Number One – James Tennyson closes in on World Title shot


James Tennyson [22(18)-2(2)] is moving ever closer to a shot at a world title as he puts down roots in Belfast.

On a day when it was confirmed that the European and Commonwealth super featherweight champion had extended his management contact with Mark Dunlop, he has also bumped up to number one in the WBA’s 130lbs world rankings.

The elevation was expected, with last month’s number one, Ghanaian Rafael Mensah, having been defeated and dropping to #6.

24-year-old Tennyson, who has defended the WBA International rankings title twice since winning it versus Ryan Doyle last Summer, is now in pole position for a world title shot but this is where things get confusing.

Currently there are two men who claim to be the WBA champion – American Gervonta Davis [20(16)-0] who holds the ‘Super’ belt and Puerto Rican Alberto Machado [20(19)-0] who holds the ‘World’ or ‘Regular’ title.

In the vast majority of cases, the ‘Super’ champion is seen as the organisation’s real champion but in this case there is a degree of nuance.

Panamanian Jezreel Corrales held the ‘Super’ belt at the start of last year and, in October, was due to defend versus Machado. The Central American missed weight for this bout and lost his belt on the scales. However, with the fight still going ahead, rather than the ‘Super’ title being on the line for Machado, a ‘Regular’ belt last fought for by Jason Sosa in 2016 was revived and put on the line – which was duly won by the Caribbean fighter courtesy of an eighth-round knockout.

With the WBA having stated that they were striving to get rid of their much-maligned policy of having multiple beltholders at each weight, Machado was regarded as ‘the’ champion coming into this year.

The waters, as always, were then muddied as a new ‘Super’ title was created to allow lucrative American Davis, who had held the IBF title but lost it on the scales, fight for a major belt. The Baltimore phenom, who most would agree is a superior fighter to Machado, duly destroyed Argentine Jesus Cuellar in April.

An undesirable and rather unique situation, the current WBA super featherweight landscape is one of the few instances where both fighters could be considered legitimate champions.

For the moment, however, this is all ahead of Tennyson as the Poleglass puncher first faces a mandatory defence of the European title he won versus Martin J Ward in May.

‘The Assassin’ is set to defend his continental belt versus Frenchman Samir Ziani [28(5)-3(0)-1] in a bout that will be promoted by Eddie Hearn and will be officially announced next week – with a date in September being the likely destination.

From Blagnac in the South of France, 28-year-old Ziani is a two-time national champion, never losing the belt in the ring. His three defeats have come to strong opposition, being narrowly outpointed by countrymen Samir Kasmi, which he avenged, and Guillaume Frenois for the EU and European titles respectively as well as losing a close decision in Denmark to former world title challenger Richard Commey.

Going by the rankings movements, the defence against Ziani could well be Tennyson’s final hurdle before a world title shot.

Commending his fighter on reaching the summit of the WBA rankings, Mark Dunlop said that “James Tennyson at eighteen unselfishly gave up a glittering amateur career to support his family and chase his dream, his determination and resilience has been colossal, he never gives up and he deserves every success.”

Trainer Tony Dunlop added that “every young boxer should take note of James Tennyson, what he has achieved the hard way is
the mark of a great champion, he is twenty four, an age when many consider going professional James has the world at his feet.

The WBA super featherweight rankings in full are:
1 – James Tennyson (Ireland)
2 – Rene Alvarado (Nicaragua)
3 – Ricardo Nunez (Panama)
4 – Bryan Vasquez (Costa Rica)
5 – Carlos Morales (Mexico)
6 – Rafael Mensah (Ghana)
7 – Jesus Andres Cuellar (Argentina)
8 – Jezreel Corrales (Panama)
9 – Ryan Garcia (USA)
10 – Yuriorkis Gamboa (Cuba)
11 – Francisco Vargas (Mexico)
12 – Andrew Cancio (USA)
13 – Akzhol Sulaimanbek (Russia)
14 – Yohan Vasquez (Dominican Republic)
15 – Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov (Tajikistan)

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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