By Jake Donovan
It was referenced at Wednesday’s press conference in New York City that every truly great heavyweight has fought at Madison Square Garden at least once in their career.
The statement made was the highest compliment paid to Bryant Jennings and Mike Perez, as the two unbeaten heavyweights collide Saturday evening in the main room at MSG. The 12-round heavyweight clash serves as the chief support to the middleweight title fight between Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Geale, with both bouts airing live on HBO.
Whoever prevails in Saturday’s heavyweight encounter will emerge as the mandatory challenger to the forthcoming heavyweight title fight between Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder.
While it’s every fighter’s dream to claim a major title, neither fighter is particularly interested in a down-the-road title fight until the conclusion of the challenge each currently faces. That’s how serious they are taking this fight.
Jennings (18-0, 10KOs) fights for the second straight time on HBO and on Madison Square Garden grounds. The unbeaten Philly boxer shone bright in a 10th round stoppage of Artur Szpilka in MSG’s The Theatre earlier this year, in a bout that marked his HBO debut.
Perez (20-0-1, 12KOs) makes his third consecutive appearance on HBO, with his previous two network slots airing live from The Theatre. The Cuban southpaw has seen mixed results – scoring a points win over Magomed Abdusalamov in a brutal affair that left the Russian fighting for his life in a hospital room while undergoing emergency brain surgery.
The effects of the fight were evident in his most recent bout, struggling to a 10-round draw versus Carlos Takam this past January. Fighting just two months after such an emotional event probably wasn’t the best career move, but a break – extended by an injury – should provide a fresher version of the Cuban-born, Ireland-based heavyweight who drew rave reviews prior to 2014.
The bout was originally scheduled to take place in May, but postponed when Perez suffered an injury in training camp. Will the break benefit Perez, mentally and physically? Will any of it matter against a fighter as athletically gifted and patient as Jennings?
Read on to see how the staff at BoxingScene.com believe the midsummer heavyweight fight goes down in New York City.
BOXINGSCENE.COM STAFF PREDICTIONS: BRYANT JENNINGS vs. MIKE PEREZ
Mitch Abramnson (Jennings Dec.): “Seems like it can go either way. Jennings appears to be the fresher of the two.”
Shaun Brown (Jennings Dec.): “I'm a fan of Mike Perez but I always worry for him physically and mentally no matter where or who he fights. I just hope that his mindset isn't still in the Abdusalamov fight. Jennings is on the up and up and I think he can out fight the Cuban and keep him uncomfortable for large portions of it. This is the biggest test for both fighters and I think Jennings will prevail.”
Ryan Burton (Jennings Dec.): “Jennings is more athletic and faster than Perez and I think that will play a big role in the fight. Perez looked very shaky in his first fight post Mago and I don't know what new trainer Adam Booth can do to help him exorcise those demons.”
Jake Donovan (Jennings Dec.): “Bryant Jennings is the best young heavyweight in the world. This is a chance to confirm to the world that he is ready for the next level. Mike Perez is right there with him, but a huge question remains whether Perez is physically and mentally 100 percent or if the aftermath of the Magomed Abdusalamov fight still has a lingering effect. Either way, I like Jennings to take a decision whether by boxing or slugging.”
Ernest Gabion (Jennings Dec.): “Jennings too is coming into his own maturity and while Perez may be perceived to be the better boxer I think we see Jennings disprove that. “
Keith Idec (Jennings Dec.): “Jennings might not be the knockout artist many fans prefer in the heavyweight division but the athletic, cerebral contender has a diverse set of skills that’ll enable him to earn Perez’s respect when they trade and outbox the Cuban southpaw at times. Each probably represents the stiffest test of the other’s career, which should make for a very competitive fight.”
Cliff Rold (Jennings Dec.): “I like Bryant Jennings to outwork the Cuban, Mike Perez here and to show off an underrated jab in doing so. There should be reasons to like both guys in a fun fight.”
Francisco Salazar (Jennings Dec.): “Who knows if Mike Perez will ever get over the psychological challenges he suffered in the Magomed Abdusalamov fight. While he is a solid fighter, there is more upside with Bryant Jennings, who has gotten better with each fight. There could be a flash knockdown, some rounds will be close and there will be some very good exchanges. I’m leaning towards Jennings getting the close nod in a split decision in this fight.”
Reynaldo Sanchez (Perez late TKO): “This fight has it all to become the fight of the night - two fighters with similar records and the power to end the fight at any time. It's the biggest challenge of their careers to Perez and Jennings and who impose their style and strength have more chances of winning. I think Perez for strength and style should be the winner.”
Luis Sandoval (Jennings Dec.): “I expect this to be a coming out party of sorts for Jennings who I see out boxing Perez over 12. Not saying it will be exciting but I think Jennings will be effective and neutralize a lot of what Perez does. I like what I saw from Perez before but his last outing was disappointing. I think he'll be back in better form but I see Jennings winning wide on the scorecards.”
Alexey Sukachev (Jennings Dec.): “Perez looked shitty against Takam and, honestly, has lost that fight. In the meantime, Jennings has kept it high with a nice stoppage of overrated Polish brawler Artur Szpilka. Let it be clear that Perez is no Szpilka and also a bad choice of an opponent for Jennings. Despite that, I'd go with Bryant based on his fundamental boxing skills and his recent mood. The Rebel can still be suffering mentally from his tragic win over Mago, and he is also not a puncher to stop Jennings, who will win on mostly as a jab contest in a rather boring fight.”
Anson Wainwright (Jennings Dec.): “This one has the look of a real 50-50 fight. The winner will put himself in the shop window. Perez looked tentative against Carlos Takam last time out. I'm sure there were some understandable hang-ups from what happened to Magomed Abdusalamov. I see Jennings winning a hard fought decision on points.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox.