Hard road pays off as James Tennyson prepares for second shot at world title

James Tennyson blasted out Gavin Gwynne to win the vacant British Lightweight title last August. Picture by Mark Robinson.
Andy Watters

JAMES Tennyson had his routine Covid test at a Manchester hotel yesterday. He was confined to his room until he got the result today and that will give him plenty of time to think over the journey he has taken to get to this stage.

The Twinbrook native squares up against Mexican hardman Giovanni Straffon on Saturday night and the IBO lightweight title is the prize for the winner of what promises to be an all-action battle at Manchester Arena.

Only three of Tennyson’s 31 fights have gone the distance and it will be a surprise if Saturday night’s showdown with former Mexican super-featherweight champion Straffon reaches the final bell. ‘Impacto’ is a southpaw with bad intentions who has 16 early wins on his 23-3-1 record. The heavily-tattooed fighter from Veracruz has looked rough and ready in the past and is there to be hit, but he can take a shot and he will keep coming.

“He has a few knockouts on his record,” Tennyson agreed.

“Tony (Dunlop, his coach) has watched a bit of him and he says he comes in and he’s a bit rough and ragged and throws big overhand shots. Yeah, he’s a handful, the Mexicans are tough; they have earned a reputation for their toughness so I’m expecting a tough night.

“He’s a southpaw too but I’ve fought a good few southpaws now and I’m well used to them. It’s just a matter of going in and being smart, I’m fit and ready so I just have to go in, be smart and make sure I get the win.”

Tennyson came across Straffon for the first time yesterday. The Mexican and his team arrived for their Covid testing and Tennyson was surprised to discover that Straffon is a similar height and build to him.

“They’ve brought him in to give me a tough test,” said Tennyson.

“It could be a bit of a shootout and, with my style of fighting, when you bring in a fighter like him it’s always good for TV and it’s always good for the fans - they’ll get what they want to see.”

This is Tennyson’s second crack at a world title belt. The first came in Boston two years ago when the then weight-drained, skinny kid who looked a little dazzled by the whole experience was stopped by the impressive Tevin Farmer.

He didn’t produce anything like his best that night but fast forward a couple of years and Tennyson is a totally different animal at lightweight. There is a been-there, done-that confidence about the quiet Belfast man that can only be earned along the hazardous route he has had to take to get back to this level. Since that Farmer loss, Tennyson has knocked out half-a-dozen lightweight contenders and copper-fastened his reputation as a devastating puncher with genuine, world class, box-office power.

“I learned a lot from that Farmer fight,” he said.

“From then I’ve improved all round and I’m a heck of a lot better now than what I was then. I had a lot of weight issues at the time but they’re all behind me now.

“Even before I left the changing room against Farmer I knew the weight was a factor. We were warming up and I was saying: ‘My arms are away here – I don’t feel too good’. That was before I even got into the ring so for that reason losing didn’t really hit my confidence too much. When you take a loss you do question yourself – you have a lot of things running through your head - but with the team I have around me and the family and friends I have I was able to pick myself up right and quick and get straight back at it.

“I’m a lightweight and I’m a lot healthier and stronger and I’ve improved a lot from then so there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m ready.”

With Carl Frampton now retired, Tennyson and Michael Conlan (who fights Romanian Ionut Baluta on Friday night) are vying to take his place as king of Irish boxing. Victory on Saturday night could set Tennyson up for a unification clash with Devin Haney, who defends his WBC belt against Jorge Linares on May 29.

“This is the perfect opportunity for me to be able to do that,” said Tennyson.

“Things will really take off for me after this and I want to bring boxing back to Belfast. This is the perfect opportunity to do that so I have to go in and win. Simple as that.”

KATIE Taylor versus Natasha Jonas almost blew the roof off the Excel Arena at the London Olympic Games.

As the stadium rocked to a chorus of ‘Ooooole, Ole-Ole-Ole’, Ireland’s Taylor took on the home favourite at the quarter-final stage of the lightweight category and the crowd generated a record 113.7 decibels as they roared on the fighters. Taylor won the battle 26 points to 15 (Jonas took standing counts in the third and fourth rounds) and went on to win the gold medal.

On Saturday night, the Bray native defends her WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF lightweight titles against her old foe on the undercard of the heavyweight rumble between Derek Chisora and Joseph Parker (the bill also features James Tennyson’s bid for IBO lightweight glory).

Since their London 2012 clash, Taylor has won world titles in two weight divisions while Jonas fought a thrilling world super-featherweight title draw with Terri Harper last summer. Jonas, who temporarily retired from boxing after having becoming a mother in 2015, insists that she is a much tougher prospect than nine years ago.

“I'm stronger, I punch better, my shot selection is better, I'm fitter,” she said.

“I believe in these things. To totally write me off is the wrong thing to do.

"Sometimes I am guilty of going down to an opponent's level or not raising my game. But in situations where I'm the underdog? I always do well. I was never expecting to qualify for the Olympics but I did that.

"There have been a lot of times in my career when I've been the favourite and things haven't worked out for me. But when I'm the underdog I get through the challenge.

"I'm not the same person, she's not the same person. It's about who we are right at this present time. I'm not fighting her ego, I'm fighting the woman in front of me, and she's doing the same."

Taylor boxed her way to unanimous decision wins over Delfine Persoon and Miriam Gutierrez last year. If she’s at her best she will again have too much for Jonas but she warns that the clash with the Liverpool native is a “great challenge”.

“Natasha proved in her last fight that she is still performing at the highest level so it’s a great challenge for me and I’m really looking forward to it,” she said.

“People still talk about our fight in the 2012 Olympics and I think that proved to be a real eye opener for people in terms of what women’s boxing is all about.”

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