By Jake Donovan
The final HBO boxing telecast of 2015 pits heavyweights Luis Ortiz and Bryant Jennings in a dangerous crossroads bout. The two collide Saturday evening at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York.
At a combined 77 years of age, it can be argued that it’s now or never for both fighters. The belief is perhaps more applicable to the 36-year old Ortiz (23-0, 20KOs), a southpaw from Miami by way of Cuba who is already on his redemption tour despite having never previously lost.
The unbeaten heavyweight looks to be the part – hulking, in shape and physically blessed with hand speed and two-fisted knockout power. His integrity took a hit, however, after a 1st round knockout of Lateef Kayode last September was scrubbed due to his testing positive for a banned substance.
A hefty fine and a nine-month suspension came of the ordeal, returning to the ring this past June with a 1st round knockout of Bryon Polley. The feat was followed by a 3rd round knockout of Argentina’s Matias Vidondo this past October at Madison Square Garden in New York City, reclaiming the interim heavyweight belt he was forced to concede in the wake of his failed drug test.
The fight with Vidondo – which aired live on HBO Pay-Per-View in support of Gennady Golovkin’s 8th round knockout of David Lemieux - came about only after Jennings (19-1, 10KOs) declined an offer to fight Ortiz at that time.
It was a fight that HBO wanted at the time and remained interested in, as evidenced by Saturday’s headliner. However, Jennings felt the timing wasn’t right to accept the fight, his first since coming up short in his World title challenge versus then-champion Wladimir Klitschko. Leading up to what remains the lone loss of his career, Jennings proved his worth in HBO-televised wins over two more heavyweight southpaws, Artur Szpilka and Mike Perez.
Prior to that, the Philadelphia-based heavyweight rose to prominence on former co-promoter Main Events’ now-defunct NBC Sports Network Fight Night series, a run that began with a 10-round win over Maurice Byarm. Both fighters accepted the makeshift main event on short notice, with Jennings prevailing in kicking off a breakout 2012 ring campaign.
It’s hardly crisis mode for either fighter just yet, but remains a must-win scenario all the same.
Read on to see how the staff at BoxingScene.com believes Saturday’s heavyweight action plays out.
BOXINGSCENE.COM STAFF PREDICTIONS: LUIS ORTIZ vs. BRYANT JENNINGS
Ryan Burton (Ortiz TKO): Jennings appears to have a slight edge in boxing skills but I think Ortiz's size and edge in power toward to a late stoppage victory.
Jake Donovan (Ortiz TKO): I like Jennings’ demeanor and on most nights his natural athletic ability is too much for most heavyweights to handle. However, I see Ortiz as a next-level talent. Even as a 36-year old heavyweight, he looks and fights like a 26-year old welterweight – or as head trainer Herman Caicedo refers to him as, “A full-sized Juan Carlos Payano.” This will be a competitive fight, but one where Ortiz reveals to be a complete fighter.
Chris Glover (Ortiz Dec.): A clash of styles to a degree, Jennings with the strength and fitness whereas Ortiz has the pure boxing background. A good 50/50 fight this and one I'll enjoy watching. I think Ortiz is the better boxer and expect him to get the nod in a close contest.
Peter Lim (Jennings Dec.): Jennings' tighter defense and sounder fundamentals tips the scales in what appears to be dead fight even on paper. He proved he can handle southpaws with aplomb in his wins against Mike Perez and Artur Szpilka and he will apply his experience from those fights against Ortiz. The lead right will be Jennings' key weapon as he cerebrally measures, outboxes and shuts down Ortiz's attack en route to a unanimous point victory in the 117-111 to 116-112 range.
Takahiro Onaga (Ortiz TKO4): I've been impressed by Ortiz, and whilst Jennings looked good against Klitschko I think that was more the end of Klitschko than the rise of Jennings.
Cliff Rold (Ortiz Dec.): Ortiz is a big time puncher, the larger man, and eventually he's going to put hands on Jennings and make it hard to give the rounds to anyone else.
Victor Salazar (Ortiz Dec./Late TKO): I like Ortiz to win a decision or possibly even stop Jennings late in the fight.
Reynaldo Sanchez (Ortiz Dec.): Nice fight!! But to me, all signs point to Ortiz having all the advantages - power, boxing techniques and the stamina - to be the winner
Alexey Sukachev (Jennings UD): Ortiz is undeniably powerful but Jennings is smoother and better equipped in terms of technique and stamina. He will start slowly but will be competitive in mid rounds and will edge Ortiz just barelay later on.
Ortiz – 7
Jennings – 2
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox