the TD Garden, home of the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics, on DAZN, an emerging alternative sports platform with influential economic backing. Saunders hopes to make his fourth defense of the WBO title won from Andy Lee in 2015. In his most recent outing last December, Saunders travelled to Canada where he schooled crude bomber David Lemieux in a virtual shutout on HBO. Andrade is coming off a pair of nondescript wins and looks to quickly jump start his career with Hearn.

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The Avila Perspective, Chapter 10: Cancio, Nevada Hall of Fame and More

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desert town

In the desert town of Blythe where two states are separated by a river, Andrew Cancio was semi-famous despite only being 16 years old. He was a barber and everyone knew it.

“By the time I came out of high school as a barber everybody knew me in Blythe,” said Cancio looking back. “They kept me busy and making good money.”

Cancio is still famous but for a different reason.

Expect a town-sized crowd to arrive as Cancio (18-4-2, 14 KOs) meets Dardan Zenunaj (14-4, 11 KOs) in the 10-round main event on Friday Aug. 17, at Fantasy Springs Casino. The Golden Boy Promotions fight card will be televised by ESPN2.

No longer is Cancio a barber.

“I really loved it. Still cut my sons hair but I just do it for fun. You don’t ever lose your touch,” said Cancio. “It wasn’t a job, it was chill.”

Cancio no longer cuts hair for pay. Instead, he cuts down contenders like one of those electric razors mowing through a mop headed scalp. He’s ruthless.

So far, whenever Cancio fights anywhere in the Southern California desert region his legion of fans appear shouting his name and yelling approval. He’s a rock star in Blythe.

The last time Cancio’s hordes arrived at Fantasy Springs he was fighting Kazakhstan’s Aidar Sharibayev (7-1) who was undefeated at the time and headed toward a title fight. That was last April. It ended in a knockout win for Cancio.

Back in March 2016, Cancio and his Huns fought veteran Hugo Cazares at the Fantasy Springs. That fight ended in three rounds.

In December 2015, Cancio was matched with another contender buster named Rene Alvarado of Nicaragua. Though both have a knack for knocking off contenders, if you stand in front of Cancio you got problems. Alvarado stood in front of the Blythe bomber and down he went in eight rounds.

“Oh yeah. I love fighting in the pocket, it’s like natural for me,” says Cancio who trains in Ventura. “That’s where I feel most comfortable for me. They try to make me fight inside and don’t know that’s what I like.”

He’s hoping that Albania’s Zenunaj goes pocket hunting too.

“I watched a couple of his videos. He seems to be a come forward type of guy,” said Cancio with a hint of glee. “I’m just training to outsmart him, especially inside.”

Cancio needs to win for his fans; the Huns are hungry.

Japanese Fighters

Another returning will be Japan’s Yoshihiro Kamegai (27-4-2, 24 KOs) who meets Gregory Vendetti (19-2-1, 12 KOs) in a 10 round super welterweight clash at Fantasy Springs on Friday.

The last time Kamegai was in the boxing ring he was trading vicious blows against Miguel Cotto for the WBC super welterweight world title. Though he was defeated, many lauded his tremendous effort and do or die spirit.

If you like warriors, then Kamegai is one of many Japanese fighters that have made that trek across the Pacific Ocean to showcase their spirit. It’s been a boost to the boxing world when fighters like Kamegai, Naoya Inoue, Ken Shiro, Kosei Tanaka and Ryosuke Iwasa among others have willingly traveled to America to display their craft.

Incidentally, Iwasa lost the IBF super bantamweight title today to TJ Doheny of Australia by unanimous decision in Tokyo. It was Iwasa’s second defense of the world title he won last September.

Saturday in L.A.

Ed Holmes All Star Boxing returns to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel with another large fight card at the downtown L.A. hotel this Saturday Aug. 18.

Seven undefeated prospects including super lightweight Batyr Akhmedov (4-0) who meets Ismael Barroso (20-2-2) for the WBA Inter-continental title in an eight round clash.

Others on the card include Ricardo Valdovinos, Israel Mercado, John Leo Sato and Arthur Saakyan in separate bouts. A female MMA fight is also scheduled on the card.

The doors open at 5 p.m. at the beautiful venue which has become one of my favorite places to watch boxing. For more information call 323 816-6200 or go to www.allstarfights.com.

Nevada Hall of Fame

Numerous stars will be inducted to Nevada’s Boxing Hall of Fame including several non-fighters.

Leading the list for this year sixth annual induction at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas will be Laila Ali, Sugar Shane Mosley, Kevin Kelley, Earnie Shavers, Don Minor, and Chris Byrd in the fighter category. Also inducted will be Senator Harry Reid, promoter Todd DuBoef and judge Jerry Roth.

Those fighters, trainers and promoters honored who are no longer living include Aaron Pryor, Alexis Arguello, Henry Armstrong, Bill Miller and Jack “Doc” Kearns.

“This is a wonderful class and we are very proud of all of them and we’re eager to celebrate their many accomplishments in this wonderful sport,” said Michelle Corrales-Lewis CEO of NBHOF. “We have come up with a full slate of events to make this an entire celebratory weekend. In a short period of time, we have built a reputation as a first-class Hall of Fame and the fighters look forward to this event every year. We are continually looking for ways to improve and I believe this will be our best year yet.”

Festivities begin Friday at 12 p.m. in the Augustus Room with a meet and greet that ends at 4 p.m. A cocktail party begins at 7:30 at the Caesars pool area weather permitting.

On Saturday, at 11 a.m. an amateur boxing card takes place at the Augustus Room and ends at 3 p.m.

Red carpet photo opportunities begin at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public. The actual ceremonies start 7 p.m. at the Augustus Room and only those with tickets or invitations will be admitted. For more information go to this web site: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/nevada-boxing-hall-of-fame-6th-annual-induction-dinner-tickets-43144441185

Top Rank

WBO featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez announced he made a change in trainers and is now working with Eddy Reynoso who also trains middleweight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, according to public relations ace Ricardo Jimenez.

Valdez, 27, suffered a broken jaw in his last world title defense against over-weight Scott Quigg of England. He still has not been cleared by doctors but made the decision with his management to depart with former trainer Manny Robles Jr.

“I want to thank Manny Robles and his whole team for everything they have done for me over the last few years, but like everything in life, changes are sometimes needed to move forward. I’m very grateful to them for their friendship and all they have taught me”, said Valdez who lived next to Robles in Lake Elsinore.

The two-time former Mexican Olympian is managed by Frank Espinoza and expected to return to defend the title soon. He is promoted by Top Rank

Top Rank also signed an extension that now ties them with ESPN for seven years and includes Saturday’s show out of Atlantic City.

Heavyweights Bryant Jennings (23-2, 13 KOs) of Philadelphia meets Alexander Dimitrenko (41-3, 26 KOs) in the main event at Ocean Resort Casino. ESPN will televise and stream the fight card.

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity, grateful for the consistent fighting schedule. I’m just looking to win and climb the heavyweight ladder. I let everything fall into place once the results come in,” said Jennings.

Dimitrenko realizes he has a prime opportunity.

“It is very important for me to be here, to fight live on ESPN against Jennings. I will do anything to win this fight,” said Dimitrenko. “It’s an honor to fight here in America. Everybody watching will get a great show. Saturday night can’t come soon enough. I am ready to fight.”

Next week, Top Rank has another show but this time in Phoenix. Two world title fights are planned at Gila River Arena in Glendale. Slated to fight are WBO lightweight titlist Raymundo Beltran (35-7-1) versus Jose Pedraza (24-1) and Isaac Dogboe (19-0) defending the WBO super bantamweight world title versus Hidenori Otake (31-2-3).

Also, Mikaela Mayer (6-0, 3 KOs) is set to meet Edina Kiss (14-7) in a six or eight round super featherweight clash.

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Is Jennings Arum’s Last, Best Hope For Another Heavyweight Champion?

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preposterous

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Trainer John David Jackson has an interesting, but not exactly preposterous, idea for why his fighter, one-time heavyweight title challenger Bryant “B.Y.” Jennings, is topping Saturday night’s ESPN-televised card here at the Ocean Resort. The 33-year-old Jennings (23-2, 13 KOs) will swap punches with Alexander Dimetrenko (41-3, 26 KOs), 36, in a scheduled 12-rounder that can be termed as flying beneath the radar.

Although Jennings is nominally in world-title contention with a No. 11 rating from the WBA, he is not listed in the top 10 of any of the four major sanctioning bodies, and neither is Dimetrenko, a Germany-based Russian who has never fought for a widely recognized title. In the IBO’s computerized ratings of the top 100 heavyweights, Dimetrenko comes in at No. 14 with Jennings at No. 27.

But when Jackson looks at Jennings, who in his street clothes and black-framed glasses has the bookish look of a college professor, and has an introspective manner to match, he sees so much more than a guy who had his shot at the big prize and came up short when he dropped a reasonably competitive unanimous decision to IBF/WBA/WBO titlist Wladimir Klitschko on April 25, 2015. He sees a potential world champion who is still honing his craft, and he believes that Bob Arum, the Top Rank founder and CEO who signed Jennings to a make-good contract in June 2017, sees the same thing, or at least is daring to hope so.

“I think Bob wants one more heavyweight champion,” Jackson hypothesized Wednesday afternoon at the Atlantic Police Athletic League gym, where seven of the fighters on Saturday’s card went through brief and light workouts for the benefit of a small media turnout. “Yeah, he has a lot of great fighters, but if you have the heavyweight king, you rule boxing. It’s still the most prestigious and most marketable division in the sport. That’s just how it works. And Bryant represents the last, best opportunity for Bob to get there before he retires.”

It is something to consider. Although Arum was with Muhammad Ali for 27 of “The Greatest’s” bouts, and later rode the high surf with George Foreman during the second phase of Big George’s remarkable career, when he defied all odds by winning the heavyweight title at age 45 with that bolt-from-the-blue overhand right that put Michael Moorer down and out, the Top Rank honcho’s history with heavyweights is a bit sketchy. He took a flyer on Hasim Rahman after Rahman shocked the world by knocking out Lennox Lewis in South Africa, but Rahman never could summon more of the same magic and their association ended with little fanfare.

Arum has arguably the two finest pound-for-pound fighters in the business today, WBA lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko and WBO welterweight ruler Terence Crawford, and he still holds paper on 39-year-old legend Manny Pacquiao, the only man to win world titles in eight weight classes and again a champ of sorts after he stopped Lucas Matthysse in seven rounds to claim the “regular” WBA welterweight strap. There is a steady flow of talent in the TR pipeline, one of the most promising prospects being featherweight Shakur Stevenson (7-0, 4 KOs), the baby-faced (he’s 21 but looks younger) silver medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics who continues his professional development in a scheduled eight-rounder against Carlos Ruiz (16-4-2, 6 KOs) on Saturday’s card. Truth be told, there is a much greater likelihood that super middleweight contender Jesse Hart will find himself in a world title bout sooner than fellow Philadelphian Jennings. Hart (24-1, 20 KOs), who is ranked No. 1 by the IBO, No. 3 by the WBC and No. 10 by the IBF, lost by unanimous decision to WBO 168-pound champion Gilberto Ramirez on Sept. 22, 2017, and he could be in line for a rematch should he get past pesky veteran Mike Gavronski (24-2-1, 15 KOs), of Tacoma, Wash., in Saturday night’s co-featured attraction.

“I want to go out and get it over as quickly as possible,” said Hart, the 29-year-old son of 1970s middleweight contender Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, a huge puncher who imparted to his son the benefits of taking care of business as expeditiously as possible. “My dad (who now trains Jesse) always said that if you let a guy hang around too long, and he gets a little bit of confidence, the next thing you know, you’re in the fight of your life. I’d rather get in and get out fast.”

That philosophy is in stark contrast to the learning curve the more patient Jennings has been asked to master by Jackson, with Arum’s apparent consent. A very good defensive end at Ben Franklin High School in Philly, Jennings’ physical gifts are obvious, but getting his boxing skills to align with his raw athleticism has been a process. Jackson, a former WBO super welterweight and WBA middleweight champion, describes Jennings as a “work in progress,” but whose ceiling, presumably when attained, will elevate him far above his present status as just another fringe contender waiting for the more elite crowd above him (Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury, Alexander Povetkin, Dillian Whyte and possibly a few others) to thin out.

“I like Bryant’s position,” Jackson said. “He’s under the radar right now. He’s not being talked up as a dangerous heavyweight, even though he is. But he’s not as dangerous as he can be. He’s using this time to develop his skills.

“The wonderful thing about being with Bob is that Bob is old-school. He’s committed to rebuilding Bryant’s career back up. You don’t hear Bryant calling out people, demanding a title shot right away. He knows, as Bob does and so do I, that you have to earn your way back up to the top and another shot at the title. It could take four or five fights. Bob is making Bryant prove that he deserves another shot.”

Since Jennings’ image-smudging two-bout losing streak – he followed his points loss to Klitschko with a seventh-round stoppage by Luis Ortiz on April 25, 2015 – he has strung together four consecutive victories, all of which can be  described as learning lessons. There were TKOs of Daniel Martz, Daniel Haynesworth and Akhbor Muralimov and a 10-round unanimous decision over Joey Dawejko, each fight a building block in his evolution into a new and improved version of his former self.

“Bryant needed to learn how to cut the ring off on an opponent, how to get inside and work in tight,” said Jackson. “He had no inside game. He just worked off the jab. You have to remember, Bryant had almost no amateur career, so when he turned pro (at the relatively advanced age of 25), he probably was rushed along a little bit. It was all on-the-job training. It still is, to a point. But when it all comes together for him, he’s going to be a helluva fighter. He’s some kind of physical specimen (at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds) and he has more power than people realize. If he continues to believe in the things I’m showing him and gets it into his mind that he can do it, he has all the tools to be a world champion.”

Should Jennings get past Dimetrenko – clearly the most difficult test he will have encountered since the setbacks to Klitschko and Ortiz – he moves a step closer to another grab at the brass ring. A loss might end his quest, at least in affiliation with Arum, a realist who knew when it was time to end the experiment with Rahman.

“To have someone like (Arum) to have faith in me has to be a positive thing,” Jennings said. “I’ve always had faith in myself. Now I have to show everybody what I’m still capable of doing.”

While Jennings-Dimetrenko and Hart-Gavronski will be televised by ESPN and ESPN Desportes, the remainder of the card – in addition to Stevenson, fighters who bear watching include popular Philadelphia bantamweight Christian Carto (15-0, 11 KOs) and Atlantic City super welterweight Thomas “Cornflake” LaManna (25-2-1, 9 KOs) – will be carried on the new ESPN+ app.

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