Boxer Klitschko defends title at MSG



Wladimir Klitschko is the reigning heavyweight world champion.

Michael Thompson, Staff Writer

It had the makings of the perfect underdog story: a young, hungry underdog fighter from Philadelphia with only six years of boxing experience squaring off against a seemingly unbeatable champion on boxing’s biggest stage. At odds anywhere from 7-1 to 14-1 depending on the source, a victory for heavyweight challenger Bryant Jennings at Madison Square Garden would have shocked the boxing world. Unfortunately for Jennings, there was no storybook ending Saturday night.

In his first fight on U.S. soil since 2008, universally recognized heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko defeated Jennings in a unanimous decision, retaining his WBA, WBO, IBO and IBF championships.

Klitschko controlled the action from the early stages, using his height and weight advantage to keep Jennings from getting inside. Despite his longer reach, Jennings was unable to produce much offense, struggling to get under Klitschko’s historically dominant jab.

In the 10th round, Klitschko was deducted one point for excessive holding, his defensive reaction throughout the fight to when Jennings tried to lunge forward with his head down. In a departure from his previous fights, Klitschko sparingly used his powerful right hand.

With his victory, Klitschko (64-3) tied Joe Louis at 27 for the most heavyweight championship fights. At age 39, he is quickly approaching another one of Louis’ records: longest heavyweight title reign in boxing history. After Saturday’s victory, Klitschko will likely fight WBO mandatory challenger Tyson Fury (24-0), who forced Christian Hammer to call out after eight rounds in his last bout. The fight, almost a sure bet to be fought in Europe, will most likely grab the attention of more fans overseas than in the United States. Klitschko, however, intends to return to the United States in the future, perhaps against current WBC Champion, American Deontay Wilder (33-0). At the post-fight press conference, Klitschko addressed the possibility of a fight with Wilder.

“I think Deontay needs to defend his title first time,” Klitschko said. “And probably such fight can happen at the beginning of next year.”

Despite the loss, Jennings stock has certainly risen. With many analysts expecting a short fight in favor of the champion, Jennings made it through 12 rounds, taking some of Klitschko’s best punches in the process and forcing Klitschko to earn his victory.

“I’m hoping I gained some respect,” Jennings said. “And I know I gained some fans…I’m not bitter, I’m not upset, I’m not mad.”

Now 19-1 as a professional, Jennings will seek a new opponent. Wilder is certainly on the shortlist after Jennings chose a fight against Klitschko over him. However, Jennings would ideally prefer one more chance at today’s best heavyweight, even if it is unlikely to occur.

“You already know what I’m calling for,” Jennings said. “Let’s do this thing again.”

In other action, Brooklyn-native Sadam Ali improved his standing as a welterweight contender with a competitive 10-round decision victory over Francisco Santana. Ali’s speed and technique was enough to neutralize Santana’s substantial weight advantage. Santana was aggressive throughout, but Ali was successfully able to fight off of the ropes repeatedly, doing enough for the victory.

Of course, last Saturday’s fights at Madison Square Garden are just the appetizer for a much larger event. After years of hype, the two best fighters of this generation — Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather — will finally square off on May 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in boxing’s latest super-fight.

A version of this article appeared in the April 28 print edition. Email Michael Thompson at [email protected].