By Jason Pribila: Main Events and Peltz Boxing return to the Sands Resorts and Casino in Bethlehem and present their latest “Fight Night” episode featuring three of the series’ biggest stars. In the main event heavyweight prospect Bryant Jennings (16-0, 8 KO) squares off against the powerful Andrey Fedosov (24-2, 19 KO). There is a light heavyweight title eliminator being contested by knockout artist Sergey Kovalev (20-0-1, 18 KO) and Cornelius White (21-1, 16 KO). The televised opener features hometown hero Ronald Cruz (17-1, 12 KO) who is looking to right the ship after suffering his first loss in his last fight in the very same ring. Cruz will take on late replacement Ray Narh (25-2, 21 KO).
Jennings began 2012 as a relatively unknown fighter. He picked up boxing late after being a scholastic star on the gridiron. There was no questioning Jennings work ethic. Jennings is a gym rat that keeps himself in shape 24/7. He is a sponge that is continually learning his craft and adding new wrinkles to his boxing game.
Although he is new to the boxing game, Jennings old-school mentality of always being ready for a fight paid off for him in 2012. When “Fight Night” made its debut they had the tough task of replacing their headliner when heavyweight Eddie Chambers withdrew due to injury. Jennings stepped in on short notice to take on previously unbeaten Maurice Byarm. Main Events rolled the dice, and Jennings made sure their gamble paid off. He outhustled Byarm down the stretch, and won a fan-friendly decision.
Jennings parlayed that success and put the heavyweight division on notice when he dismantled former titlist Sairhei Liahovich. Jennings fought and won three more times last year, and suddenly he went from unknown to being labeled the “best American Heavyweight prospect” by Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach.
Jennings almost cashed in at the end of 2012 when he threw his hat into the ring by offering to step in to challenge prospect Seth Mitchell, and even world champion Wladimir Klitschko who were looking for opponents. Jennings name was not called, but a win on Friday night will bring him a step closer to knocking down the door to a big money fight.
Jennings weighed in at a ripped 227 lbs. on Thursday night. If fights were judged as a body building contest, Jennings would be an overwhelming favorite against the comparatively soft Fedosov, who tipped the scales at 224 lbs. Fedosov will be entering the ring without fear, as he is coming off a career best win. In April of this year, Fedosov knocked out feared puncher, Darnell “Ding a Ling Man” Wilson in five frames. Fedosov is on a three fight winning streak and he is well aware that a win against Jennings on national television will make him a player in the heavyweight division.
I expect Jennings to fight a measured and disciplined fight and eventually pull away down the stretch on the scorecards for a comfortable decision.
For fans that prefer fighters that refuse to leave their fates lie in the hands of the judges, they will be sure not to walk away from the television when Sergey Kovalev steps into the ring. Kovalev returns to Bethlehem, where he is quickly becoming a fan favorite. He fought each of his 2012 fights at the Sands Events Center and he scored two knockouts in less than five total rounds of work. However, it was in January of this year when Kovalev put the light heavyweight division on notice. Kovalev faced off against slick southpaw Gabriel Campillo. Many observers felt that the slick Spaniard would frustrate and neutralize Kovalev’s offense, much as he did in title fights against Tavoris Cloud and Beibut Shumenov.
Kovalev had other ideas, and he walked through Campillo. He scored two knockdowns before stopping Campillo in the third.
Kovalev now faces Cornelius White. At stake, the number ranking by the IBF and a mandatory shot at the title currently held by Bernard Hopkins. Not long ago white was on the fast track to a title shot before he got blitzed by Don George in February of 2011. On that night, White came out flat, and before he could get into the fight with George, it was over. White rebounded from that first round defeat, and he has won five straight.
I expect White to use his legs against Kovalev. His best bet is to frustrate Kovalev. Counter and move, and hope that Kovalev fails to carry his power into the later rounds. My guess is that Kovalev will again show he is multi-dimensional and eventually stop White in the mid rounds.
When the NBC Sports Network comes on the air, they will re-introduce the nation to the “House that Ronald Built”. That of course, is Bethlehem native Ronald Cruz, who is fighting for the fourth time in his hometown. In Cruz’s previous fights at the Events Center it has been clear who the crowd has paid to see. In fact, previous main events have felt like walk-out bouts compared to the energy generated while Cruz is in the ring.
Cruz first fought in Bethlehem in July of 2011, before the Sands Events Center was open for business. He fought in the parking lot under an air conditioned tent, and scored a TKO against journeyman Doel Carrasquillo. The relationship between Cruz and his supporters has not waned even though they witnessed him suffer his first loss in his last fight in September of last year.
Cruz fell behind early and faded late against Antwone Smith. Cruz did not offer any excuses, despite his opponent coming into the fight three pounds over the contracted welterweight limit.
A hernia operation delayed Cruz’s return to the ring, but after a training camp that introduced a new strength and conditioning coach, Cruz is determined to get back to his winning ways.
I have been able to cover many of Cruz’s fights ringside. I was impressed by how much he improved between year one and year two of his professional career. He struck me as a guy that did not do anything great, but he did a lot of things well. He frustrated me at times by seeming to experiment during fights by turning southpaw, but he was soon in the middle of an eight fight knockout streak. He did not necessarily have eye-catching power, but when he committed to the body; his opponents would soon decide that the stool in their corner was more comfortable than being in the center of the ring.