From Pavels Senkovs to a World Title shot – James Tennyson took the road less travelled

By Jonny Stapleton
‘Told you so’ quipped a number of the Irish boxing family who seemed disgruntled that the James Tennyson hype train had been pulling out of the station.

The Belfast fighter just had his duck egg smashed to pieces by a fighter with a dismally poor 2-64-5 record.

Pavels Senkovs came to town and was meant to allow the then Irish featherweight champion to glisten under the bright lights for the first time.

However, the Latvian had other ideas and inflicted shock stoppage defeat on a the fighter who was so young his ‘Assassin’ ring moniker still had ‘Babyface’ preceding it.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. Having worked hard to build a reputation on the small hall circuit, trading leather in claustrophobic venues like the Holiday Inn, St Kevin’s Hall, Fairways Hotel and even ‘Rivals Gym’ in Budapest, Tennyson was finally afforded a chance on a big stage.

James Tennyson

October 19th 2013 was the mini reward, the next step on the ladder.

The MHD fighter was set to grace the Odyssey Arena for the first time as part of a Carl Frampton undercard. While the opposition wouldn’t do much for his ranking or standing, the occasion would afford Tennyson to announce himself to a wider audience and take steps to becoming a mainstay on ‘Jackal’ undercards where he could develop into a star of the fight mad city.

However, Senkovs literally punched holes in the script, stopping the prospect after 41 seconds of the second of a scheduled six round contest.

The fighter, his team, his loyal following, and the majority of the Irish fight family were gutted, but there were a few who delighted in the result.

Not that they wanted to see the Belfast Kronk fighter hurt or fail, rather they wanted to add credence to claims the media were getting to excited about a fighter who they loved to argue wasn’t as talented as others from the city around the weight.

Natural talent Anthony Cacace was said to be the one to watch, while Marco McCullough according to some of the doubters would go further.

By all accounts Senkovs was the beginning of the end for the Tony Dunlop-trained fighter.

However, five years and one day after some suggested it was all over James Tennyson will be stepping through the ropes on a massive American card to challenge for the IBF world title.

It’s a turnaround of massive proportions and if TJ Doheny, who became world champion #21 for this small island with victory in Japan earlier this month, is the hope posterboy for fighters without massive promotional backing, Tennyson should be their idol.

The old-school fighter turned new star is the ultimate ‘had to do it the hard way’ success story. Not only did he build from humble beginnings, competing on cards that got little press outside the boxing media circle never mind TV – but he had to come back from a heavy stoppage defeat suffered at the gloves of a fighter whose record wouldn’t scare a white collar fighter.

Consider Tennyson is just 25, its remains early days for him career wise but already he has had a career to be admired and celebrated. The Poleglass puncher’s innings to date is  testament that big promotional backing isn’t always needed to achieve boxing stardom.

While Tennyson’s talents, punching power, dedication, patience, and bouncebackability more than played a part to propelling to world level and 12 rounds away from being a permanent part of the Irish history books, credit has to go to his team and in particular Mark Dunlop, who has managed him superbly.

Dunlop, who also looks after recent British title challenger Paul Hyland as well another comeback kid Ronnie Clark, helped rebuild the power-laden super feather taking chances at the right time and ensuring his charge made the most of them.

Less than a year after the supposed career damaging stoppage defeat Tennyson was outpointing British dangerman Ian Bailey on the top of another small hall bill. two fights later and the BBBofC Celtic title was wrapped around the Belfast fighter’s waist after victory over former Frampton foe Kris Hughes.

That win paved the way for the British title shot, although Tenny had to secure three more small hall wins before before challenging Ryan Walsh for the featherweight Lonsdale strap.

James Tenny

A second stoppage defeat came in that fight – and while it didn’t look as bad due to the level of opponent and Tennyson’s obvious struggles to make the weight, the doubting voices were out again – albeit less vocal.

Another rebuild was needed but more risks would have to be taken at this stage. 11 months later Team Tennyson decided to return to TV and fought renowned stylist Declan Geraghty live on BoxNation and the risk reaped massive reward. The soon to be world title challenger became a two-time Irish champion by stopping the former elite amateur using tactics that may just be perfect for Farmer.

Still people debated why Tennyson was chosen by Matchroom to populate Ryan Burnett undercards. Some called for fighters they argued had more potential to draw big support and reach world level.

The quietly-spoken fighter did his talking in the ring and roared back at to those who questioned him by having his hand raised after entertaining stoppage defeats of Ryan Doyle and Darren Traynor on cards which he and his stablemate Hyland showed their ticket selling capabilities.

Tennyson, who turned pro in his teens, was back on the big fight radar and after agreeing to face the hyped Matchroom-backed European Martin J Ward again some argued it was a step too far and predicted that, at 24, Tennyson would be facing a third career salvaging following the May clash.

tennyson

The rebuild architects started to draft those plans when Ward dropped the Belfast man with a body shot in the second – only for Tennyson to recover a-la Hulk Hogan mid ‘Hulking Up’.

There was no vest to be ripped off but Tenny did tear Ward apart and eventually stopped the unbeaten fighter to register one of the most dramatic and entertaining wins for an Irish fighter in recent memory and the respected EBU European title.

The win proved Dunlop’s decision to turn down the chance to travel to a Mexican bull ring and challenge WBC champ Miguel Berchelt on short notice in February was the right one.

Choosing to go for a lesser title, albeit for more money, and backing himself, Tennyson has now set himself up for a bigger title fight in better circumstances – a chance very few predicted Tennyson would get after that infamous defeat to a journey man.

It’s not quite rags to riches but Tennyson has taken the road less travelled to world level. Indeed, the road he has had to take has been laden with the type of struggles and traps Indiana Jones had to overcome but now the puncher is in touching distance of the Holy Grail.

Secure victory against Farmer and the path doesn’t just get smoother but becomes paved with gold.

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Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie