Bryant Jennings vs. Mike Perez: Preview and Prediction for Heavyweight Bout

Kevin McRaeFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2014

Bryant Jennings vs. Mike Perez: Preview and Prediction for Heavyweight Bout

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Bryant Jennings and Mike Perez will meet as the co-featured bout on the Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Geale undercard on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, and the winner will take a big step toward legitimate contender status in the heavyweight division.

    Jennings is undefeated in his four years as a professional, and he's frequently mentioned among the top American heavyweight prospects. He won his last fight—at the Theater at Madison Square Garden—by battering and stopping Artur Szpilka in Round 10.

    Perez, likewise, is undefeated, but he comes into this fight off a surprising draw against Carlos Takam this past January. It was his first fight since a victory over Magomed Abdusalamov left his foe fighting for life. Against Takam, he looked noticeably less aggressive and was lucky to escape with a draw in a fight some felt he lost.

    Jennings vs. Perez is a huge showdown, and the winner will take a big step forward in the heavyweight division. Read on for your complete preview and prediction.

Tale of the Tape

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    All stats and information per BoxRec.com.

     Bryant JenningsMike Perez
    Record18-0, 10 KO20-0-1, 12 KO
    Age2928
    Height6'2"6'1"
    Weight225 (last fight)231.25 (last fight)
    Reach84"Unlisted
    StanceOrthodoxSouthpaw
    HometownPhiladelphia, PennsylvaniaCiego de Avila, Cuba
    Rounds9088
    Last FightTKO 10 Artur Szpilka (1/25/14)D 12 Carlos Takem (1/18/14)

Main Storylines

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    Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    Jennings began his fighting career in his hometown of Philadelphia—even fighting at the famed Blue Horizon—and cut his teeth with a few fights televised by NBC Sports. He’s beaten a notable fighter or two, but he largely flew under the radar before appearing on HBO in January on a Mikey Garcia undercard.

    The 29-year-old doesn’t get as much attention as another notable American heavyweight prospect—possibly because he doesn’t have near as much power as Deontay Wilder—but he has great boxing skill and can take a big step up with a win on Saturday.

    Jennings was impressive in knocking out the previously unbeaten Szpilka earlier this year, but this has to be considered a step-up fight, and a win in this WBC eliminator would go a long way toward a title shot.

    Perez needs a big rebound win in order to show that he’s still the same fighter as the guy who went to war in the ring against Abdusalamov. He didn’t seem to be that guy against Takam—some speculated that was due to the tragic circumstances of his last fight—and that’s a dangerous thing for a fighter.

    Abdusalamov very nearly died from his injuries—he was placed in a medically induced coma, had a stroke and has since begun to show improvement—sustained in a brutal fight, and Perez was noticeably less aggressive the next time out.

    Perez has some significant upside, like Jennings, but he needs to make sure and prove that his heart is still in the game.

Strengths

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    Jennings has come a long way for a fighter who only took up the sport about five years ago. He comes from the rugged, blue-collar school of Philadelphia fighters, and you can see that influence in his style of attack.

    He’s a very athletic fighter, has a long reach and uses his speed to fight at a brisk pace, often outworking and wearing down his opponents.

    Jennings attacks to the body more than many heavyweights, and that’s a pretty underrated characteristic.

    Perez is a former Cuban amateur standout, and he’s best known for being a slick, southpaw boxer who can also punch a bit.

    He has good hand and foot speed for a man of his size, and he has big, sneaky power in his left hand. If you're not careful, or you underestimate him, he can make you pay.

    Perez can box and he can punch, and if he’s right, that makes him both an exciting and tricky fighter.

Weaknesses

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Jennings relies on his activity and high-volume punching to wear down his opponents, but he doesn’t have one-punch power. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have power—he has stopped his last four opponents—just that he isn’t going to blow you out with one punch.

    As a fighter who relies so much on his activity and ability to press forward and control the action, Jennings could struggle against a boxer like Perez who can also punch a bit. We’ve never seen him in the ring with this quality a fighter.

    When he’s on his game, Perez can really crack, and Jennings' chin hasn’t really been tested.

    Perez was extremely fortunate to emerge with a draw against Takam and it’s possible he just had a bad night, but it’s also possible he’s just not the same fighter post-Abdusalamov.

    That type of tragedy has to take a toll on a fighter. Some guys are able to emerge and move forward—Sergey Kovalev is one such example—but others are just never able to put their foot on the gas pedal again.

    Perez seemed to lack focus against Takam, and his trainer, Abel Sanchez, didn’t pull any punches when he pointed out that his fighter needed a lot of convincing to get past the Abdusalamov fight. He just didn’t look like his head was in the game, and that can be very dangerous for a fighter.

Bryant Jennings Will Win If...

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Jennings needs to fight aggressively in order to beat Perez. There are some serious questions about whether or not the Cuban’s heart is still in the game, and the Philadelphian would be wise to come out of the gate fast and strong.

    Against Takam, Perez was able to get off to a good—albeit boring—start, but he really struggled over the second half of the fight as his opponent got aggressive and landed the harder shots. Even when Perez was doing well, he looked passive and reluctant to attack.

    Jennings needs to put his stamp on this one early and check whether or not Perez really wants to be there. He should attack, particularly to the body, because nothing discourages a foe better than big shots coming early and often.

    The one thing that he’ll need to guard against is Perez’s power. The Cuban hits much harder than his 12 knockouts in 20 wins would indicate, and there’s no need to get sloppy and caught.

    Jennings' volume and better overall boxing ability should be enough, as long as he fights the way he knows how.

Mike Perez Will Win If...

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Perez can’t be passive if he expects to walk out of Madison Square Garden with his undefeated record intact. He dodged a bullet, albeit narrowly and not without some question, against Takam and probably won’t be so lucky against Jennings.

    It’s extremely difficult for a fighter to come back from the circumstances of the Abdusalamov fight. Perez, who went toe-to-toe for 10 rounds on that night, didn’t seem like he wanted to engage with Takam, allowing him to seize the initiative and nearly the fight.

    Perez needs to box effectively and not be afraid to let his hands go with mean intentions. Jennings is going to throw punches in bunches all night long. That’s just his game, and Perez needs to be the boxer, making him miss and making him pay.

    The Cuban definitely has the power and boxing ability to use Jennings’ aggression against him, but he can’t be afraid to pull the trigger.

    If he fights like the man who stepped through the ropes against Abdusalamov, he has an excellent chance of getting back on track.

    But if not, he could be in some trouble.

And the Winner Will Be...

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Maybe it was an off-night or an opponent who was better than advertised, but Perez just looked like a different fighter in his first bout post-Abdusalamov.

    When Abdusalamov attacked and pressured him, Perez fired right back, engaging in a brutal war that he took over down the stretch run. When Takam attacked, Perez retreated and wasn’t willing to come back at him with mean intentions.

    Boxing is a brutal sport, and unfortunately, sometimes fighters get hurt in the ring. It’s just the nature of the game. And Perez might never be able to get over it.

    Jennings is very athletic, moves around the ring well and will be on top of Perez all night. He’ll attack him to the midsection, zapping some of his power and wearing him down.

    Perez just won’t be able, at this point, to compete with his work rate, and he won’t be able to do the things necessary to force him backward.

    This is still a tight, competitive fight, and had it happened before Perez met Abdusalamov, the result might have been different.

    Jennings' volume will be the difference in the closing rounds, and he’ll capture a somewhat close but comfortable unanimous decision.

    Prediction: Jennings UD 12 Perez (116-112)