Jaron Ennis had never even heard of Chris van Heerden before the South African southpaw was secured as Thomas Dulorme’s replacement 2½ weeks ago.
“I don’t really focus on these other boxers,” Ennis told BoxingScene.com. “I just try to focus on myself and stay in my own lane, and figure out ways I can better myself and not be the same way when I fight.”
When Ennis encounters van Heerden in a fight Showtime will air Saturday night, the gifted Philadelphia welterweight will attempt to become just the second opponent to stop him inside the distance. Errol Spence Jr. defeated van Heerden by eighth-round technical knockout in September 2015 in Toronto.
The 33-year-old van Heerden hasn’t been active since Spence beat him, but he has won each of his five fights over the past five years. He’ll end a 16-month layoff against Ennis (26-0, 24 KOs), who became the first fighter to knock out the Dominican Republic’s Juan Carlo Abreu (23-6-1, 21 KOs, 1 NC) in his most recent appearance, September 19 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
The 23-year-old Ennis would’ve preferred facing Dulorme (25-4-1, 16 KOs), a Puerto Rican veteran whose last three losses came against Terence Crawford, Yordenis Ugas and Jamal James, each of whom holds at least a secondary welterweight title.
Dulorme tested positive for COVID-19 late last month, however, and van Heerden (28-2-1, 12 KOs) accepted a difficult fight on less than three weeks’ notice. This will be the first 12-round fight for Ennis, who’ll attempt to win the vacant IBO 147-pound crown.
“I feel like Dulorme had the bigger name, but this guy has the better record,” Ennis said. “At the end of the day, I feel like they’re probably at the same level. Dulorme probably would’ve been a little bit better because he has the bigger name. But I’m just gonna go in there and just be dominant, get the win in dominant fashion and get the knockout, and make another statement to the welterweight division, that I’m here and I’m ready for those top-10, top-five guys, and world champions.”
If Ennis, who’s listed as a 17-1 favorite, vanquishes van Heerden, he wouldn’t mind rescheduling the Dulorme fight for some time early in 2021.
“I want bigger names than that,” Ennis said, “but if we can’t get bigger names, we’ll gladly take Dulorme again.”
Showtime will broadcast Ennis-van Heerden as the second bout of a three-fight telecast from Mohegan Sun Arena (9 p.m. EST; 6 p.m. PST).
In the 12-round main event, Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1, 12 KOs) and the Philippines’ Reymart Gaballo (23-0, 20 KOs) will fight for the vacant WBC bantamweight championship. Gaballo replaced Nonito Donaire as Rodriguez’s opponent on about 10 days’ notice, once Donaire tested positive for COVID-19.
In the 10-round opener, bantamweight prospect Gary Antonio Russell (17-0, 12 KOs), of Capitol Heights, Maryland, will meet Dominican contender Juan Carlos Payano (21-4, 9 KOs), a former WBA 118-pound champion.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.