Teon Kennedy is a man of few words.
The junior featherweight contender spoke matter-of-factly to RingTV.com from his training camp for his Friday Night Fights debut against Christopher Martin on Friday, and without indication of the troubles that plagued the preparation for his most recent fight.
Two months prior to his bout against Alejandro Lopez last August, Kennedy was sitting in a prison cell in Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, facing charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault and a slew of weapons charges linked to the shooting of a man.
Kennedy, now 25, spent two weeks in lockup contemplating his future. His career was as hot as it ever had been, but now he wondered if he’d ever fight again.
“I thought about that everyday, that this may be the last time I ever box,” said Kennedy (17-1-1, 7 knockouts). “It was crazy because I’d never been to jail before.”
At the time Kennedy was rated as high as number two in the IBF junior featherweight rankings. He said he stuck to himself for the most part while inside. A few inmates had recognized him from his boxing matches and inquired about his career and circumstances for being incarcerated. Kennedy just counted the minutes until his day in court.
He remained incarcerated until the victim, who had initially implicated Kennedy, recanted his story. Kennedy was released on his own recognizance, but wasn’t fully cleared until months later.
Kennedy says that the whole ordeal weighed heavily on his mind as he approached his bout with Lopez in Atlantic City. The 25-year-old Philadelphia native, who had just beaten undefeated prospect Jorge Diaz in his previous bout, was outboxed by Lopez and lost his first bout via unanimous decision.
“It was probably the stuff outside of the gym that was stressing me out,” said Kennedy, who said he wasn’t aware of the opponent until two weeks prior to the fight.
“It was disappointing, but there were a lot of extenuating circumstances leading up to the bout,” said Kennedy’s promoter, Russell Peltz, an inductee in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. “Fighters who fight real fighters lose.”
Despite the emotional rollercoaster that defined Kennedy’s 2011, he begins this year with an ESPN2-televised main event at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.
Martin (23-1-2, 6 KOs), of San Diego, Calif., is in a very similar situation to Kennedy. The 25-year-old “S.D. Kid” had acquired some notoriety in his young career by spoiling the unbeaten record of highly-regarded prospect Chris Avalos on ShoBox: The New Generation in 2010.
Then his momentum came to a screeching halt when, in his most recent bout in October, Martin lost a split decision to Jose Angel Beranza. Beranza entered the bout with a record of 33-21-2 and had lost his previous three.
“I didn’t know anything about him before, but now I’ve seen tapes,” said Kennedy. “He’s a pure fighter, I believe it’s going to be a good fight. He makes a lot of mistakes I can capitalize off of.”
FOLLOWING IN FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS
Kennedy says that he’s always wanted to fight.
His father Ernest Kennedy was a professional fighter who fought at The Blue Horizon years before he would headline at the legendary Philadelphia club show venue. Kennedy recalls being four years old and accompanying his father to the gym and the running track and being inspired to walk in his footsteps.
“Any little boy that sees their father do something wants to be like their father,” explained Kennedy.
Kennedy implored his father to allow him to train, but the elder Kennedy felt he was too young. The age of six, when Teon first began training, was apparently more appropriate.
Kennedy excelled as an amateur, eventually winning the 2004 national Golden Gloves flyweight title.
He turned professional the next year and signed with Peltz. Being a fighter in a small division on the east coast, where there isn’t an abundance of quality fighters in the featherweight divisions necessitated more audacious matchmaking than is the case with many modern prospects.
“When you’re a black super bantamweight and you have talent on the east coast, you don’t really have the luxury of having the kind of fights you want,” said Peltz, who promoted his first card in 1969. “It’s just a hassle to find another super bantamweight that you don’t have to fly in.”
Having reached this position together, Peltz is optimistic that Kennedy can right all of his career’s wrongs and hardships with a solid performance on Friday.
“Whatever obstacles Teon has had to endure – including the death of one of his opponents (Francisco Rodriguez in 2009) – will all be eradicated if he can win and win impressively,” said Peltz.
Photo / Ed Mulholland-Fightwireimages.com
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at [email protected]. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.