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The 13th Round: Old-fashioned James Tennyson a new star

Here at Irish-Boxing.com we occasionally put together a pound-for-pound list based on the BoxRec rankings.

It’s by no means a perfect system and there can be some odd rankings.

One which might seem odd is that James Tennyson [23(19)-2(2)] currently, according to BoxRec, is the Irish pound-for-pound number three behind Carl Frampton and WBA bantamweight champion Ryan Burnett.

However, through BoxRec algorithm or just plain looking at it straight out, it is a position wholly warranted. Since the start of last year, no Irish fighter has strung together as many good wins as ‘The Assassin’ – none more so than his incredible victory over European and Commonwealth super featherweight champion Martin J Ward on Saturday night.

Stoppages over Declan Geraghty, Ryan Doyle, Darren Traynor, and now Ward have seen the Poleglass puncher progress to being one of the premiere stars of Irish boxing.

It’s a not quite a rags to riches story but – like his MHD stablemate Paul Hyland who challenges for the British lightweight title next month – Tennyson has had to wait for his opportunities and has taken them with both gloved up hands.

Turning pro in his teens before even having the opportunity to be honed in the High Performance and with – at that stage – a manager only starting out in the game in Mark Dunlop, Tennyson has come up the old-fashioned way, building on the small halls and taking chances as an away fighter.

Indeed he is old-fashioned in more ways than this. There’s no trash-talk, no big declarations, no flashy shorts – he’s just a nice lad with a punch like a mule’s kick

In an interesting parallel, Tennyson debuted on the same night as his opponent on Saturday, with both punching for pay for the first time on Saturday September 8th 2012. However, while Ward boxed to a win over Kristian Laight on a Matchroom bill in London, an 18-year-old Tennyson – then known as ‘The Baby-Faced Assassin’ – stopped Fikret Remziev in a tiny function room of the old Belfast Holiday Inn.

Since then ‘Tenny’ has fought regularly, taken his chances, and now stands on the verge of a world title shot. Of course, there were setbacks along the way – a shock defeat on a Carl Frampton undercard versus the opportunistic Pavel Senkovs and a British title reverse to Ryan Walsh when he was struggling to make featherweight – but the quiet puncher is better for them.

READ: Loss to Walsh will not kill ‘The Assassin’s’ career (2016)

Tennyson now stands at just 24 years of age holding massive experience, multiple belts, and more memorable domestic fights than many legends of the past. And that’s all without mentioning his style – manager Dunlop wasn’t wrong when he declared him to be Ireland’s most exciting fighter.

The West Belfast boxer has overcome his obstacles, carved himself a place at the top of Irish boxing, and is now undoubtedly the cream of an Irish super featherweight division that includes names such as Declan Geraghty, Anthony Cacace, Jono Carroll, and even Olympic silver medallist John Joe Nevin.

Placed at #2 with the WBA, the organisation’s ‘International’ champion added Ward’s Commonwealth and European titles with a display of grit, power, and killer instinct.

Indeed, having to overcome adversity and being acclimatised to the tough road that can prove the small hall circuit may just have stood to the Tony Dunlop-trained fighter in the biggest fight of his career. Tennyson admits he was in a world of pain when dropped with a perfectly executed body shot in the second round but dug deep and came back firing.

From grimacing on the canvas in the second and absorbing punishing blows to the body in the third to getting on top on the fourth and finishing the job in the fifth, it was a sensational turnaround. It was heart that kept him in he fight but it was calmness and, most importantly power which won it for Tennyson and has many arguing that he is possibly pound-for-pound the biggest puncher in Irish boxing.

He described how the clash, which was the highlight of the Bellew-Haye undercard, was “an amazing fight, a tough battle. He caught me with a body shot which landed deep but I turned it into a dogfight.”

“Heart and determination got me off the floor. It was balls, determination, and plenty of heart. I bit down on the gum-shield and produced the goods and got the win.”

“I knew I had to keep stalking him. It was a real long camp, a real tough camp but it all paid off, I got the decision that I worked hard for and I got the win.”

“There were a lot of people writing me off – but a lot of people supporting me – I couldn’t even describe the feeling, it was amazing, I was overjoyed.”

A night to be savoured, Tennyson could retire now and still have a career which is remembered fondly in decades to come. However, with a European title and a high ranking, there are big fights in the pipeline.

Frenchman Samir Ziani is next up should the continental belt look to be defended – a nice undercard fight for a Ryan Burnett World Boxing Super Series card in September or October perhaps?

That said, Team Tennyson are thinking big and the WBA title is the goal.

An undesirable situation exists currently with two titlists – Gervonta Davis and Alberto Machado – who both have legitimate claims for being considered the WBA’s champion. Without going too deep into the quagmire it is perhaps easiest to acknowledge that the current situation is a quite unique one and that a title fight with either would be considered legitimate as Tennyson seeks to become Ireland’s twenty-first world champion.

The fighter himself isn’t naming names, but noted how “Mark and Eddie will plot the next move out. We’re well up now in the world rankings, we’re #2 with the WBA, we’re knocking on the door now.”

Hearn will be the gateway to the big fights and, while he went into Saturday night gunning for a Ward win, the astute promoter will be pushing Tennyson as best he can now.

The Matchroom boss outlined how “it’s a massive win for James’ career, the opportunities will be aplenty now. He showed big punch power and strength to come back from the knockdown.”

Opportunities aplenty indeed and who knows where Tennyson will find himself in 2020 – at lightweight probably with another half dozen or so major fights under his belt!

It’s certainly been an incredible journey to get to this level and there’s still plenty more to come.


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