Boxing

Retirement broke his fighting heart... A final toast to the Poleglasser James Tennyson

James Tennyson won 28 fights, 24 of them inside the distance. Picture Matt Bohill.
Andy Watters

IT HAD been coming for a while but when the moment of truth finally arrived and he had to accept that his day was done, it broke James Tennyson’s fighting heart.

A couple of weeks ago, the Poleglass native called time on a career of spectacular highs, occasional lows and constant excitement and hung up a pair of gloves that had knocked out 24 opponents and won him as many title belts as he could carry.

Tennyson fought 32 times and only four of them went the scheduled distance. He won early two dozen times and was stopped himself on four occasions. He was caught cold early in his career by a dangerous journeyman and lost title scraps to Ryan Walsh (in London) and Tevin Farmer (in Boston) when he was undercooked and struggling to make weight which was always a factor.

The end came in a rock-em, sock-em brawl with little-known Mexican Giovanni Straffon May last year but it isn’t the defeats we’ll remember Tennyson for, it’s the lion-hearted wins that the hardest-hitting Irish fighter of his generation blasted out, often when he travelled as the underdog and brought home the titles.

“I was in tears when I made the decision,” he said.

“It broke my heart but it just had to be done, it’s the right time.

“I’ve got a family now and they are relying on me so I have to keep my health in good order so it’s one of those things. People rely on me and I just thought: ‘Do you know what? Now’s the time’.

“I was back training and I was looking forward to a fight… It was tough to call.

“I was able to put the time in. My son (James junior) loves boxing and he was coming up to the gym a couple of days but my priorities have changed. I used to eat, sleep and breathe boxing but things change. I’ll still do a bit of training but once you go into a fight and you’re putting it all on the line…

“That South African boxer Simiso Buthelezi who died from a brain bleed is a perfect example and whenever you have a family, you need to take those things into consideration. I thought long and hard about it for a good while and I thought now was the time to hang them up. I don’t want to jeopardise what I’ve got in my life; I’ve got a lot going for me, I’ve got my son, my partner, my house… That’s enough.

“I had an unbelievable career, I won everything the whole way up to a world title shot. We won everything there was along the way.”

For me, Gavin Gwynne was his most awesome performance. The Welshman simply could not live with Tennyson’s power and his accuracy and energy. Long-term loyal manager Mark Dunlop selected the breakthrough win over Graham Geraghty in Belfast, his former coach Tony Dunlop might go for the unexpected TKO win over Martin J Ward in Dublin… There are so many highlights to choose from.

“There were some unbelievable fights,” said Tennyson.

“There were some 50-50 fights and plenty of fan-friendly fights – good tear-ups that the fans loved. Even the Craig Evans fight – that was 11 rounds more or less toe-to-toe. I dropped him early on and he came back… So there was a lot of good fights, exciting fights and they’ll live with me for the rest of my days.

“I was living my dream to be honest. The whole time I was fighting I was living my dream, it’s been unbelievable – the fights, the big nights, the whole build-up… I just loved it. I don’t know which one was the best.

“Gwynne went on and stopped Sean McComb and showed what he was all about but I dealt with him in a couple of rounds and won the British title – everybody in boxing wants to win a British title – and I won it in style.

“My favourites would be that fight and the Martin J Ward fight. Winning the European and Commonwealth title and defending my WBA title at the same time was great and winning that fight put me in line for the IBF title shot against Tevin Farmer.

“At the time I’d had a couple of fights with Eddie Hearn and I was brought to London as the opponent – they were planning for Ward to win and go on to fight Farmer but I went over and showed them what I could do and the doors opened for me. I got a contract with Matchroom and the opportunities I got were unbelievable. I was speaking to Eddie Hearn the other day and I thanked him for everything he did for me in boxing.”

In the future he hopes to find a role in boxing that doesn’t require lacing up gloves and going to war. He could get into training or maybe managing fighters but he wants to stay around a sport that has been good to him and, he admits, taken him to places he never thought he would get to.

“When I turned pro I was young and I didn’t have that much experience so I didn’t know how far I could go,” he said.

“I didn’t have any expectations, I thought: ‘I’ll get a few fights and see how it goes’ and then I was speaking to my mate Nathan and he was saying: ‘You don’t even understand how far you’ll go’. He thought I’d do the business and one night when I fought in the Devenish he said to me: ‘You’re going to be fighting live on Sky Sports before you know it’.

“At the time I didn’t really see it, I was just going with the flow and then the opportunities started coming and I did fight live on Sky Sports and DAZN and I won eight titles and had two world title fights… I didn’t expect any of it!”

Throughout the good times and the bad, Tennyson has remained the same affable character. I can recall his trip to Boston, a trip that ended in disappointment when he challenged Tevin Farmer for the IBF super-featherweight title, and being so impressed with how he conducted himself before the fight and after it despite the defeat.

“People have always talked about how down to earth and genuine I am and I say: ‘You know what, I’m a Poleglasser, that’s the place where I’m from and I’ve my two feet planted firmly on the ground. I don’t think Poleglassers would let me get too ahead of myself!” he says.

“I like to stay grounded, I’m your normal Average Joe and I don’t really see myself any different than anyone else.

“Boxing taught me a lot about myself and about life. It kept me right, it kept me out of trouble and if my own kids wanted to box I’d be happy for them to go. It’s an unbelievable sport and it has been good to me, it’s put a roof over our head and it’s looked after me throughout my life.”

 

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