Wladimir Klitschko (63-4) retained his titles via UD against extremely fit and rugged challenger Bryant Jennings (19-1) at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. The scores were wide, 116-111 twice and 118-109, and the skill differential even wider but Jennings was more problematic for Klitschko than the scores or his own boxing ability could suggest. Klitschko acknowledged the hand speed of his opponent baffled him and he compared Jennings to a modern Frazier but he was surely far too kind and gave his opponent too much credit for fighting back sporadically. Bryant demonstrated a granite chin and courage to spare but if he had Frazier’s left hook or even half of it the fight might have turned out differently.
Wladimir’s problem is his mindset, he stalls and freezes when he confronts tough resistance. That is the main difference with his stone-cold big brother Vitali who has had to clean up little brother’s mess ups more than once. Little Klitschko is not a natural bully, he is not a tough guy at heart and he lacks pronounced survival and killer instincts. He still outclassed Bryant Jennings severely and conceded only one round to him on my card.
Both combatants possessed remarkable physical strength and had obviously done too much weight training which showed in their movement and mainly in the way they threw their shots. What looked explosive in the initial rounds quickly became laborious and mechanical and at least a boxer of Klitshko’s pedigree and boxing know-how should have retained some smoothness in the jab and lead hook. The obsession with strength and weight training has spread throughout the divisions and even Mayweather’s recent photos suggest he has grown heavyweight arms on a welterweight body. Smooth is better than explosive because it is sustainable for the whole fight and fast feet are preferable to powerful legs.
Round 1: A slow start for both with Klitschko keeping his right hand in the holster while Jennings inquisitively moved around keeping them up apprehensive of Klitschko’s power. No one landed a solid shoot but Klitschko’s jabs and a single straight right towards the end gave him the round.
Round 2: Wladimir still waited and did not get his shots off while Jennings started to dash in and out using athleticism to make up for boxing movement and Klitschko decided to chase him languidly while sparingly scoring with half-power shots. 10-9 Klitschko.
Round 3: Jennings managed to find his way inside and even roughed up Klitschko up close. He was very persistent trying to get in and led with the head most of the time so Klitschko brought up the pressure and stepped into his shots catching Bryant’s darts at long range. His jabs were serious shots already and pushed the lowered head of Jennings into correct position stopping him in his tracks and bouncing him back. Several right hands contributed to the point advantage for Klitschko.
Round 4: Klitschko still kept the advantage but Jennings continued to crash into him like an armored vehicle. Holding and clinching became so repetitive that the referee warned Wladimir for it and threatened to take a point. Jennings found the key to his survival – Klitschko’s refusal to fight at close range, so he tried to spend as much time as possible on the inside. He lowered his head dangerously all the time and rushed inside head-first all the time. He was begging for uppercuts but Klitschko avoids that shot and only landed one short semi-uppercut cleanly up-close. Jennings jumped around but Wlad threw the scoring shots, so he won the round easily.
Round 5: The pattern of the fight did not change in this round as Jennings was trying to burglarize his way inside leading with the head while Klitschko timed him with heavy incoming and held and clinched when Jennings walked through the fire. Both boxers became increasingly stiff and Klitschko would even punch and keep his arm extended for a while in an attempt to stand his ground against the bull. Wlad still landed enough clean shots to win the round.
Round 6: The Ukrainian slowed down and allowed Jennings to land to the body and push him back most of the time. He held and clinched excessively and put pressure on the ref to gain control of the fight. Jennings used the space Klitschko gave him to jab to the chest and score to the body while the champ seemed to have run out of ideas and too slow to land the famed straight right. Bryant won the round comfortably.
Round 7: It was the American’s turn to take a breather which he did with his mouth wide open while Wladimir chased him around clocking him and won the round without doing too much damage.
Round 8: The pace of the fight was high for heavyweight and the spring was out Bryant’s step. He landed his best shot in a while – a flush left hook but at the same took a heavier left hook from the Ukrainian that spun him to his side and staggered him. The action was better in this round and Klitschko won it cleanly.
Round 9: Jennings was in survival mode now and Klitschko had a hard time finding the finish. He landed a monstrous straight right in a one two combo which stunned Jennings but he shook it and made a grimace at the predator. Jennings could not get to Klitschko but the champ could get his man down. A Klitschko round.
Round 10: Klitschko landed at will on the battered American but could not keep him at bay and still used his height leaning on him. The ref finally decided to penalize Klitschko’s excessive holding and deducted a point from him making the round even – 9:9.
Round 11: Jennings no longer looked like a boxer and stumbled around trying to stay close and keep Klitschko busy. He made it through the round due to his remarkable punch resistance and Wladimir’s refusal to take a chance and unload on him macho style. 10:9 Klitschko
Round 12: The champion tried hard to take his man out and landed a cannonade on Jennings whose presence there was at least a moral victory. Wlad landed several right hands that might have knocked most heavyweights out cold but not the tenacious challenger in front of him. Bryant’s bulletproof head did not let him down and he heard the final bell.
The challenger’s durability made him look competitive while he actually took a heinous beating and his only chance was landing a big one, a Frazier hook for example, but he was no Joe Frazier although he is bigger and much stronger. If people take their clues about Klitschko’s boxing age from this fight, they might be surprised when Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder do not make it as far as the more limited Jennings. Both Fury and especially Wilder might beat Jennings as well but Klitschko is still out of reach for them.