Although there will be two men in the ring at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Saturday, when heavyweights Mike Perez and Bryant Jennings engage in a WBC title eliminator bout, much of the storyline will center on whether or not Perez is “mentally ready” for the bout.
For in returning to the Garden, Perez (20-0-1, 12 knockouts) is back where, two fights ago, his brutal 10-round unanimous decision on Nov. 2 left Magomed “Mago” Abdusalamov in a medically-induced coma.
Perez is coming off a shaky and disputed draw with Carlos Takam on January 18 in Montreal, one that took place when “there was enough time from the last fight” with Abdusalamov, the Cuban boxer has admitted.
“This one has the look of a real 50/50 fight with the winner putting himself in the shop window,” said Anson Wainwright of RingTV.com. “Mike Perez looked tentative against Carlos Takam last time out. I’m sure there were some understandable hang-ups from what happened to Magomed Abdusalamov.”
In addition, Perez will face perhaps his difficult task to date against Jennings (18-0, 10 KOs), with the winner becoming the mandatory challenger to that between WBC titleholder Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder, which has yet to be scheduled.
“Bryant Jennings might not be the knockout artist many fans prefer in the heavyweight division but the athletic, cerebral contender has a diverse set of skills,” said Keith Idec, of The Record.
“That’ll enable him to earn Mike Perez’s respect when they trade…Each probably represents the stiffest test of the other’s career, which should make for a very competitive fight.”
RingTV.com sought the opinions of 17 boxing insiders as to what will transpire in Jennings-Perez and their votes are as follows.
Bryant Jennings UD 12 Mike Perez: Bryant Jennings is the best young heavyweight in the world. This is a chance to confirm to the world that he is ready for the next level. Mike Perez is right there with him.
But a huge question remains whether Perez is physically and mentally 100 percent or if the aftermath of the Magomed Abdusalamov fight still has a lingering effect. Either way, I like Jennings to take a decision whether by boxing or slugging.
Record: 13-5 [Last pick: Saul Alvarez UD 12 Erislandy Lara]
Mike Perez TKO 8 Bryant Jennings: The biggest question is about Mike Perez. Is his heart still in it? It’s impossible to know, perhaps even for him. He was tentative in getting a lucky draw against Carlos Takam in his first bout since putting Magomed Abdusalamov in critical condition.
If Perez is back to being the heavyweight we have seen, Bryant Jennings could be in for a tough night. Perez, a former Cuban amateur, possesses box-and-punch versatility and know-how. There’s power in the southpaw’s left hand.
Jennings could confuse him with lateral movement and a high-punching rate but he has yet to encounter anybody with Perez’s mix of complementary skills. It all depends on which Perez shows up.
Record: 16-5 [Last pick: Alvarez SD 12 Lara]
Bryant Jennings UD 10 Mike Perez: It might not be so obvious, but Mike Perez wasn’t the only heavyweight to lose something of value on the night he battered Magomed Abdusalamov into a near-death coma.
While Abdusalamov slowly heals from head injuries, life as an up-and-coming heavyweight contender has not exactly gone according to plan for “Irish Mike” and his backers.
Never really expected to beat Abdusalamov in the first place, the rudderless Cuban defector then survived a close encounter (and a bad headbutt) against the unknown Carlos Takam, escaping with a draw but losing valuable momentum.
In Jennings, Perez will face a fresh “Philly fighter” on the rise to bigger and better things. Perez should be able to make it competitive with his crafty style but he’ll be outworked and out-hustled by a faithful fighter more in charge of his own destiny. It’s “By-By” Jennings by decision.
Record: 14-7 [Last pick: Alvarez UD 12 Lara]
Mike Perez UD 12 Bryant Jennings: I’ve gone both ways on this one. Mike Perez looked ordinary against Carlos Takam the last time out and most felt he was very lucky to get the majority draw.
Bryant Jennings has ticked all the boxes but if he faces a Perez who is on all cylinders, then this is, by far, the toughest test of his career. I think Perez is ready for this one and Jennings will fall slightly short.
Record: 16-5 [Last pick: Alvarez UD 12 Lara]
Bryant Jennings UD 12 Mike Perez: We’ve learned that Mike Perez’s high-octane attack vs. Magomed Abdusalamov was a result of Abdusalamov forcing a hot pace. When left to his own devices, Perez likes a slow, pedestrian fight where he has time to think and maneuver.
If he’s attacked, he’ll go with the flow but he won’t seize the initiative. Bryant Jennings, on the other hand, will. He’s accurate, persistent and proactive, the latter of which will make the difference on the scorecards.
Record: 10-4 [Last pick: Alvarez UD 12 Lara]
Bryant Jennings UD 12 Mike Perez: Bryant Jennings might not be the knockout artist many fans prefer in the heavyweight division but the athletic, cerebral contender has a diverse set of skills that’ll enable him to earn Mike Perez’s respect when they trade and outbox the Cuban southpaw at times. Each probably represents the stiffest test of the other’s career, which should make for a very competitive fight.
Record: 8-1 [Last pick: Alvarez TKO 10 Lara]
Bryant Jennings UD Mike Perez: I like to see a match-up of two undefeated up-and-comers anytime and in the moribund heavyweight division, you hope that it might be really meaningful. Truth is, I don’t see either of these guys as special and I don’t think either is the future of the heavyweight division.
Bryant Jennings is a very good athlete and still getting better. His left jab is good and with an 84-inch reach. He should be more busy than he is at times and his attempts at finishing fights are sometimes quite sloppy.
That long jab, though, should be used to quite good effect and will be the difference in this fight. I think Mike Perez is plenty brave with a good spirit in the ring but it wont be enough in this one. Distance fight, not particularly scintillating, and Jennings takes the decision.
Record: 15-6 [Last pick: Alvarez W 12 Lara]
Mike Perez UD 12 Bryant Jennings: Even as I double-check their records and their videos, I think I am being generous by giving Bryant Jennings a chance to survive 12 rounds against Mike Perez. Jennings has decent ability and power but Perez is much stronger and resilient and I’d be very surprised if he fails to stop Jennings or give him a solid beating.
Record: 4-2 [Last pick: Alvarez W 12 Lara]
Bryant Jennings W 12 Mike Perez: Now this is a pick to study. We got a horse race here. This is what I don’t get paid for. Only my rep is on the line. While I don’t find either man extraordinary, by modern standards, they can fight.
I don’t think either is a ball of fire but given that Bryant Jennings is somewhat – it’s all relative – more purposeful in his approach, he’ll keep Mike Perez on the defensive.
While the Cuban can box, has a decent jab and is a southpaw, all that won’t be enough to overcome Jennings’ consistency and the Philadelphian does just enough to pull out a close decision.”
Record: 11-2 [Last pick: Alvarez W 12 Lara]
Bryant Jennings W 12 Mike Perez: Bryant Jennings’ legs should provide the difference in his fight with fellow undefeated heavyweight Mike Perez. Jennings is a boxer-puncher with fast hands.
Perez likes to use his strength and push his opponents into the ropes. Unless he gets caught with a powerful punch, I see Jennings using the ring and boxing his way to a decision victory over Perez.
Record: 15-6 [Last pick: Alvarez W 12 Lara]
Bryant Jennings W 12 Mike Perez: I like Bryant Jennings. I think he’s sort of an underrated heavyweight. Mike Perez is good but nothing great and he was lucky to get the win in his last fight. Jennings comes to fight and he comes in shape, every time. Perez doesn’t. That should be the difference in a rare, well-matched heavyweight encounter.
Record: 15-4 [Last pick: Alvarez W 12 Lara]
Bryant Jennings W 12 Mike Perez: I like Bryant Jennings to outwork the Cuban, Mike Perez here and to show off an underrated jab in doing so. There should be reasons to like both guys in a fun fight.
Record: 10-10 [Last pick: Lara W 12 Alvarez]
Bryant Jennings SD 12 Mike Perez: Who knows if Mike Perez will ever get over the psychological challenges he suffered in the Magomed Abdusalamov fight. While he is a solid fighter, there is more upside with Bryant Jennings, who has gotten better with each fight.
There could be a flash knockdown, some rounds will be close and there will be some very good exchanges. I’m leaning towards Jennings getting the posit nod in this fight.
Record: 3-0 [Last pick: Alvarez W 12 Lara]
Bryant Jennings KO 6 Mike Perez: This fight only ends one way – someone gets stopped. I think Bryant Jennings has a little bit too much defense for Mike Perez for how little defense may be shown in this fight. Jennings stops Perez in what could be a rock ’em-sock ’em affair.
Record: 9-0 [Last pick: Alvarez KO 10 Lara]
Bryant Jennings UD 12 Mike Perez: Both men have fought in the Garden theater before but for Mike Perez, it could still be haunting with the Magomed Abdusalamov tragedy there still fairly fresh in his mind.
It bothered him in his last fight, a draw that definitely was not his finest moment. I have a feeling it could bother him this time as well. Bryant Jennings has the edge in quickness and will outbox Perez to win a unanimous decision in this eliminator.
Record: 10-4 [Last pick: Lara SD 12 Alvarez]
Bryant Jennings UD 12 Mike Perez: Bryant Jennings may very well be the best American heavyweight we have today. And this Saturday, he will have the opportunity to prove himself to the Americans and the world.
Mike Perez was making headlines when he went toe-to-toe with and decisioned the Russian brawler Magomed Abdusalamov over 10 heated rounds. Unfortunately, Abdusalamov suffered tragic injuries.
The fight with Abdusalamov appeared to have carried over, mentally, into Perez’s subsequent draw against Carlos Takam. Could Perez be exhibiting his human nature of compassion, not wanting to hurt his adversary? If so, this could spell trouble. But I believe Perez understands it’s in the past and will engage and that could very well be his downfall.
Record: 14-5 [Last pick: Alvarez W 12 Lara]
Bryant Jennings W 12 Mike Perez: This one has the look of a real 50/50 fight with the winner putting himself in the shop window. Mike Perez looked tentative against Carlos Takam last time out. I’m sure there were some understandable hang-ups from what happened to Magomed Abdusalamov. I see Bryant Jennings winning a hard-fought decision on points.
Record: 13-5 [Last pick: Alvarez W 12 Lara]
By a majority of 14-to-3, the insiders favor Bryant Jennings to take Mike Perez in Saturday’s WBC heavyweight title eliminator bout.