By Jake Donovan
Bryant Jennings enjoyed a successful HBO debut with a rousing 10th round knockout win over Artur Szpilka in their heavyweight battle Saturday evening at Madison Square Garden Theatre in New York City.
The bout served as the chief support to Mikey Garcia's 130 lb. title defense versus Juan Carlos Burgos, with both fights airing live on HBO's Boxing After Dark series.
The early going saw a mixed bag of action, as neither fighter came racing out of the gate. Jennings, fighting for the first time since last June, was measured in his approach, not wasting any punches but also not throwing very many. Szpilka was a little quicker to the draw in the opening round, but largely ineffective in subsequent rounds as Jennings dictated both the pace of the bout and the distance between the fighters.
Action picked up in round four, largely thanks to Szpilka closing the gap in his best effort to force a more hectic pace. Jennings knew he'd eventually have to oblige, briefly abandoning pure boxing to dig deep with a left hook towards the end of the fifth round.
The shot was enough to capture Szpilka's attenion, whcih wasn't at all lost on Jennings heading into round six. A left hook to the liver produced the bout's first knockdown, with Szpilka taking a second to process the blow before dropping to his knees. Jennings wisely targeted the body for the remainder of the round, determined to put away the southpaw but instead settling for the most dominant round of the fight to that point.
Jennings didn't allow Szpilka any chance of recovering, forcing a hectic pace in round seven. The Polish southpaw reached a similar point of desperation as was the case in each of his knockout wins over Mike Mollo last year. The difference was that Jennings was far too skilled to allow himself to get caught with any of Szpilka's attempted home run swings.
Szpilka wasn't quite as fortunate to claim the same. One last ditch effort in the final round saw the southpaw swing and miss wildly, leaving himself open for a right hand and left hook that sent him to the canvas. Referee Michael Ortega issued a mandatory eight count, but determined Szpilka unfit to continue as he waved off the contest.
The official time was 2:20 of round ten.
Jennings was ahead 88-82 on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage. The Philly-based heavyweight improves to 18-0 (10KO), also serving as a re-entry into the heavyweight mix after spending most of 2013 on the sidelines.
Szpilka suffers his first loss as a pro, falling to 16-1 (12KO). The defeat adds to what has been a difficult month for the southpaw, was temporarily deported back to his native Poland due to eventually resolved visa issues discovered by Homeland Security when he arrived in Chicago earlier this month.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox