Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Sometimes a champion can lose a little, even while winning by a lot. And a challenger who is clearly defeated can nonetheless score a win of sorts, a moral victory that he can carry with him into his future career. So it was at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night: Wladimir Klitschko successfully defended his heavyweight championship of the world by deserved unanimous decision, but Bryant Jennings – who did not begin boxing until Klitschko’s second and current world title reign was entering its fourth year – deserved plaudits for taking the fight to the Ukrainian champ with a moxie that, ultimately, was not enough to overcome his deficit in experience, strength, and skills.
This was a fight that Klitschko was widely predicted to dominate, and although he clearly won the great majority of rounds, and the outcome was rarely if ever in doubt, Jennings did enough to make the champion look less than comfortable on several occasions; even as Jennings lost the fight, he managed to win over large segments of the announced crowd of 17,506.
Jennings (19-1, 10 KOs) came out of his corner at the opening bell all nervous energy, circling the outside of the ring and showing constant upper body movement that had Klitschko struggling to land his vaunted left jab. In the second, the Philadelphian sought to get close enough to score against his larger foe, but even though Klitschko’s jab was not landing cleanly, its very existence was successful at keeping Jennings at bay; and on those occasions when Jennings was able to slip underneath it, Klitschko wrapped him up before he could do any more damage.
In the third, Jennings’ movement began to diminish and Klitschko’s jab increased its potency; on two occasions in the round, it was followed by a straight right hand, the second of which appeared to catch the American’s attention. Klitschko’s right hand, when utilized to maximum effectiveness, is a mighty weapon, yet it was deployed relatively rarely, leading some to wonder if it was damaged. No, said Klitschko, it was fine; the problem was Jennings.
“He didn’t give me a chance to throw the right as much as I wanted,” he said by way of complimenting his opponent.
As if realizing he was falling behind, Jennings came out for the fourth swinging for the fences, although a wild left hook missed by a mile. As he stepped forward rather than move sideways, he presented Klitschko with greater opportunities of his own, and the champion simultaneously scored against and frustrated his foe by punching and clinching, a fact that Jennings noted afterward.
“Every time I started working, he held,” he complained. To his credit, though, he refused to be intimidated by the champion’s tactics, keeping his hands moving even as Klitschko wrapped him up. “As he was holding I was hitting him to the body. I must have hit him with about 100 body shots. Not much to the head though.”
The contest became an absorbing clash of styles, Klitschko working the left jab and looking to land a right hand behind it, Jennings circling then leaping forward with punches from odd angles. By round seven, feeling increasingly comfortable with his performance levels, Jennings was even showboating, shrugging in response to a trio of Klitschko punches and yapping at him as the referee pulled them out of clinches. Referee Michael Griffin took a point from Klitschko for that clinching in round 10, and had Jennings been able to also win that frame, the two-point swing could have provided strong momentum; but by this stage, Jennings was finally running out of energy and ideas, throwing punches with insufficient frequency and landing them with inadequate accuracy.
The American began the twelfth and final frame with desperate lunging punches, but Klitschko slipped effortlessly out of the way; and then, when he most needed to stage one final desperate assault, Jennings stood with his back to the ropes, unintentionally offering Klitschko an invitation he readily accepted. A series of left-right combinations thudded through Jennings’ guard, and a punctuating right hand rattled him badly. It was not enough, however, to prevent the fight going to the scorecards, where Klistchko (64-3, 53 KOs) prevailed by margins of 116-111 (twice) and 118-109.
“I thought the scores should have been closer,” protested Jennings, although frankly they were probably as close as they could have been. “We’re two confident fighters. I’m a man. He’s a man. When we got in the ring tonight we both came to fight. He rapped me pretty good a couple of times when he penetrated.”
In pushing a dominant world champion hard, even without ever truly seeming likely to win, Jennings emerged with genuine credit. He’ll surely receive other chances. Klitschko, a decisive victor, nonetheless showed hints of vulnerability that might provide potential further foes with at least a smidgen of optimism. But for now he remains firmly top of the heap, and the roar of the MSG crowd was still ringing in his ears as he soaked up the adulation and gave praise to his beaten foe.
“This has been an absolutely great experience,” he said of returning to the Garden. “I loved seeing all the fans. I can’t wait to come back here again.”
Jennings, he said, “would have beaten a lot of heavyweights tonight. Bryant is a great athlete and a top contender and I welcome him to the top of the heavyweight division.”
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
In welterweight action, Brooklyn’s Sadam “World Kid” Ali remained undefeated with a unanimous ten-round decision over Francisco Santana. Santana looked to draw the local fighter into a brawl while Ali, last seen looking impressive knocking out Luis Carlos Abregu in November, focused on using his footwork to put himself in position to land hard single shots. A series of those punches – a short right followed by a left hook – appeared to stun Santana badly in the tenth, although the Californian recovered quickly and made it to the final bell. Several rounds appeared tough to score, and a number of ringside observers felt the fight was a close Ali win or even a draw, but the three judges saw it much wider, giving Ali the win by counts of 97-93 (twice) and 100-90.
“This is a dream come true fighting here at Madison Square Garden,” said Ali afterward. “I loved fighting here. It was a great experience and I can’t wait to do it again. I thought I won the fight. He was a tough fighter; he hit very hard but I was able to withstand his punches. I’d like to fight a Top 10 opponent next.”
HBO Boxing's Jim Lampley sits down with Wladimir Klitschko to talk about his return to the United States after a seven year layoff, his relationship with Emanuel Steward, and more.
Wladimir Klitschko came calling, but Bryant Jennings had to say no. Having seen Klitschko's victims start as sparring partners, Jennings chose to wait for a bigger opportunity.
Brooklyn native Sadam Ali walks through his neighborhood and talks about the excitement leading up to a fight at New York's Madison Square Garden.
A childhood stutter and series of twitches led to bullying from classmates, but Francisco Santana overcame these obstacles thanks to boxing.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Eventually, they all end up defeated, their strength and will either beaten rapidly or bludgeoned steadily out of them. It has been that way with all of Wladimir Klitschko’s challengers over the last 11 years, ever since a shock loss to Lamon Brewster that seemed at the time to portend the effective end of a promising career but in fact kick-started the development of Klitschko 2.0. That new, improved fighter – now with better defense and greater confidence – has been generally acclaimed as the best heavyweight in the world for a number of years now, and at Friday’s weigh-in for Saturday’s HBO World Championship Boxing title defense against Philadelphia’s Bryant Jennings, there was evidence that it is not only those who confront him inside the ring who end up as mere shells of their previous selves.
For months, Shannon Briggs (whose come-from-behind stoppage win over Sergei Liakohovich in 2006 was arguably the last great heavyweight title fight) has chased and taunted Klitschko: gatecrashing his press conferences, confronting him over lunch and even using a boat’s wake to knock him off a paddleboard, desperate to goad the Ukrainian into offering him a title shot. But Klitschko remained unmoved and largely impassive in the face of such insults, and on Friday (and indeed at Tuesday’s press conference), Briggs stood meekly on the other side of a rope line, unleashing the occasional “Let’s Go, Champ!” but otherwise seeming to recognize that his efforts had failed, that he had nothing left to offer bar a caricature of his recent act. Indeed, after Klitschko and Jennings had weighed in, Briggs offered, not a challenge, but encouragement. “Face off,” he cried at the two combatants, and they duly obliged, staring unflinchingly into each other’s eyes for what felt like a good minute and was certainly long enough for even the assembled spectators to start to feel uncomfortable.
His willingness to lock the champion’s gaze for as long as possible suggests – as his respectful but confident utterances during the fight’s build-up also suggest – that Jennings has not yet acquiesced to the inferiority complex that Klitschko is so effective at instilling. And indeed, there are many reasons why he should not: he is young, athletic, and undefeated, and possesses good hand speed and a strong punch.
But Jennings began boxing only six years ago, after Klitschko’s second world title reign was already three years old. His nineteen pro fights pale into insignificance when set against Klitschko’s ledger of 66 paid contests and a solid amateur career. And while Jennings may be big and strong, he is – unusually for 6’3”, 227 pound man – at a distinct size disadvantage against the champion. Klitschko, an imposing physical specimen, stands 6’6” tall, and on Friday outweighed Jennings by close to 15 pounds.
Klitschko is bigger, more experienced, and frankly better. This is the heavyweight division, where one punch can change anything; and Klitschko can be beaten, as Brewster was the last one to show. Klitschko is far from dismissive of his challenger, hyping him up as “a real life Rocky Balboa from Philadelphia.”
But Rocky lost his first shot at Apollo Creed, and the likelihood is that, by the time all is said and done on Saturday, Jennings too will be licking his wounds and joining a mass of antecedents forced to acknowledge their fealty to Klitscho’s reign.
Wladimir Klitschko 241. 6 lbs
Bryant Jennings 226.8
Sadam Ali 146.8 lbs
Francisco Santana 146.4
By Thomas Hauser
The contract weight is 147 pounds. The WBA, WBC, and WBO titles will be on the line. But the sanctioning bodies are irrelevant. On May 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will be fighting for the championship of each other.
It’s an event of staggering economic proportions and almost certain to be the most lucrative prize fight of all time. But boxing fans won’t be tuning in on May 2 to see Mayweather and Pacquiao count money. They want to see them fight each other.
For most of the past decade, either Floyd or Manny has been the consensus choice for top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. For much of that time, whichever of them wasn’t ranked #1 was #2.
Mayweather’s legs aren’t what they used to be. Pacquiao is six years removed from his eleven-month peak (December 6, 2008, through November 14, 2009) when he demolished Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, and Miguel Cotto.
But Mayweather and Pacquiao are still two of the best fighters in the world. And the two most marketable.
Mayweather opened as a 5-to-2 betting favorite. The odds have dropped a bit since then but are expected to rise during fight week when the “smart money” comes in.
The case for a Mayweather victory is simple. He’s the naturally bigger man, the physically stronger man, and the more technically proficient fighter. He’s also undefeated, while Pacquiao has five losses and two draws on his record. As Floyd noted at the March 11 kick-off press conference, “When you lose, it’s in your mind.”
Mayweather has three alternative routes to success in Mayweather-Pacquiao:
(1) He can outbox Pacquiao and dictate the distance between them. Either stay too far away for Manny to hit him or smother Pacquiao’s punches. (See Mayweather vs. Juan Manuel Marquez as Exhibit A.)
(2) He can throw Pacquiao off his game by roughing him up on the inside. (See Mayweather vs. just about everyone he has fought, and contrast that with Pacquiao vs. Agapito Sanchez, where a rough, sometimes dirty, approach bothered Manny.)
(3) He might land a big punch and whack Manny out. (See Mayweather’s check hook vs Ricky Hatton and Pacquiao-Marquez IV.)
Can Pacquiao give Mayweather trouble by emulating the strategy that Oscar De La Hoya employed en route to a split-decision loss? Probably not. Part of what gave Floyd trouble against Oscar was Oscar’s size. De La Hoya used his jab effectively in the first half of that fight to score points and break Mayweather’s rhythm. But Manny isn’t as tall as Oscar, nor does he have Oscar’s reach or timing on the jab.
Add to that the fact that Pacquiao isn’t physical enough to force his way inside against Mayweather the way Marcos Maidana did. He’ll have to get inside with quickness and angles against an opponent who’s a master of angles.
Speaking of Mayweather-Pacquiao, Larry Merchant noted, “One guy [Pacquiao] throws bombs. The other guy [Mayweather] defuses them; that’s his priority. One guy's purpose is to hit and not be hit. The other's purpose is to not be hit and hit. In general, defense can shut down offense. Great pitchers shut down great hitters.”
The most forceful advocate for a Pacquiao victory on May 2 is Freddie Roach. As Manny’s trainer, Roach has a vested interest in the proceedings. But over the years, he has been constant in his observations:
* (2009) “I don’t see Mayweather as a great fighter at 147 or 154. Oscar almost beat Mayweather, and Manny didn’t lose ten seconds of any round against Oscar.”
* (2009) “I've thought about Mayweather for a long time now. His style does pose some problems because he's very good at what he does. I know he’s hard to get to, but we will get to him. Manny can match Mayweather's speed and he has better footwork and more balls. Mayweather is a fragile guy. He'll break down. He can't stand up to Manny's pressure.”
* (2015) “Mayweather fights in spurts these days. He likes to lay up on the ropes. He takes a lot of rests in the ring. One of the keys to victory for Manny is to recognize when Floyd is taking a break and to stay on the offensive and keep scoring points. But the big thing is that Manny himself has to recognize when Mayweather is catching a breather. It doesn’t help for me to see it from the corner.”
* (2015) “Mayweather can’t move quite as well as he used to. I think Manny’s power will overwhelm him. He has never been against someone with the speed of Pacquiao. Seeing it is one thing. Dealing with it is another.”
But there are times when Roach admits that Mayweather is a tall mountain to climb: “Without a doubt, it's the toughest fight in the world for us, I know that. I want to start working on some changes, some new moves, some traps we need to set. This is a whole new ballgame. Everything that worked against De La Hoya, everything that worked against Cotto, everything that worked against Hatton, will not work against Mayweather. We have to come up with a whole new game plan.”
But what’s the plan?
Prior to Pacquiao’s fourth and final fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, Roach told this writer, “I’ve had three chances to get Manny ready for Marquez, and I haven’t gotten it right yet. It works perfectly in camp. Maybe this time I’ll say, ‘Okay, Manny. Just go out and f------ kill this guy.’”
Pacquiao-Marquez IV ended with Manny face down, unconscious on the ring canvas.
That said; Pacquiao’s style is dangerous for any opponent, including Mayweather. And Floyd isn’t as good a counterpuncher as Marquez. Juan Manuel lived for the counter and committed to it. Floyd is more likely to pull away from punches without throwing back. If Pacquiao puts his punches together when Mayweather pulls away, he could nail him.
Mike Tyson knows a thing or two about boxing. People tend to lose sight of the fact that he’s a serious student of the game. Analyzing Mayweather-Pacquiao, Tyson recently declared, “Manny is going to feint Floyd out of position a lot and make him throw more punches than he’s used to, and that will open Floyd up. Floyd has never been tested. Whatever happens in the fight, I think he’s going to get hit and hurt more than he has ever before. We’re going to see how tough he is.”
Pacquiao is more willing than Mayweather to gamble in the ring. In the end, that could be his edge. But Manny will need to gamble successfully to win. And most gamblers who come to Las Vegas go home losers.
So . . . What should boxing fans expect from Mayweather-Pacquiao?
Let’s start by cutting through some of the hyperbole. This is not “the most-anticipated fight ever” or “the most important fight ever.” Yes; it will gross an enormous amount of money. But Lady Gaga does bigger numbers than Frank Sinatra ever did. That doesn’t speak to the quality or relative importance of their work. Nobody looks at New England’s thrilling Super Bowl triumph over Seattle earlier this year and says, “Wow! It was memorable because of how much money it grossed.”
There have been many fights that were more important than Mayweather-Pacquiao from a social and political point of view.
Arthur Ashe once said, “Nothing that Frederick Douglass did, nothing that Booker T. Washington did, nothing that any African-American had done up until that time had the same impact as Jack Johnson’s fight against Jim Jeffries on July 4, 1910. It completely destroyed one of the crucial pillars of white supremacy - the idea that the white man was superior in body and mind to all the darker peoples of the earth.”
More people listened on the radio to Joe Louis knocking out Max Schmeling in the first round of their June 22, 1938, rematch than had listened simultaneously to anything before in the history of the world. That night was the first time that many people heard a black man referred to simply as “the American.”
Millions upon millions of people carried the historic first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in their hearts. Writing in advance of that March 8, 1971, encounter, Mark Kram declared, “This is THE international sporting event of our age, one of the great dramas of our time. The thrust of this fight on the public consciousness is incalculable. It has been a ceaseless whir that seems to have grown in decibel with each new soliloquy by Ali, with each dead calm promise by Frazier. It has cut deep into the thicket of our national attitudes and it is a conversational imperative everywhere.”
Mayweather-Pacquiao pales in comparison with these celebrated encounters and others like them In terms of its social impact. With Johnson-Jeffries, Louis-Schmeling, and Ali-Frazier, the combatants represented opposite sides of a supervening socio-political issue. Here, Pacquiao represents the Filipino people. And Floyd is either admired for his ostentatious lifestyle or disliked for incidents that have left him more familiar than one might like with the criminal justice system.
With Johnson-Jeffries, Louis-Schmeling, and Ali-Frazier, depending on who fans were rooting for, the outcome affected their mood like the death of a friend or the birth of a child. One week after Mayweather-Pacquiao, the result will matter to the Filipino people. Beyond that, a handful of insiders will be counting large sums of money and the rest of the world will have moved on.
Indeed, Mike Tyson had a much bigger impact on the American psyche than Mayweather or Pacquiao. Tyson’s celebrity status exploded out of control. Everyone knew who he was. When Tyson crashed his car, got into a street fight, appeared on Barbara Walters, or was tried and convicted in Indiana, it was on the front page of newspapers across the country. When Mayweather was arrested and went to jail, it was on boxing websites and TMZ.
Because Mayweather-Pacquiao lacks the historical gravitas of boxing’s most socially important encounters, it will be remembered in direct correlation to how good a fight it is. It could be similar to Mayweather’s outings against De La Hoya and Alvarez, which were hugely successful economic ventures but contributed little to boxing lore. Or it could be something more.
In a best-case scenario, Mayweather-Pacquiao will be similar to Sugar Ray Leonard’s first fights against Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns. Those fights captured the imagination of sports fans in advance and, more important, delivered on their promise. They were epic battles.
But Leonard-Duran III (which came almost a decade after their “no mas” rematch) and Leonard-Hearns II (separated by eight years from its predecessor) are best forgotten. The fighters were too old by then.
So let’s give the last word to Ray Leonard, who recently observed, “Mayweather is 38 and Pacquiao is 36. They have looked good in their fights, but you notice them slowing down and getting hit more.”
Then Leonard added, “This fight here is more important than any fight in their life, career, everything. This fight is about bragging rights. This fight is about legacy.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.
HBO Boxing's Unofficial ringside judge Harold Lederman breaks down Klitschko-Jennings.
By Nat Gottlieb
Only a thin line separates prospects from contenders, but bridging that gap is not easy to do. The quickest way to cross theline is by having a breakout fight. Unbeaten welterweight Sadam Ali had his coming out party last November, when as a decided underdog he stunned the top-tier contender Luis Carlos Abregu by knocking him out in the 9th round.
The next step up the ladder for Ali is to earn a title shot. Standing in his way is a rugged and hungry Francisco Santana, who has won 10 straight and is hoping to use Ali as a means for a breakout out his own. The two boxers with big aspirations will square off on Saturday night as the co-featured event when Wladimir Klitschko defends his heavyweight title against Bryant Jennings at Madison Square Garden on World Championship.
The 26-year-old Ali (21-0, 13 KOs), who fights out of Brooklyn and was a 2008 U.S. Olympian, has long been regarded as a potential champion. All that has kept him from a title shot were a few erratic performances. But against Abregu, whose only loss in 37 bouts was to Timothy Bradley, Ali finally put it all together.
Utilizing his terrific hand speed, excellent foot movement, and superior defensive skills, Ali befuddled the hard-hitting Argentinean through the early rounds, forcing a frustrated Abregu to stalk a ghost without being able to land one of his signature bombs.
Ali patiently waited for the right moment to pounce and it came in the 6th round. With 1:06 left, Ali was circling away from Abregu when he suddenly set down on his feet, lunged in and nailed a surprised Abregu with a hard right hand that sent Abregu to the canvas. He managed to beat the count but was clearly shaky.
From that point on it was academic.
Ali brilliantly set Abregu up for the key blow in the 9th round. After spinning off the ropes, where Abregu had him trapped and was throwing a torrent of punches, Ali feinted a left hook, pulled the hand back, and at the same time threw a straight right so fast that the Argentinean never saw it coming. Down he went.
Abregu managed to get up again, but with Ali pounding him against the ropes without resistance, referee Harvey Dock jumped in and stopped the fight. Sadam Ali had arrived.
Now along comes the 28-year-old Santana, (22-3-1, 11 KOs), who after struggling for much of his early career, seems to have put his act together. The Californian has strung together a 10-fight win streak that includes an upset of previously unbeaten prospect Eddie Gomez last June.
Santana traces his sudden emergence in the welterweight division back to a fortuitous event in 2012 when he was brought to Manny Pacquiao’s gym in the Philippines as a replacement sparring partner for Amir Khan. Surrounded by champions, including Pacquiao, Santana saw firsthand what it would take for him to get to the next level.
“I actually came back from the Philippines a different person,” Santana has said. “It was a privilege to spar with Khan and it definitely gave me a big boost in confidence.”
While Santana is not nearly as polished as Ali, what he lacks in skills he more than makes up for with aggression and a strong will to win. He also has above-average hand speed, a mean left hook, and fights out of a high-glove defense that’s hard to penetrate. The hook is by far his best punch, but its effectivenessdepends on how he throws it.
Santana often launches that shot with a wide, looping movementthat sometimes keeps opponents from seeing it until it’s too late. But by going wide, he also leaves his whole middle open and vulnerable to a strong counterpuncher with fast hands. Someone like Sadam Ali.
Formerly trained by ex-bantamweight champion Wayne McCullough, Santana now works with Hoss Janik in Ventura, Calif. out of Knuckleheadz Boxing, the same gym that produced former welterweight champion Victor Ortiz.
In press conferences leading up to this fight, both boxers have promised a war. If so, it will be a war of attrition, with the winner going on to bigger things, and the loser taking a painful step backward.