There’s a lot to be frightened by when you’re in the ring with Jaron “Boots” Ennis. There’s his blinding hand speed, his concussive power, or the fact that he can unleash either of those attributes right-handed or left-handed. But what’s most unnerving is how relaxed he is while doing it all. Boots enters the ring with a nonchalance and a smile that only leaves him during the periods he needs to chomp down on his mouthpiece. If not for that, he’d be grinning ear to ear, perfectly relaxed and confident that he can dispatch even a top-level, solid welterweight whenever he pleases.
The results thus far have not just validated his thinking, but made many, if not most in the boxing community believe he’s The Next Big Thing. His individual attributes are easy to identify, but there’s an ease which he’s completed his tasks and a particular aesthetic that jumps off the screen when you see a special athlete—and not just because of his fuzzy pink outfits.
So how would Boots describe why he’s so good?
“It's just God-given talent and abilities. That's what a lot of these fighters don't have. I'm naturally gifted. I can do everything well. Speed, box, power, I can box from both sides. I can do anything you want, it's like a variety pack,” he said.
Boots is a few days out from his clash with Custio Clayton, making the 40-minute drive from his home in Horsham, PA to his new training location in in Frankford, PA. He’s leaned back and as relaxed in the driver’s seat as he is in the center of the ring. He hasn’t watched tape on Clayton, he “doesn’t worry about that,” leaving scouting in the hands of his father and trainer Bozy Ennis. Boots says it takes him about 30 seconds in a fight to figure out what his opponent will do and is capable of.
At this point in his career, complacency has been his most difficult opponent, something he insists his lack of concern about his upcoming foe shouldn’t be mistaken for. Ennis has yet to be matched with a fighter capable of troubling him, but not for a lack of effort on the part of matchmakers. As the competition has been ramped up—Sergey Lipinets, Thomas Dulorme—he’s just make it look easier. His real challenges have come in the gym, finding ways to fine-tune, to stay motivated for the day someone will inevitably challenge him.
“I don't care if I'm fighting a seven-year old little kid, I'm training like it's a world title fight. That's the difference between me and these other fighters,” said Ennis. “We're always working on things. You can never get too big headed or think you're better than what you are or don't listen to your team. You can always get better in any and everything.”
For a good chunk of his pro career, Ennis lived with his parents in Philadelphia, surrounded by his collection of amateur trophies and regional belts and the constant supervision of Bozy. Now 24, Ennis has moved out on his own, but his father’s voice still follows him everywhere.
“I'm still the same person. You can ask my Dad right now, he doesn't have to tell me to run, he doesn't have to tell me to eat right, he doesn't have to tell me to do nothing. I'm a grown man, I know what to do. He already told me what to do, and I can do it on my own. My Dad already instilled it in me,” said Ennis.
Ennis has been forced to be driven by the minutiae of boxing training, and hyperfixated on very specific, smaller goals in lieu of the marquee bouts he’s waiting for. He isn’t concerned about whether he will knock Clayton out or not, but whether he will knock him out more impressively than anyone will their opponent on the same show.
“I want the knockout of the night. That's how you keep your fans,” said Ennis.
Fast forward to this past Saturday night, and while Ennis has some competition as far as who should be awarded Knockout of the Night after Jermall Charlo KOd Brian Castano in the main event, he otherwise did exactly what he expected and promised.
As impressive as the second-round knockout was, it was the first round that was arguably even more startling. Ennis threw nearly exclusively jabs in the opening frame, somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 of them, paired with a handful of right hands. With his jab alone, he was able to put Clayton under immense pressure, effectively freezing him behind a high guard for three minutes. It wasn’t just sheer activity that locked Clayton up either, it was the variety of angles and speeds Ennis’ jabs were thrown with, but also the heft of their power whether he was throwing them with his weight moving forward or backward. It was as if he was showing Clayton “this is me in first gear, imagine what it will be like when I throttle down.”
At the end of the first round, Clayton’s trainer Eric Belanger saw the last thing you want to decipher from the body language of Ennis, and relayed it to his fighter: “He’s getting a little cozy in there.”
A “cozy” Boots is a dangerous one, and with 38 seconds left in the second round, he finally coaxed Clayton to try to jab with him. Ennis stepped out of the way and then came back with another left hand, which Clayton tried a different tactic with, slipping to his right. Ennis found an inch of room between Clayton’s glove and his temple, and landed a right hand that discombobulated him for the count of ten.
With his smile back on, Ennis went to greet Clayton on his stool, who gave him a knowing grin and a nod, basically all that needed to be said. In his post-fight interview, Ennis spotted Errol Spence Jr., and remarked that it was “time to go fishing” for the fighter who calls himself The Big Fish.
“I feel like I've been ready since 2018. I've been ready,” said Ennis prior to the fight. “I'm just going to continue getting better, stronger, faster, smarter, wiser, more comfortable than I already am. They're just making it worse on themselves.”
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman