NEW YORK – Bryant Jennings said he didn’t know much about Artur Szpilka and he didn’t think much of him before they met in the ring at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
As arrogant as it sounded, Bryant was correct. And he proved it by beating Szpilka all over the ring before scoring a TKO victory at 2:27 of the 10th round.
“Szpilka is a tough guy to hit because he’s a left-hander and he’s slick,’’ Jennings said. “The fight started off slow. I was off for a while, but I can’t use rust as an excuse. When I came into the fight I was looking to win by decision, but this is an extra bonus winning by TKO.’’
Bryant (18-0, 10 KOs), an undefeated Philadelphia heavyweight and one of the brightest U.S. championship contenders, had no real reason to be concerned about Szpilka, who honed his brawling skills as a soccer hooligan in Poland. Other than two maulings of Chicago bruiser Mike Mollo and a decision against journeyman Brian Minto, there was little on Szpilka’s resume to raise any alarms.
However, a large and vocal contingent of Polish fans, waving red and white banners, sang and chanted Szpilka’s name, letting Bryant know that Szpilka wasn’t that anonymous. Heck, U.S. Customs knew who he was. They wouldn’t let him into the country when he first landed in New York from Poland because his visa had expired. They put him on a return flight back to Poland until he could get the proper documentation. It hardly seemed worth the frequent flier miles.
“He got me with the body shots. They were the things that hurt me and wore me down," said Szpilka. "I could feel his strength was much stronger than mine. I feel like I let everybody down. I thought I was ready for the big fights. I’m still young and I’ll be back.’’
Szpilka was not very busy through the first couple of rounds. He spent much of the time trying to gauge the speed and power of Jennings’ shots. Jennings rattled Szpilka late in the first round with a quick left-right combination right down the middle.
Jennings found a home for most of the punches that he threw. Szpilka’s defense left much to be desired. Add to that a spotty offense and it wasn’t a good night for Szpilka. Jennings dropped him in the sixth round with a left to the stomach. Szpilka got up at the count of five, but you could tell the shot took more than the wind out of him.
Bryant brought matters to a close in the final round, sending Szpilka spilling into the bottom ropes with a hard left to the jaw. Szpilka, who was sitting on the third rope with his arms draped across the second rope, managed to get up and beat the count. But Bryant pounced on him and began pummeling him again, driving him into the corner of the ring. Referee Mike Ortega was slow stepping in and stopped the fight as Dr. Barry Jordan, the NYSAC chief neurologist jumped on the ring apron waving it off.
The NYSAC is cautious since Magomed Abdusalamov, a Russian heavyweight, sustained a brain injury in his 10-round loss to Mike Perez in the very same ring in November. Abdusalamov suffered a blood clot on the brain and was in a coma for over a month. He is now recovering in a New York rehabilitation center.
Bryant said he doesn’t know what’s next for him.
“I’ll sit down with my promoters and we’ll figure it out,’’ he said.
In key undercard matches Sean Monaghan (20-0, 13 KOs), a light heavyweight contender from Long Beach, NY, scored a surprising TKO victory against when Matt Vanda (45-16 24 KOs) of St. Paul, Minn., tore his left biceps muscle at the fight was stopped at 2:51 of the first round … Philadelphia super middleweight Jesse Hart (12-0, 10 KOs) scored a six-round unanimous decision over Derrick Findley (20-12-1, 13 KOs) of Gary, Ind … Lightweight Felix Verdejo (10-0, 7 KOs) of San Juan, Puerto Rico made quick work of Lauro Alcantar (8-1, 1 KO) of Agua Prieta, Mexico with a knockout at 21 seconds of the first round.