IBO title can’t spoil Throwback Tennyson

James Tennyson is the antidote to all boxing’s ailments.

Tennyson has proved the one name Irish fans can drop when the casual critics or those divorced from the sport begin to list all that’s wrong with the game in its current guise.

‘it’s all padded records these days’

‘no-one looks to go the traditional route anymore’

‘one loss and you’re done’

‘unless you come into the sport with an Olympic medal or a big YouTube channel you’ve no chance’

‘to get any reward or secure a big fight you have to a Conor McGregor impersonator’

‘the sport is full of defensive stylists without any notion of trying to entertain’

Take your pick and if tasked with defending boxing in the ‘game’s gone’ debate, the simple and winning Irish response is ‘what about Tenny?’

Here is a fighter who has bounced back from being stopped three times – and the first time was against a 2-64 journeyman. Tennyson has shared the ring with the likes of Martin J Ward, Tevin Farmer, Ryan Doyle, Declan Geraghty, Ryan Walsh, Gavin Gwynne, Atif Shafiq and so on at appropriate stages of his career.

The 27-year-old has progressed through the ranks at three weights, winning Irish, BBBofC Celtic, Commonwealth, British and European straps along the way – plus an assortment of governing body trinkets.

Not to mention Tennyson would be the least assuming fighter in a room packed with boxing’s 100 most unassuming characters, something made more impressive by the fact he has one of the most rip-roaring approaches in the sport today.

The MHD banger doesn’t do smack talk and has gone his entire career dropping less names than Rob Kearney did high balls, nevermind going the call-out route. He has also earned his passage to big TV nights working his way through the small hall circuit, grafting to sell tickets and building a fan base the good ‘aul fashioned ‘hard way’.

All things that should make him appeal to fans, particularly to the old school disgruntled fans missing the characters of yesteryear. Granted there is room for the more brash and flash operators but, equally, you need the silent assassins and everyday men like Tenny who love nothing more than to just fight.

And there’s the thing – Tennyson can fight!

‘The Irish GGG’ has all these casual appealing qualities and delivers entertainment like no other in the ring. Tennyson is more seek and destroy than a scud missile, he doesn’t go into the ring to outfox opponents, he goes in to dominate and take them out.

The former world title challenger hasn’t been brought the distance since 2016 and only three of his 28 wins have come by way of points. Take into account his three defeats have come by stoppage and here is a fighter that can all but guarantee someone will hit the canvas in his fights.

What’s not to like? Well… to see him getting criticised for fighting for the IBO world title next time out it makes the heart sink.

Of all the complaints listed previous, we left out the the number one, the pound-for-pound problem according to the fight fan when it comes to boxing. Too Many Belts.

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘too many belts’ delivered in that ‘the youth of today’ roll your eyes tone, or sent into earshot with real anti-VAR style venom.

Interim titles, ranking titles galore, diamond belts, franchise belts, new governing bodies and their new straps and so it continues. It’s so frustrating for the fight fan and ultimately damaging for the sport. So damaging, promoters will often bemoan the current lay of the title land, point to the fact it has helped the rise of UFC, but still a week later put on an International Masters European Pan Asian World title in recess fight.

It just provides fans and critics with a stick to beat the sport with – and as a result, it’s the reason we are disappointed to see the forced fanfare surrounding James Tennyson’s IBO world title fight on May 1st with very-decent-but-not-world-class Mexican Jovanni Straffon.

For the first time some reputational mud can be thrown the way of the old-school fight followers poster boy and he has become a vaccine with potential complications rather than the out-and-out cure.

We have to admit we do understand some of the logic behind ‘Tenny’ fighting for the title. It does impress sponsors and may increase his earning potential – and we don’t think fans so much disagree with the trading leather for any belt, their issue is more about promoters trying to fool them into thinking it’s a legitimate title.

Fight fans – and despite arguments to the contrary, even casuals – are well aware it’s not one of the big four and to try suggest otherwise just makes fans feel disrespected.

The ‘dream come through’ and ‘bringing the world title home’ approach, which we doubt are Tennyson’s personal feelings, prompts mass eye-rolling. Fans don’t buy it and thus rather than have a positive effect it has a negative effect not just for the fighter but the sport.

The arguments for the IBO batted away as easily as Tenny bats away British-level opposition.

‘Big names have fought for it before’Yes, but it was tacked on alongside legitimate titles

‘Sure the WBO didn’t used to be recognised’ Yes but it is now. The IBO has made no progress towards becoming legitimate in the past ten years

‘The IBO rankings are computerised and fairer’This is the IBO#10 and the IBO#46. The IBO aren’t some statistical standard-bearer

‘Sure the WBA and WBC are a mess’Yes they are but fans know who the real champions are there

There is genuine frustration and the ire but in this case we don’t think it should be pointed the way of the fighter. As pointed out, Tennyson has done everything right up and until this stage and remains one of the planet’s most entertaining fighters to watch.

His fighting style and violent approach will still be on display come May 1st and fans can enjoy the fight for what it really is – another step on the road to a world title. There is plenty of learning and road to cover too. Tennyson still hasn’t faced a Top 50 (going by BoxRec) lightweight. It’s going to be a fun journey, don’t pretend the destination is reached when you beat Mexico’s eighth-best at the weight.

We understand ‘Tenny’ could have fought on May 1st without the controversial fan annoying strap and that support would have still been there and, considering his style, quite possibly grown but we don’t think the fighter should bare the brunt of the criticism for a promotional decision.

It’s an odd decision at that, too. This appears to be the first men’s IBO title fight on a Matchroom UK card (excluding those where the IBO belt was one of a number of straps on the line).

What appears to have happened was Matchroom wanted a momentum surging Tennyson fight on the big PPV card. A fight that would grab Katie Taylor fans attention and help propel the Belfast fighter toward genuine stardom and a hometown headline act. Veteran Ricky Burns was meant to be the big name dance partner to attract extra eyes but that fight fell through.

Regrettably, rather than just admit it’s bad luck and a tough Mexican has been brought it, the promotional outfit sought out some narrative for the bout – and thus we ended up with a counter-productive IBO world title fight.

It’s frustrating and not a fan-friendly move.

However, the bottom line is Tennyson remains an entertaining watch, is riding on the crest of a wave and developing into a Sky Sports Matchroom name. He is a fighter that fans are tuning in to watch and a puncher they are keen to follow. He has Eddie Hearn, one of the world’s biggest promoters, comparing him to Gennady Golovkin and is being called the biggest puncher in a lightweight division that is aspiring towards a ‘Four Kings’ scenario.

If he maintains support and momentum he will bring boxing back to Belfast and could have secure a real world title fight and enjoy genuine real world title success.

Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: editoririshboxing@gmail.com

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