Lion-hearted James Tennyson on the verge of world title glory as Katie Taylor locks horns with Natasha Jonas

James Tennyson takes on Mexican Jovanni Straffon in Manchester tonight. Picture Matt Bohill.
Andy Watters

Vacant IBO World Lightweight title: James Tennyson (28-3) v Jovanni Straffon (23-3-1) (tonight, Sky Sports Box Office, from 6pm)

THE old adage that it’s not how many times you get knocked down (it’s how many times you get back up) has been illustrated perfectly in James Tennyson’s boxing career.

Four times (resulting in three defeats and a comeback win against Martin J Ward) the Twinbrook native has been chopped down but on each occasion he has come back stronger and tonight Tennyson fights for (and should win) the IBO lightweight title when he takes on Jovanni Straffon at Manchester Arena.

It has been a remarkable journey by Tennyson and when he was left in a crumpled heap by an unknown journeyman in Belfast early in his career, the chances of him reaching this stage would have seemed little more than a pipe-dream.

He recovered and reached British title level but even then he had to deal with a chastening stoppage loss against Ryan Walsh in London. Again he bounced back and progressed to world title level only to get blown away by Tevin Farmer in Boston.

It says so much about Tennyson’s reserves of determination (and the belief his manager Mark Dunlop and coach Tony Dunlop have shown in him) that he has come back from that Farmer loss in the form of his career.

The switch up to lightweight was key and Tennyson, hammer-handed and strong, has carried his power from super-feather and forced his way back into the world title mix with six knockout wins on-the-trot. With victory tonight and the IBO belt around his waist he could bridge the gap to challenge one of the ‘fab four’ in the division - Teofimo Lopez (WBO, WBA and IBF), Devan Haney (WBC), Ryan Garcia and Gervonta Davis – later this year.

“Straffon is an unknown figure,” says Tennyson, a naturally quiet man who prefers to let his “fighting do the talking”.

“He’s got a good record, there’s a few knockouts there, he’s a bit of a banger, he likes to have a go, so I have to go in focussed and ready which I will.

“A big win this weekend would send out a good message to the other lightweights at the top of the division. Getting the win will put in me in line to fight those guys (the ‘fab four’) and that’s what I want, they’re the sort of fights I want to put myself in line for.

“Getting the win this weekend and becoming a world champion is the perfect way to start that.

“My aim is to bring big nights back to Belfast and I believe that winning the IBO world title is going to start that for me.”

He was originally expected to face Scotland’s two-weight former world champion Ricky Burns and a fight with Linares (who opted to challenge Haney for the WBC title) was also mentioned in dispatches. Straffon, a man who likes to fight fire with fire, and a fast and furious battle looks in store tonight.

“It was a bit of a late change but for me it was about being fit and ready,” says Tennyson.

“I can adapt (to Straffon’s style) as the fight goes on – I’ll have no problem with that.

“These Mexicans are known for their toughness. They bring it and they’ve caused uproar plenty of times but I’m fit, I’m ready and I know what lies ahead if I get the win here. I’m confident of getting the win.”

Last time out, Tennyson absolutely blew away Canadian Josh O’Reilly. The NABA champion barely landed a blow as Tennyson took him apart ruthlessly. The fight lasted just 135 seconds.

“If they all went that quick it would be a heck of a lot easier,” said Tennyson.

“I just go out, I let my hands go, I hit them and hurt them and if they go that bit quicker then well and good.

“There’s a lot work going on behind the scenes in sparring and stuff where I’m learning. It has been a long camp, I’ve been in camp since just after New Year’s and I’m improving all the time.”

Tactical Take

STRAFFON is an aggressive, pressure fighter who will come forward all night long with his hands up looking for the game-changing shot and he won’t be intimidated by Tennyson’s list of stoppage wins.

The Mexican is tough and durable and Tennyson will have to negate his strengths before he can dominate him and his coach Tony Dunlop will warn him to stay out of trouble early on.

Straffon may not be able to out-manoeuvre or out-box Tennyson, but he can punch and Tennyson’s first option is to keep him at distance by backing off and shooting out his jab but he has to avoid retreating into the ropes and giving ‘Impacto’ – who’ll be aware that he has been stopped three times with bodyshots – the opportunity to pin him down.

As Straffon tries to cut off the ring, Tennyson has to be clever with his feet; feinting one way and switching direction to creating an opening and, when he sees it, he’ll plant his feet and let his hands go. Straffon has shown in the past that he has a good chin but Tennyson will break him down if he lands clean.

Tennyson also needs to mix up his strategy by letting Straffon get close and, instead of backing off, stepping in and looking for the left hook to the body.

Tennyson isn’t just a puncher, he is smart and keeps the distance to maximise his power perfectly. He has the arsenal and skill to win this fight and if he stays on his toes and picks his punches – uppercuts, hooks and long straight shots too - the Mexican will not be able to live with his power. He should force a stoppage in the second half of the fight.

Tonight’s card at Manchester Arena

Heavyweight: Dereck Chisora (32-10) v Joseph Parker (28-2)

World Boxing Association Super World Light-Heavyweight title: Light-heavyweight: Dmitry Bivol (17-0) v Craig Richards (16-1-1)

Vacant IBO World Lightweight title: James Tennyson (28-3) v Jovanni Straffon (23-3-1)

WBC, WBA, IBF & WBO World Female Lightweight Titles: Katie Taylor (17-0) v Natasha Jonas (9-1-1) Middleweight: Chris Eubank Jr (29-2) v Marcus Morrison (23-3)

Super-featherweight: Campbell Hatton (1-0) v Levi Dunn (0-4)

Heavyweight: Johnny Fisher (1-0) v Phil Williams (3-27-1)

Super-middleweight: Scott Fitzgerald (14-0) v Gregory Trenel (13-6-2)

WBC, WBA, IBF & WBO World Female Lightweight Titles: Katie Taylor (17-0) v Natasha Jonas (9-1-1)


BACK in 2012, the noise in the Excel Arena was deafening when Taylor and Jonas locked horns in the quarter-final stage of the London Olympic Games lightweight tournament.

Scouse southpaw Jonas is good but she wasn’t nearly good enough to beat Taylor and had to take two standing counts as the Bray woman boxed her way to a one-sided points win. Nine years later they meet for the third time (Taylor also won a multi-nations contest) at Manchester Arena.

Unlike the previous two contests, the professional game isn’t about in-and-out point scoring and Joe Gallagher-trained Jonas feels she has the power and strength to create a shock tonight.

Jonas has the strength to trouble Taylor and, as she proved against Terri Harper (a draw at super-featherweight), she has the pedigree too.

Jonas intends to shake her out of what she (and her coach Gallagher) perceive as a comfort zone but

Taylor rejects any mention of complacency.

“I’ve shown my best in the last few performances,” she said.

“My last three fights were probably my best performances as a pro, so I feel like I’m definitely improving and getting better each time.”

Taylor gets the nod to win but Jonas will keep coming and only the best of Katie will do.

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