James Tennyson to move up to light-welterweight as Michael Conlan chases WBO title shot

James Tennyson was stopped in the first round by Jovanni Straffon when they fought for the vacant IBO World Lightweight title on Saturday. Picture: Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing
Andy Watters

JAMES Tennyson will move up to light-welterweight after it emerged that he struggled to make the weight for Saturday night’s IBO lightweight title fight with Mexican surprise package Jovanni Straffon.

An opportunity that was expected to pave the way for Tennyson to break into the top dog club in the 135lb division ended in disaster when the Belfast native was caught cold and stopped at 2.10 in the first round.

Tennyson has bounced back from defeat before and he’ll have to do it again and his manager Mark Dunlop says a move to 140lb is next for him.

Straffon came with a puncher’s chance and Tennyson gave him that chance by throwing caution to the wind and going toe-to-toe with the Mexican from the opening bell on Saturday night.

There was no feeling-out process, no testing the water as Tennyson met ‘Impacto’ in the centre of the ring and let his hands go.

He caught Straffon with a searing left hook but the Mexican replied with two of his own and the second left the Belfast fighter on unsteady legs.

“Take your time, take your time – pace yourself,” roared Tony Dunlop from his corner but Tennyson was in full battle mode. He counterattacked but that suited Straffon who shrugged off a Tennyson right hook and then dropped him with a thumping right-left combination.

Tennyson beat the count and referee Michael Alexander allowed him to box on but Straffon pinned him to the ropes and finished it off emphatic style.

“It was not a surprise for me because I have prepared for this,” said the unheralded Mexican afterwards.

“I have always been very confident and secure in myself and I have demonstrated what I’m capable of. We knew that I had to go forward from the first bell and this (knocking Tennyson out) would happen.

“I want the belts, I want to go after the big ones, the big names and if the opportunity comes I’m more than willing to face those guys.”

Meanwhile, it is back to the drawing board for Tennyson. After his first world title loss, he moved from super-featherweight to lightweight and now manager Dunlop says the time has come for the 27-year-old to switch again.

“The whole week it was back to the old days of making weight,” said a bitterly disappointed Dunlop.

“We’re not using that as an excuse – he lost the fight and that’s it – but he’s just too big and he needs to move up. He was struggling to lose the last 2lb all week and I know it doesn’t seem much but it is when there’s nothing left in you. He got himself pumped up again after the weigh-in but it’s what energy it (making weight) takes out of you.

“We were saying all week that if we won we would move up unless there was a big-money fight there. He was always moving up because he’s just filling out.”

MICHAEL Conlan hopes to fight WBO super-bantamweight champion Stephen Fulton in August at west Belfast’s Feile an Phobail but he says he’s prepared to bide his time for a world title shot.

Conlan’s win on Friday set in motion a chain of events which should end up with him fighting for the title. It begins in Carson City, California on May 15 when WBC champion Luis Nery (31-0) faces WBA regular champion Brandon Figuerao (21-0-1). The winner of that is due to fight WBO champion Fulton (19-0) in September and, 90 days after that, the winner of that would have to fight Conlan or faced being stripped of their title in which case Conlan would fight for the vacant belt.

Conlan won his first 12-rounder and his first fight at super-bantam on Friday night when he took a majority decision (one judge had it a draw) against tough Romanian Ionut Baluta in London. Conlan showed regular glimpses of his class with fast hands and slick movement that made Baluta – who blazed away over the 12 rounds – miss with a lot of his punches. In attack, Conlan landed quality shots but never enough of them to have Baluta in any serious trouble.

“After beating the number nine in the WBO (Baluta) that’s me mandatory for the title and if that could happen in August I would love that, if not I would love it in the winter in New York,” Conlan said.

“I’ll fight in August anyway and if the Fulton fight was ready next, I’ll go next. If not, I’ll have a tune-up in between and then go for it. I know I have to be patient and I know that you can’t rush. If I have to wait for December it’s no problem but I know I’ll fight for the belt.”

Conlan looked physically strong on Saturday night and at one point he lifted Baluta off the canvas with his left arm. His coach Adam Booth said he was “pleased with him” but he questioned the scoring off the three judges at ringside who scored the fight 114-114, 115-114, 117-112.

“Baluta is messy and reckless and just keep coming and he takes a good shot,” said Booth.

“So it’s always going to feel uncomfortable while you’re doing you’re work. I think it was comfortably an eight (rounds to) four fight for Mick.”

KATIE Taylor retained her WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO and Ring Magazine Lightweight world titles after a unanimous decision victory over Natasha Jonas with scores of 96-94, 96-95 and 96-95.

The Bray woman shared another memorable meeting with Jonas, nine years after their London 2012 Olympic Games bout, as Taylor was forced to dig deep for the win.

“Again, it was probably a bit too exciting for my liking,” Taylor said afterwards.

“It was definitely a toe-to-toe battle in there. I thought I was a bit flat early on, but I dug deep to win the championship rounds. I definitely showed the heart of a champion in there and that’s what won me the fight in the end.

"She showed everything it takes to win a world title in her last two performances. Tonight was a brilliant showcase for women’s boxing and boxing overall. Every time we fought as amateurs it was that type of fight as well. I’d prepared for a hard ten-round battle tonight and that’s exactly what it was.

"Eddie was saying that fight would have brought the PPV sales up a small bit. That’s obviously a great start. I feel sorry for the main event coming out after that fight. It was a thrilling fight. I’m just delighted to come out of it with the belts and still undefeated. 18-0, onwards and upwards. This is what I'm in the sport for, I want to be involved in the biggest fights. There's plenty of those fights out there for me."

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