Jennings vs. Perez: the next heavyweight contender or the latest disappointment?
By Tyson Bruce
With many fans viewing the Golovkin-Geale fight as a walkover for the Kazak slugger, the co-feature between up and coming American talent Bryant “Bye-Bye” Jennings, 18-0-0-(12), and Cuban import Michael Perez, 20-0-0-(13), is regarded as the most intriguing bout on this weekend’s HBO card.
The heavyweight division has been in complete freefall for the last five-ten years. Last weekend reached an all-time low when Ruslan Chaguev, who hasn’t scored a meaningful win since his 2007 victory over Nikolay Valuev, and Fres Oquendo, who’s forty and has never scored a major win, battled for the WBA heavyweight title. The matchup was so terrible that the most interesting thing about the entire event was that Shannon Briggs, who might actually be clinically insane, was almost brought in as Oquendo’s replacement.
So, it’s always a treat when there is a genuinely interesting heavyweight fight on TV. Perez and Jennings are part of a group of new heavyweights that includes Bermane Stiverne, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, that look poised to inject the heavyweight division with some much needed new blood.
Both Jennings and Perez were brought into boxing consciousness when they emerged from relative obscurity to score major upsets on national T.V.. Jennings came in as a late replacement to upset the undefeated and heavily favored Maurice Byarm (13-0) on NBC. Perez was an outstanding amateur in Cuba but flew under the radar in North America because he defected to Ireland and has had many of his fights overseas. He announced his presence by overcoming Magomed Abdusalamov on HBO in an outstanding battle with tragic consequences.
On paper this looks like a 50/50 type matchup as Jennings has been in against the better competition as a pro but Perez, having some 200 amateur bouts, is generally regarded as the more experienced boxer. He’s been fighting since he was a kid and Jennings picked up the sport as a young man, which is always a red flag in boxing.
There are many intangibles going into the match that could play a pivotal role in the outcome. In his only bout since the Abdusalamov tragedy, Perez appeared listless and gun-shy. It’s possible that the Abdusalamov fight could have permanent affects on Perez’s psyche in the ring. The biggest intangible for Jennings’s is what he’ll do if he can’t tactically outpoint Perez. In all of Jennings’ fights he has been the superior boxer and athlete, so how will he react if Perez matches or exceeds him in those areas?
The area where Jennings seems to have the biggest advantage over Perez rests in his consistency and dedication. Since defeating Byram, Jennings has faced a progressively higher quality of opposition and continues to win in dominating fashion. His knockout ratio has actually gotten better as his level of competition has risen. That is very rare in boxing and shows that Jennings is making improvements with each passing fight. Jennings’ dedication to his training is obvious just by looking as his Adonis-like physique. He also appears to be a level headed and intelligent human being, which is invaluable when swimming with the sharks in the fight business.
Perez, on the other hand, has shown that he can be a different fighter from one bout to the next. Against Abdusalamov, Perez looked like the genuine goods, displaying a real zest for combat and a solid array of skills. However, in his next fight against Takam he looked hesitant and faded badly in the second half of the bout. His wavering passion for boxing has also been cited as the reason for subpar performances against journeymen Travis Walker and Friday Ahunanya. With just thirteen KO’s in twenty bouts, Perez also cedes the advantage in power to Jennings.
For the first time since Vitali Klistchko’s initial reign as heavyweight champion, HBO is dipping its toes into the heavyweight division. Hence, every fight on the network has massive consequences not only for the fighters involved but also on the division’s long-term future on the network. If either Jennings or Perez wins sensationally on Saturday night it could literally change their lives overnight. The winner could possibly get a shot at Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight championship and a massive pay day. The stakes are very high and if the fighters understand that we could be in for one truly good evening.