Boxing

Fireworks are guaranteed as relentless James Tennyson faces Gavin Gwynne for British lightweight title

James Tennyson takes on Gavin Gwynne (12-1) for the British lightweight title on Saturday night
Andy Watters

FROM the Irish featherweight belt to the WBA International lightweight strap, James Tennyson has won seven titles in three weight divisions so far and he has also had to roll with some serious punches along the way to Saturday night's British Lightweight title rumble with Gavin Gwynne.

The Belfast fighter recovered from the career-threatening setback of being knocked spark-out by an unknown journeyman in the Kings Hall in the early days of his career and has kicked on despite high-profile losses against much more experienced opponents in Ryan Walsh (British featherweight title fight) and Tevin Farmer (IBF super-featherweight title).

When opportunity has come along he has packed his bags and hit the road, pulling off unexpected wins despite being the rank underdog and fireworks are always guaranteed. Only four of Tennyson's 29 fights have gone the distance and the last time he heard the final bell was almost four years ago. He has won 22 by knockout and lost three by stoppage and is unquestionably the hardest-punching Irish fighter on the professional circuit.

Despite his obvious box office appeal, the softly-spoken Belfast fighter continues to fly just under the radar but he is live on Sky Sports on Saturday night and victory over Gwynne at the Matchroom Fight Camp (AKA the green acres of Eddie Hearn's garden) will earn him the British title and open the door to a second world title shot.

“I've fought for world, European and Commonwealth titles but this is as big a fight as I've had,” said Tennyson.

“This (British) belt is the only one that I've missed along the way and it's a must-win for me. I have to win this fight. It's huge for me.”

Gwynne lost a previous British title challenge to fellow Welshman Joe Cordina in August last year. Cordina won on unanimous decision but Gwynne's relentless, pressure style did cause him problems.

“He was putting it on Joe Cordina,” said Tennyson, who trains with former pro Tony Dunlop at the Belfast Kronk gym.

“He gave a good account of himself and he had Cordina in trouble once or twice in the fight. So I have to be on my game, he is a tough lad and he is very game as well and I know that winning this British title would mean a lot to him.”

Tennyson won't have to go searching for him on Saturday night but the Welshman's record of just two stoppage wins in 13 fights means Tennyson clearly has the edge in punching power. Mixing it with ‘the Assassin' may not be his smartest move and he may look to curb his natural attacking instincts.

“To be honest I think his style could suit me,” Tennyson admitted.

“The majority of people I fight are hit-and-movers, they punch and they move but from what I've seen, Gav will come forward and that will suit me lovely, it'll play into my hands. Having that power advantage over him could be a big factor in the fight but I'm ready for 12 tough rounds, I've had a good camp and some great sparring with Stephen McKenna (US-based Monaghan fighter) so I'm ready to go.”

Tennyson is used to travelling as the underdog but his experience, track record of success and punching power makes him favourite in this fight and he knows it.

“I've always been seen as the underdog going into big fights like this,” he says.

“At the minute everyone is looking at me as being highly-favoured to win it but I'm not looking at it like that, I'm just seeing it as another tough challenge. I've worked hard in camp and I know this guy wants what I have so you have to work hard and stay focussed.”

Tennyson is ranked nine, 11 and 14 with the WBO, IBF and WBA respectively and knows that the British title is a stepping stone to another world title challenge. His first ended in a weight-drained defeat against Tevin Farmer in Boston but he is much more settled at lightweight and fully confident of success on Saturday night in the grounds of Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn's London home.

“Get the win here and within a few fights I could be back knocking on the door for them big world title fights,” he said.

“So you can't leave any stone unturned at this stage of the game. We are very focussed and we know what's ahead of us. I feel far better at lightweight and it's actually mad the difference a couple of pounds is making.

“I am doing lightweight comfortably. I am still eating all my meals, drinking plenty of water and I'm full of energy. When I was doing featherweight and super-featherweight I was starting to struggle a couple of weeks before a fight because I had to start bringing the weight down and I was focussing on the weight rather than the fight.

“The move up has been unbelievable. I'm feeling very comfortable and very strong.”

TOP Rank chief Bob Arum expects “spectacular performances” from co-headline act Carl Frampton and Michael Conlan when the Belfast duo return to the ring at the BT Studios on August 15.

Frampton (27-2) meets Armenian Vahram Vardanyan (21-1-1) while Conlan (13-0) takes on former European champion and recent world title challenger Sofiane Takoucht (35-4-1).

Both have their sights set on world title shots and while Frampton's opponent is an unknown who has been plucked out of small hall shows in Latvia, he has a winning record and, will see this as opportunity knocking. At this stage of his career, ‘the Jackal' simply needs a fight – and a win - to keep him busy for the one he wants, the already postponed showdown with WBO super-featherweight king Jamel Herring.

“What a tremendous opportunity for fight fans to see Mick and Carl fight on the same card,” said boxing doyen Arum.

"Carl and Mick are closing in on world title opportunities, and I expect spectacular performances from both men.”

Frampton's only fight last year was a 10-round decision win over previously undefeated Tyler McCreary last November in Las Vegas. Vardanyan has won six in-a-row since the lone defeat of his career and Frampton must win to give himself the chance to make history by beating Herring and becoming Ireland's first three-weight world champion.

“This is a fight that keeps me busy and keeps me active,” he said.

“Hopefully, I get the win here, and then we can have the Herring fight for the world title later this year or in early 2021.”

Meanwhile, Josh Warrington made short work of Conlan opponent Takoucht last year, stopping the Frenchman inside two rounds and Conlan expects to do the same on August 15.

"I'm delighted to be back boxing again,” said Conlan.

“I haven't stopped training throughout lockdown, so I'm coming in prepared, and I expect to put on a big performance. I'm interested to see how it will be fighting in front of no fans, but I've done it before in the amateurs, so experiencing that again is something I'm looking forward to.”

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Boxing