Wednesday, March 29, 2023  |



Wladimir Klitschko rolls on but Bryant Jennings makes a strong statement

Fighters Network
Photo by Al Bello/Bongarts-Getty Images

Photo by Al Bello/Bongarts-Getty Images

NEW YORK – Wladimir Klitschko did what he has been doing for the past decade – conclusively defeat the opponent standing in front of him, this one Bryant Jennings before a packed house of 17,056 Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

Jennings did something very few anticipated – gave Klitschko enough difficulty to make the fight interesting and enhance his image. Surprise, surprise.

Klitschko (64-3, 54 knockouts) clearly outworked and outlanded Jennings (19-1, 10 KOs) – mostly with his jab – to win a one-sided decision: 116-111, 116-111 and 118-109. I had it 117-110. No surprise there. And no dispute. Klitschko definitely won the fight.

And he moved a step closer to making history in the process: The victory marked the RING, IBF, WBA and WBO champ’s 18th consecutive successful title defense, one shy of Larry Holmes for No. 2 on the all-time heavyweight list.

It just wasn’t as easy as we’ve come to expect.

Jennings said beforehand that his athleticism would give Klitschko problems and it did, as his almost-constant movement and quick reflexes made him very difficult to hit cleanly. The champion acknowledged as much afterward, saying “he didn’t allow me to throw the right as much as I wanted.”

Klitschko landed only 144 punches (an average of 12 a round); Jennings landed 110 (9.2). Jennings actually landed more power shots, 94 to 52, according to CompuBox.

And while Klitschko seemed to sting Jennings a few times when he was able to get in his powerful right, he never truly hurt the Philadelphian. Not many of Klitschko’s opponents can claim that.

“Every time he went for something big I maneuvered away from him,” said Jennings, who seemed to become more and more confident as the fight progressed.

Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP-Getty

Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP-Getty

All that turned what almost everyone thought would be just another beatdown into a fairly compelling fight, enough so that excited fans traded chants of “USA! USA! USA!” and “Klitschko! Klitschko! Klitschko!” for much of the fight to create an electric atmosphere.

Indeed, we all waited on edge for that one big right from Klitschko to end matters in an instant but it never came. The challenger was too slick, too tough.

The problem for Jennings was that he just wasn’t active enough. He threw only 376 punches the entire fight, an average of only 31 a round. And a lot of those punches presumably were quick, relatively meaningless little body shots when the two clinched.

Jennings tried to pick up the pace in the later rounds and landed some shots that probably had a few people thinking “upset” but he generally had the same problem Klitschko did: The champ is a good defensive fighter too.

So when the final bell sounded, it was clear who would have his hand raised.

Still, Jennings can take great solace in what transpired. Consider: He fought professionally for the first time in 2010 and came in with only 19 pro fights yet gave the undisputed heavyweight champ a run for his money, at least compared to Klitschko’s recent opponents. It had to be one of the most-impressive one-sided losses in history.

Klitschko also acknowledged Jennings’ effort.

“Bryant is a great athlete,” he said in the ring after the fight. “He would’ve beaten a lot of top heavyweights tonight. I welcome him to the top of the heavyweight division.”

Of course, Jennings wasn’t too pleased afterward. He complained that Klitschko held too much. Indeed, the champion lost a point for that indiscretion.

And while the loser didn’t agree with the scoring — “I thought the margin should’ve been closer,” he said – he didn’t complain too vociferously.

Instead, he seemed to understand that he emerged victorious in defeat. He demonstrated that he is a legitimate heavyweight contender in spite of his inexperience, one who probably will remain a major player going forward in what was always the sport’s glamour division.

And he’ll only get better.

“My rise to the top is still on,” he said. “It don’t matter how it is tonight. It’s still on.”

No one who saw the fight on Saturday night would doubt that.