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Jennings Has Sparred With Idea of Sparring a Klitschko

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The date was May 7, 2002, after the Philadelphia 76ers had been bounced from the NBA playoffs a year after they had advanced to the Finals, and the team’s superstar guard, Allen Iverson, was going off on the perceived difference – at least as it pertained to him – between actual competition and the work that presumably needed to be put in to get ready for games that counted.

Known for his notoriously lackadaisical practice habits, when he practiced at all, Iverson treated a beat writer’s question about the matter as something beneath a player of his magnitude. His infamous rant at a press conference that day has become a YouTube staple.

“We’re talkin’ about practice,” Iverson responded in a mocking tone of voice. “I mean listen, we’re sitting here talkin’ about practice. Not a game. We’re talkin’ about practice , man.”

Eleven years and one month have passed, and another reasonably notable Philadelphia athlete was explaining – albeit to a much smaller media audience – his disdain for a certain element of practice. It’s not that Bryant Jennings (16-0, 8 KOs), the IBF’s third-ranked heavyweight who takes on Russia’s Andrey Fedosov (24-2, 19 KOs) Friday night in a scheduled 10-rounder to be televised by the NBC Sports Network from Bethlehem, Pa. – has anything against sparring, per se. His trainer, Fred Jenkins, says the sculpted 6-2, 225-pounder has “a work ethic that, I think, supersedes every other heavyweight.”

It’s just that, well, Jennings doesn’t think he needs to cross an ocean to spar somebody – even if that somebody happens to be a heavyweight champion of the world with the power to grant him a high-profile, high-paying shot at a version or versions of the title.

Jennings is steadfast in his belief that his refusal to serve as a practice partner to either Klitschko (Wladimir holds the IBF, WBO and The Ring magazine belts, while older brother Vitali is the WBC champ) is holding him back from the dream matchup he and his support team so obviously covet.

“I think you have to go to their camp (as a sparring partner) so they can test you, see what you’re all about, so they can figure out what they’re getting into … whether or not they can handle you,” Jennings, speaking to reporters at the ABC Recreation Center in North Philly, said of the Klitschkos’ propensity for selecting onetime sparring partners as challengers for their belts. “That seems to be the only way. A lot of their opponents have been their sparring partners, so that’s one strategy (for moving to the front of the line).

“But I don’t want them to figure me out just yet. I want them to find out what I’m all about when we get in the ring.”

Jenkins confirmed Jennings’ take on the situation, although he was a bit sketchy on details. He does recall that the trip would have taken them to Germany, which is the preferred base of operations for each of the Ukrainian giants.

“It’s something that would have paid very well and, I won’t kid you, we could have used the money,” Jenkins said. “But Bryant and I talked it over and we agreed that we didn’t want to go over there to be anybody’s sparring partner. We want to fight those guys for real, with a world championship on the line.”

So, which Klitschko did the inviting?

“I don’t know which one,” Jenkins said. “They both look alike to me. They fight alike, too.”

For sparring partners and non-sparring partners alike, the window of opportunity to swap punches with a Klitschko would appear to be closing. Vitali (45-2, 41 KOs) is 41 and has a history of injuries that have kept him idle for long stretches, and Wladimir (60-3, 51 KOs) is 37 and already has his next opponent lined up. He’s scheduled to square off with Russia’s Alexander Povetkin (26-0, 18 KOs) on Oct. 5 in Moscow.

This might not be a golden age of heavyweights, but Team Jennings correctly points out that there is a glut of wannabes, both from Europe and America, who would leap at the chance to take a beating from a Klitschko for a sizable chunk of cash. U.S. heavyweights who conceivably could be on the Klitschkos’ radar are another Philadelphian, Malik Scott (35-0-1, 12 KOs), as well as Tony Thompson (37-3, 25 KOs), Johnathon Banks (29-1-1, 19 KOs), Chris Arreola (35-3, 30 KOs), Deontay Wilder (28-0, 28 KOs), Amir Monsour (18-0, 14 KOs), Joe Hanks (21-0, 14 KOs), Kevin Johnson (29-3-1, 14 KOs), Seth Mitchell (25-1-1, 19 KOs) and Reading’s Travis Kauffman (24-1, 18 KOs).

It should be noted that the 41-year-oldThompson is 0-2 against Wladimir and that Arreola and Johnson each has lost to Vitali. It seems reasonable to assume that some of the other American candidates might have decided that their best course of action will be to wait for the Klitschkos to retire, then try to wangle a shot at a vacant title against someone far less dangerous.

Jennings, though, is a young man in a hurry. So what if he didn’t even take up boxing until the relatively advanced age of 24? So what if he has fewer pro fights than any of the other Americans who would love to become the first heavyweight champion from this country since Shannon Briggs briefly held the WBO crown in 2006? Time waits for no man, and Jennings, at 28, is an impatient sort.

“It’s been done before,” he said of relative neophytes (see Pete Rademacher and Leon Spinks) who bid for what used to be known as boxing’s grandest prize. “I could see waiting if it hadn’t been done before, but I’m not trying to do something that’s all that unusual.

“I’m on my path. I got the heart, I got the will, I got the skill. I couldn’t possibly do worse than some of the guys who have been in there (with the Klitschkos). And I would go in there to win , not just to lay down and draw a paycheck. Look at some of the other guys that fought them. When it was over, it was like you didn’t hear anything about them again. They took their check and pretty much disappeared.”

Jennings has always been supremely confident in his own abilities. A three-sport athlete at Benjamin Franklin High School, he is used to being the top guy at whatever sport he tried. But being king of the neighborhood is not the same as being king of the world.

“Jennings came in (to the gym) thinking he was big, even in the beginning,” said Jenkins, who in his 31-year training career has worked with, among others, 1996 Olympic gold medalist and former WBA junior middleweight champion David Reid, ’96 Olympian Zahir Raheem and three-time world title challenger “Rockin’” Rodney Moore. “He’s always thinking he’s better than anybody else. He’s used to winning, to being a standout at whatever he tried. Boxing is just his latest challenge. He wants to accomplish great things, and I think he can.

“Every 20 years or so a fighter comes along that’s extraordinary. This is one of those fighters. If you want to be great, you have to dare to be great. Instead of waiting for the Klitschkos to retire, he’d rather step in the ring and earn his greatness now.

“This kid moves like a lightweight and he hits twice as hard as most heavyweights. He’d be competitive right now with anybody in the division, no matter what their record is or how experienced they are. I want him to get his shot now because he’s eager and he’s hungry. He’s willing to take more gambles than maybe a more seasoned guy would.”

Jennings’ Philadelphia-based promoter, J Russell Peltz, appreciates eagerness in a fighter. But he said his personal preference would be for the man known as “By-By” to take things just a bit slower in his scramble toward the top.

“I honestly don’t know how good Jennings is,” Peltz said. “I know he’s got the style, with all that in-and-out speed, to beat the Klitschkos. Whether he can pull it off is the question. He was on the floor in his last fight against a B-level fighter (Bowie Tupou, whom Jennings knocked out in five rounds on Dec. 8). But that can happen to any fighter in any fight. (Note: Referee Blair Talmadge ruled Tupou’s apparent knockdown of Jennings a slip.)

“It’s tough to hold fighters back today because of the money. Even if he loses to a Klitschko, well, everybody else has, too, or probably would. But Jennings has a chance. The Klitschkos are old-style heavyweights, plodding along. Jennings is an athletic kid with a lot of confidence in himself. And he knows how to win.

“When he beat Maurice Byarm (on a unanimous, 10-round decision on Jan. 21, 2012), Byarm was the better fighter that night. But Jennings is a winner. He finds a way, maybe because he is so athletic. You don’t see many heavyweights with his speed and reflexes.”

There is the matter of possible ring rust to consider. Although he was very busy in 2012, fighting five times, Friday’s clash with Fedosov will be his first actual bout in six months. Jennings said it’s no big deal because “that’s just the fight game. Boxing has a lot of politics. But I stay in the gym and keep myself sharp. Shouldn’t be any problem.”

Should Jennings get past Fedosov, he could be in line for a bout with the IBF’s top-rated contender, Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev (17-0, 9 KOs). A victory could catapault him into the position of mandatory contender, at least for the IBF version of the title. Not that Jennings is expecting much movement on that front. He said he and his support crew were offered a bout with Pulev for what they considered to be an “insulting” amount of money, said to be $25,000.

“He’s sitting around, clogging up that No. 1 spot and he doesn’t seem very anxious to fight anybody,” Jennings said. “It gets real frustrating in this boxing business. Look, we all know what Pulev is doing. He’s not the big, bad wolf he makes himself out to be. He’s not getting turned down for fights because everybody’s scared of him. He made us a bum offer. He makes a lot of guys bum offers, and wasn’t nobody going to accept them.”

Nor is Jennings impressed by Thompson, the soft-bodied veteran who made himself a factor again when he took out unbeaten British contender David Price on a second-round stoppage on Feb. 23 in Liverpool, England.

“Tony Thompson is living proof of just how shallow the heavyweight division is, that he can come off his toilet seat and just knock a guy out,” Jennings sneered. “Tony Thompson didn’t even wipe his ass. He got back in the game and beat the crap out of David Price. Doesn’t say a whole lot about David Price now, does it?”

So Bryant Jennings plays the waiting game, whether he wants to or not, and while he waits he keeps calling out the Klitschkos because that’s all he can do for now. Unless, of course, he wants to become one of their sparring partners.

“It’s hard, man,” he said of his efforts to draw the attention of one or both of the Klitschkos. “Boxing is not a sport you’re supposed to be in very long. Who has time to sit around?”

 

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Tanaka vs. Kimora: A Monday Morning Treat For Serious Fight Fans

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Kosei Tanaka was just 4-0 the first time he was appraised on The Sweet Science back in 2015; the question then was, is Tanaka the world’s brightest boxing prospect? The question now is whether or not Tanaka is about to add a strap at a third weight to an already glittering career that has seen him annex belts at 105 and 108lbs in just his first eight fights.

Now 11-0 with seven knockouts he prepares, this coming Monday, to duel Sho Kimura in Nagoya, Japan and with a lot more than just the WBO trinket on the line.

Hearts and minds, as always, translate into dollars and yen. The winner of this all-Japanese contest will find himself buoyed in fame, glory and gold in his home country, which also happens to be one of the few places on the planet where a boxer can collect a small fortune without ever leaving his native shores. Should the winner dare to dream a wider dream, then that too can be facilitated by the win.  Even fistic denizens of boxing strongholds in Japan and Britain feel a shiver run down their spines when the words “Las Vegas headliner” are whispered into their ear.

The favored man among the hardcore in the west is Tanaka. He is still very young at just twenty-three years old and is slick and quick, what the west expects of a Japanese force. Interestingly enough, however, the Japanese seem to be leaning towards Kimura: older, at twenty-nine, armed with a superb work-rate, good power, limited technique but the conqueror of Chinese superstar Shiming Zou who he stopped in the summer of 2017. Zou may have had his bubble burst by the Thai brawler Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015, but it was Kimura who sent him stumbling into retirement and at a time when the talk was of China stealing Japan’s thunder as boxing’s home in the east.

Kimura was indeed impressive that night in Shanghai. He maintained pressure with wonderful variety, eschewing the jab, perhaps, for spells, but filling those gaps with an assortment of wonderful punches, most of all his body attack, which was persistent, withering, and apparently went unscored by two of the three judges who somehow had the Chinese ahead at the time of the eleventh round stoppage. Zou had shown a skill for flurrying while fleeing and Kimura had shown him how to fight.

Now a strapholder at 112lbs, Kimura staged two defenses in the following twelve months. The first was against Toshiyuki Igarashi, the man who beat Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who had beaten the superb champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam before a softer fight against Froilan Saludar. He won both by stoppage.

Kimura, then, rather came from nowhere but made the most of his arrival. What he displayed in all three of these fights was a determination to offer pressure and footwork educated enough to do it while taking many fewer steps than his harried opponent. A tad overrated as a puncher, I suspect, he places himself in hitting position often enough that his default fight plan – chase, harass, throw – makes him capable of hurting his opponents by way of persistence and pressure.

He left Zou, Igarashi and Saludar, broken in his wake.

In short, he is the type of opponent Kosei Tanaka has been waiting for.

There have been calls for Tanaka to be considered a pound-for-pound talent should he overcome Kimura this Monday. I understand the impulse. Tanaka, were he to triumph, would become a three-weight world champion and he hails from a boxing territory which has little direct control over the meaningful pound-for-pound lists, if such a statement is not a contradiction in terms.

In short, it is felt he would be undervalued.

Tempering these calls is the fact that he has never beaten a divisional number one and that Kimura would be, by far, the best opponent he would have bested, and the most proven. Some Tanaka opponents have come good after he defeated them, some were ranked in the lower reaches of their respective divisional top tens when he matched them, but none are scalps as impressive as those dangled by the likes of Errol Spence or Anthony Joshua, who populate the nine, ten and eleven spots in reputable lists.

But this is neither here nor there; the key is not what Kimura does not represent, it is what he does represent. He is the best that Tanaka has met and, I would argue, the first truly elite fighter that Tanaka has met. He is the litmus test and he is one with a stylistic advantage.

Tanaka can punch. Here we will find out whether or not he punches hard enough to keep Kimura off him. Personally, I doubt it and that means that Kimura is going to hand him a serious gut check.

Interestingly, it will not be Tanaka’s first. The first time I wrote about him I stressed that his chin was essentially untested. That is no longer true. Tanaka, who is reasonably sound defensively, can be lazy in minding himself and foolish in pursuing the attack.

Thai puncher Rangsan Chayanram checked him in 2017, delivering a serious eye injury among other ignominies before succumbing in nine; puncher Angel Acosta, a ranked fighter if not a great one, hit and hurt Tanaka repeatedly late in their 2017 contest. If Tanaka has been learning these lessons, expectations concerning his potential may be realized. If he is not, he will fall short. Kimura is the man to test him.

Kimura’s experience and seemingly limitless twelve-round stamina are to be pitted against Tanaka’s skill, proven heart and taut footwork. It sees a superior technician – Tanaka – who has shown a propensity for being drawn into a cruder fighter’s wheelhouse matching an aggressive stalker – Kimura – who specializes in drawing technically superior foes into knockdown-drag-out scraps.

It is framed both as a fight that is likely to finish a future pound-for-pounder’s education and a fight where a young pretender is found out by a grizzled veteran.

Best of all, it is a fight that fight fans can watch for free, simply by clicking here.  The Asian Boxing website has secured exclusive international rights to the fight and will broadcasting it, free of charge, to anyone with an internet connection. As can be seen here, the fight is due to start at 4pm Japanese time.

All the reader has to do is find out what that means for timing in their own corner of the globe and a potential fight of the year will unfold before his or her eyes free of charge.

World class boxing being broadcast for free and including two of the best below 115lbs; a stylistic crossroads contest that opens up the on-ramp to pound-for-pound recognition for at least one of the combatants – on a Monday.  All facts worth keeping in mind the next time that someone tells you boxing’s prime was any number of decades ago.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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