The champ returned to the Garden, and it sounded and felt like Kiev.
Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko easily outpointed a game-but-outclassed Bryant Jennings in the champion’s first fight in the United States in seven years, defending his heavyweight titles with a unanimous decision on Saturday night.
Klitschko’s last US fight was at New York’s Madison Square Garden on 23 February 2008, when he easily won over Sultan Ibragimov. This was his fourth Garden bout, and it seemed both comfortable and familiar.
“It is great to come back to Madison Square Garden, to be home and fight here,” Klitschko said. “I look forward to coming back to fighting here, a great crowd and a great atmosphere.”
Although not at his dominant best, Klitschko was in control from the outset in his 18th straight successful defence. His jab and straight right hands kept Jennings from getting inside, and the unbeaten American had little chance of winning from distance.
The overwhelmingly pro-Klitschko crowd of 17,056 roared loudly with every thundering punch by the champ. They chanted Ukrainian slogans when he entered the arena and when the decision was announced: 116-111 on two cards, 118-109 on another.
Yet, with Jennings still standing in the middle rounds and beginning to land some punches, the Americans in the crowd began shouting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” But the Philadelphian never really had a chance and was outpunched 545-376, with 144 landing for Klitschko, 110 for the challenger.
“Jennings would have beaten a lot of heavyweights in the division,” Klitschko said. “He’s a tough competitor.”
Klitschko is 64-3 and has held a heavyweight belt for nearly a decade. Jennings is 19-1.
Klitschko has won 21 straight bouts, and tied Joe Louis with 27 total heavyweight championship fights. He is 25-2 in those, while Louis was 26-1.
The low point for the 39-year-old Klitschko came in the tenth round, when he was penalised a point for holding. Jennings complained before the fight about that tactic, and referee Mike Griffin paid attention.
“Every time I started working, he held me,” Jennings said. “When he was holding I was hitting him to the body. I must have hit him with about 100 body shots, not that much to the head, though.
“I felt the margin should have been much closer.”
It wasn’t in large part because Klitschko started well, keeping Jennings so off-balance that the challenger often lost any technique and threw some wild prayers. None of those came close to being answered.
Klitschko won all but the ninth and tenth rounds on judge Max DeLuca’s card – and the tenth was when he had the point deducted. Robin Taylor gave Jennings the third, sixth and seventh. Steve Weisfeld saw the third, sixth and ninth in Jennings’ favour.
The champion’s main weapons were his jab and straight right. Indeed, he landed more than 80 jabs and rocked Jennings with a terrific right-left combination in the fourth.
Undeterred, Jennings defiantly shouted at Klitschko in the fifth, as if challenging Klitschko to hit harder and more often.
“It didn’t feel like it looked,” Jennings said. “Every time he went for something big, I maneuvered.”
Not enough, clearly.
The loss shouldn’t deter Jennings all that much – his promoter, Gary Shaw, said: “His stock rose. He made a lot of new fans for sure and the other fighters out there now know there’s another heavyweight.”
Klitschko is not another heavyweight, of course. There are two other undefeated Americans out there, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, who could be on his horizon. He’s so popular in Europe, where all of his fights had been since his last appearance at the Garden, that he could head back there for his next defence.
But there is an allure to the Garden for Klitschko.
“I feel great to be back after a seven-year break,” Klitschko said. “Fans from all over the world also love to come to the States and see the fight at the Garden. It was a great experience.”