The Travelin’ Man goes to Flint, Michigan: Part Two
Please click here to read Part One.
Saturday, October 5 (continued): The telecast’s original middle reliever proved to be quite the closer.
Had it not been for the reshuffling forced by the cancellation of the main event between Claressa Shields and Ivana Habazin, welterweight Jaron Ennis’ scheduled 10-rounder with Demian Fernandez would have the second fight of this tripleheader. Instead, Ennis-Fernandez became the new featured fight and the man nicknamed “Boots” kicked down the door of opportunity in smashing style.
From second one to second 490 – the fight was stopped at the 2:10 mark of round three – the Philadelphia switch-hitter was in charge and there was little the Argentine could do to turn the tide. Initially Ennis’ overzealousness resulted in several low blows that could have resulted in a point penalty or worse and the one delivered as Fernandez was wrenching Ennis’ neck with his right glove was clearly deliberate. Another low blow moments later moved Ennis closer to the edge but, to his credit, his follow-up volleys – mostly delivered from the southpaw stance – were free of fouls.
The round one numbers for Ennis were overwhelming; he threw 80 punches to Fernandez’s 32, led 20-5 overall and 19-5 power and connected with 42% of his power punches to Fernandez’s 19%. Unfortunately for Fernandez, matters didn’t get much better in round two as Ennis used his far superior hand speed to flood the zone and his quicker feet to keep the South American along the ropes. Best yet for Ennis: He kept the punches above the belt.
The data was more measured in round two as Ennis went 12 of 62 overall to Fernandez’s 8 of 44 while connecting with 11 of his 36 power punches (31%) to Fernandez’s 7 of 38 (18%).
Ennis had seen enough in the early stages of round three to launch what would be his final assault. Trapping Fernandez along the ropes, Ennis fired up-and-down combinations while also swiveling his upper body to avoid most of Fernandez’s counters. A hammering three-punch salvo was followed by a stiff right-left to the head that prompted Fernandez to move toward the blue corner pad. Once there, Ennis connected with a right hook and a right uppercut to the jaw, a left cross to the face, a right to the head, a right-left to the body and a left cross to the cheek that caused Fernandez to sag and eventually take a knee.
As Fernandez took referee Frank Garza’s count, he turned toward his corner and pointed toward his right eye, which now sported a swelling. Up at nine, Fernandez was allowed to continue but the sight of Ennis advancing toward him – and the strong possibility that he suffered a facial injury – caused the Argentine to wave his glove and wisely withdraw from the fight.
Just like that, Ennis had scored his 14th consecutive knockout victory to raise his record to 24-0 (with 22 knockouts) while Fernandez’s ledger declined to 12-2 (with 5 KOs). The last time Ennis heard the ring announcer read final scorecards was on March 31, 2017, at Philadelphia’s 2300 Arena when he scored a 60-53 sweep over James Winchester.
The severity of Ennis’ final volley was captured by the numbers, which saw Ennis land 55% of his power punches (22 of 40), including an 8-1 bulge in landed body punches.
In all, Ennis averaged 70.5 punches per round to Fernandez’s 47.4, lapped him in terms of raw connects (54-27 overall and 52-23 power) and prevailed 28%-21% overall and 43%-21% power. For the record, Fernandez did land four jabs to Ennis’ two and led 21%-3% in jab accuracy but, in the end, this fight was all about Ennis’ fusion of speed and power.
“I was pleased with my pressure,” Ennis told RingTV.com’s Joe Santoliquito. “Tonight told me I’m ready for the next level. I think I can fight anybody in the world. I’m ready.”
He certainly appears to be. After feasting on fighters with sub-par records in his first 20 fights, Ennis’ last four bouts have come against fighters with a combined record of 77-11-1 – an .865 winning percentage. None have lasted three full rounds with Ennis and in those fights, “Boots” averaged nearly 30 more total punch attempts per round (65.2 to 35.4), more than tripled their total connects per round (21.3 to 6) and landed power punches per round (18.3 to 5.2), led 3.0 to 0.8 in landed jabs per round and connected at impressive rates (33% overall, 12% jabs, 45% power) while allowing precious little to get through (17% overall, 11% jabs, 19% power – well below the welterweight averages of 30%, 20% and 37% respectively). Like lightweights Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez, Ennis maintained his previous level of dominance following the first real boost in level of opposition and, to me, this is a key leading indicator that Ennis is not only ready to take on bigger names but he may well defeat them.
During the post-fight summary, the names of Adrian Granados and Adrien Broner were posited as future opponents for Ennis. They would be good choices because while they have enough talent to unearth previously hidden flaws, they also would enhance Ennis’ status, should he, as expected, be victorious. While he’s not quite ready for the Kobe beef of boxing’s deepest weight class, the 22-year-old Philadelphian is ready to pound on some higher quality hides.
For much of the Flint audience, Saginaw heavyweight Jermaine Franklin was the biggest remaining drawing card on this show and it was his task to produce a performance worthy of the press clippings that declared him a coming force in boxing’s most celebrated weight class.
His two previous “ShoBox” appearances against Rydell Booker and Jerry Forrest were victorious but underwhelming and even Franklin admitted he had fallen short of the mark, saying after both fights that he had been “overanxious.” With a third consecutive opportunity to fight on Showtime’s air – this time on a “Showtime Championship Boxing Special Edition” episode – the objective was the same as it had been the previous two times: Win and look good doing it.
This time, against Pavel Sour, Franklin did both.
The first positive sign occurred on the scale, for, at 231 ½, Franklin weighed nearly nine pounds less than was the case against Forrest in July and was 14 pounds slimmer than he was against Booker in April. The second occurred in the first two rounds as he displayed better speed of hand and foot in pursuit of the knockout he so dearly wanted. The third – and most definitive sign – were the knockdowns he scored in rounds six and 10, proving he had the pop in his fists to floor a thickly-built 238-pounder and that he had the stamina to maintain his level throughout the 10-rounder.
“I feel great,” Franklin told RingTV.com’s Joe Santoliquito. “I was trying to get the KO. I wanted it really bad but it feels great to get the ‘W.’ I wasn’t looking for a knockdown the first time he went down. I was trying to be quick and catch him with a counter and I caught him. It surprised me that he went down because it wasn’t meant to be a power punch.”
If there was a statistical theme to Franklin’s performance against Sour, it would be “doing more with less.” He averaged fewer punches per round against Sour (38.3 vs. a combined 50.4 against Booker and Forrest) but he connected at a far higher rate (38% overall, 29% jabs, 50% power compared to 25% overall, 12% jabs and 37% power against Booker and Forrest) and took less punishment in return (20% overall, 21% jabs, 20% power compared to 29% overall, 21% jabs and 37% power versus Booker and Forrest). In all, Franklin out-landed the big Czech 147-109 overall, 60-48 and 87-61 power while also attacking the body with the same passion and success he enjoyed in the past (he led 56-6 in body connects compared to 75-20 against Booker and 40-5 versus Forrest).
Of the three appearances, this was, by far, Franklin’s best. But the 25-year-old appears capable of performing even better and the fighter himself is self-critical enough to recognize that.
“There are just some minor things I still need to work on, like fighting on the inside, grappling and knowing when to punch on the inside – minor things,” he said. “Once I get that down, I’ll be doing well.”
He also indicated that future fights in Michigan could provide the fuel he needs to execute those improvements.
“The crowd gave me a burst of energy,” he said. “It got me fired (up) when they were chanting and it felt good.”
The jury remains out on Jermaine Franklin but, unlike his previous performances against Booker and Forrest, the aftermath didn’t leave a sour taste.
Following a quick stop for some post-card pizza, Andy drove me back to the hotel. Once I returned to my room, I completed my final work-day responsibilities – inputting the night’s data into the master database and sending the files to the Draft Kings people – and turned out the light soon after.
Sunday, October 6: After rising at 7 a.m. and completing the morning routines, I spent the next 90 minutes cranking out words on the laptop. Before I knew it, it was time for me to pack my belongings, check out of the hotel and wait for the 9:45 a.m. taxi I had arranged the previous evening. That taxi arrived exactly on time and during the drive to the airport, I filled him in on all the happenings of the past two days.
Once at Bishop International Airport in Flint, I decided to have something I normally don’t at the start of the day – breakfast. On most days, my first meal isn’t until noon because I simply don’t feel like eating until then but, every once in a long while, the mood strikes me to do something different. After a meal of eggs, toast and bacon, I boarded the plane to Atlanta and spent most of it either resting my eyes or reading.
After reaching my connecting gate for the Pittsburgh flight, I saw that the TVs were tuned not to CNN but to CBS and the NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers had just scored a go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter and instead of the usual scene of people fiddling with their phones or reading, every eye was riveted on the screen.
By the time the boarding process began, the score was 20-20 with less than five minutes remaining and the Steelers were driving toward a potential winning score. For Steelers fans, this could have been the most ill-timed on-time flight in memory but happily our plane had monitors at every seat, and predictably every one of them was set to CBS and the conclusion of the game, which was now in overtime.
Moments after Ravens safety Marlon Humphrey ripped the ball from Steelers’ receiver Ju Ju Smith-Schuster and recovered the fumble at the Pittsburgh 34, the monitors went blank and the pre-flight safety video began playing. Ill-timed as this was, it was for the best because the Ravens’ Justin Tucker won the game with a 46-yard field goal.
The plane touched down – or rather slammed down – in Pittsburgh shortly after 6 p.m. and I was in my car 30 minutes later. At the stroke of 9, I arrived home and spent the rest of the evening telling stories about my journey and catching up on all the action I missed at the 2019 IAAF World Track and Field Championships, all of which I stored on my DVR.
The last three weekends on the road have cut into my ability to do research at home but now I will have plenty of time to get that work finished because my next trip won’t begin until October 25, when I will travel to Reading, Pennsylvania, for a Showtime Championship Boxing tripleheader topped by a scheduled 12-round junior middleweight fight between Erickson Lubin and Nathaniel Gallimore.
Until then, happy trails!
Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 16 writing awards, including two first-place awards, since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics” (available on Amazon) and the co-author of the newly released book “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers” (also available on Amazon). To contact Groves about a personalized autographed copy, use the email [email protected] or send him a message via Facebook.
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