Cork’s Cuban heavyweight, Mike Perez, suffered the first defeat of his professional career on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden as he lost a narrow split decision against American Bryant Jennings.
With the victory, Jennings claims the status of mandatory challenger for the WBC title and will face the winner of the clash between Deontay Wilder and Bermane Stiverne.
It was a frustrating night for Perez and, with the benefit of hindsight, it now appears the story of the fight was told at Friday’s weigh in. Perez weighed in at 242 pounds, his heaviest weight in over three years. Jennings on the other hand tipped the scales at 222 pounds, giving Perez a significant 20 pound weight advantage.
In the early stages, Perez looked solid and powerful. He commanded the centre of the ring and used his extra weight to spear powerful straight left hands through Jennings’ guard. Mike was boxing well; he was making Jennings miss badly and landed some nice shots of his own. In fact, he occasionally took to taunting Jennings as the American fired miss after wild miss, all to underline his superior skills and to undermine his opponent’s confidence. Indeed, at the half way point of the fight, Perez was comfortably ahead on all three judges’ scorecards.
However, the weight difference that gave him a look of powerful solidity in the opening half of the fight gradually appeared to become a 20 pound weight around the neck of Perez. As the fight moved into the second half, Perez’ work rate began to slow dramatically.
Jennings, to his credit, responded by increasing his own punch output. In the early stages, Perez had been getting his own combinations off first and then making Jennings miss. But in the second half of the fight he began to throw single punches, followed by an attempt to hold and tie Jennings up in a clinch. Jennings was able to out-work Perez in these clinches; landing short hooks, uppercuts and attacking the body effectively.
The fight became messier and uglier as the second half wore on but Jennings, through a combination of his own work rate and Perez’ diminishing output was closing the gap. Despite this, going into the final round, Perez was still ahead on two of the three judges’ scorecards. Unfortunately, not only did he get out worked again in the final round, but he also lost a point for punching on the break. As it turned out, this one point deduction would be crucial.
Judge Tom Schrek scored the fight 114-113 for Mike Perez but judges Glenn Feldman and Joe Pasquale scored the fight for Jennings (114-113 and 115-112 respectively). Had Perez avoided a point deduction, he would have escaped with a draw.
Perez’ coach, Adam Booth was unhappy with the decision of referee Harvey Dock to take a point from Perez in the final round of a close fight, without issuing a warning. Whether it is a valid complaint or not, and I’m not sure that it is, it should not obscure the fact that Perez can have nobody to blame but himself. This fight was his for the taking and even if you disagree with the point deduction, it was foolish of Perez to risk it in the final round of such a close fight.
What does this fight mean for each fighter? Well, there are two tiers in the heavyweight division at the moment; Wladimir Klitschko in one, and everyone else in the other. Both men remain firmly in the “Not Wladimir Klitschko” category. America is crying out for its next great heavyweight hope. Many felt it could be Jennings, but on the basis of that performance I would doubt it. He will however, get his title shot.
For Mike Perez, things are less clear. He is still only 28, a baby in heavyweight terms. Wladimir Klitschko at 28 was rebounding from his second knockout loss in 14 months and there were question marks as to whether he could continue his career. So it is far too early to write off Mike Perez.
The “Not Wladimir Klitschko” category of the heavyweight division actually contains a number of young heavyweights who could reignite interest in the division and Perez remains one of those. He also has the benefit of having very obvious areas on which to improve, namely his stamina and his weight. But for now, his immediate focus should be on rebuilding his reputation after back-to-back outings in which he has tailed off dramatically in the second half of the fight.
The Perez-Jennings fight served as a starter for the main course of Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Geale. The much hyped Kazakh middleweight has progressed from one “toughest test so far” to the next with consummate ease. Last June he knocked out Matthew Macklin in three rounds, the first real middleweight name he had faced at that point. We were then told that Curtis Stevens was the first real big puncher he had faced and Golovkin knocked him out too.
Geale was a former middleweight title holder, who had never been stopped and was known for his durability, so he became the new “toughest challenge thus far” for Golovkin. Guess what happened? Yup, Golovkin knocked him out too. A big right hand in the 3rd round ended Geale’s night after he had already tasted the canvas in the first round.
Golovkin wants the biggest names in the division next; Peter Quillin or even newly crowned middleweight title holder, Miguel Cotto. Either of those would most likely be the toughest test of Golovkin’s career but as previous holders of that illustrious title will tell you, that is not a nice place to be.
In Manchester, the BoxNation televised card went ahead despite the string of bad luck that ravaged the build up. The card was due to be headlined by the highly anticipated heavyweight clash between Tyson Fury and Derek Chisora.
However, on Monday, Chisora suffered a broken bone in his hand during training. Promoter Frank Warren did incredibly well to find a credible replacement in Peter Ustinov who could step in at such short notice. Unfortunately, early on Saturday, news broke that Fury had pulled out of the fight as his uncle and former trainer, Hughie was taken to hospital and described as being “seriously ill” in a press release issued by Warren’s Queensberry Promotions.
The card went ahead with Billy Joe Saunders topping the bill and securing a knockout victory. Also on the bill was fellow up-and-coming super-middleweight, Chris Eubank Junior. Eubank scored a first round knockout and fuelled a war of words with Saunders by calling out the former Olympian as well as adding Cork’s Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan and Steve Collins’ son Steve Junior to his hit list.
As appealing as Collins Junior vs. Eubank Junior would be, Collins Junior is a four-fight novice which would make a fight with Eubank unlikely at this point. But with his father Chris Eubank senior in his corner, Eubank the younger certainly has the ability to talk himself into a fight.
To end the week on a positive note, Olympic silver medallist, John-Joe Nevin plans to return to the ring in September. Nevin suffered two broken legs in a vicious assault just last April but is determined to get his budding professional career back on track as quickly as possible.
Michael McCarthy, Pundit Arena.