Updated: May 17
For a long time, Philadelphia has been a city which breeds the greatest champions and pugilists throughout the history of boxing. Hall of Fame promoter J Russell Peltz once said: “Philadelphia has always been a tough city. There are lots of poor neighbourhoods. I think our boxers are influenced by Philly's history of always having tough fighters. They know what's expected of them.”
Philly fighters always feel a sense of pride for their Philly heritage. “I take the pride of Philadelphia every time I step in the ring,” Danny Garcia said prior to his fight with Errol Spence Jr. In Philadelphia-bred fighter Eric Harding’s rematch against Antonio Tarver, after Harding was floored in the fifth round, Harding rose to beat the count, legs unsteady as can be, and the referee asked if Harding was fit to continue, to which Harding yelled in response: “I’m from Philadelphia.” Harding’s response showed exactly what it means to be a Philly fighter.
In 2021, there is a void when it comes to current champions from Philadelphia. Stephen Fulton, the WBO super-bantamweight champion, is the only current Philly world champ in boxing. Harry Lewis was a welterweight world champion hailing from Philly in 1908, and Danny Garcia became another welterweight champion coming from the “Fighting City” in 2016. The number of great champions coming from Philly is vast, but the amount of great welterweight champs from Philly is few and far between, and that is where Jaron “Boots” Ennis, current welterweight prospect turned contender, can create a legacy.
The up-and-coming Philadelphia sensation made a serious statement recently when he knocked out former super-lightweight world champion Sergey Lipinets in the sixth round during their welterweight showdown.
Lipinets, as a tough, durable former champion, was expected to be a stern test of Ennis’ credentials. However, Ennis made it look as easy as ever, outclassing Lipinets in a manner never inflicted on the Russian before, and the welterweight division was put on notice. Lipinets was left flat on his back with a right hook, left uppercut combination in the sixth round.
Ennis is a multi-dimensional fighter, and that is what makes him a very special talent. He’s an athletic switch-hitter who can box from a distance with great movement and a slippery defence, who is also willing to stand and trade, possessing destructive power.
A title shot against the likes of Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford may not happen just yet, but in terms of Ennis being ready, that moment does not seem far away whatsoever. Experience cannot be bought, and Boots may benefit from some more seasoning against higher-calibre opposition beforehand, but it is not a bold statement by any means to suggest that Ennis could give the likes of Spence and Crawford all they could handle right now. Ennis clearly possesses an extensive array of skills that would be difficult for even the elite to solve. Nevertheless, the likes of Spence and Crawford would not consider a fight against Ennis at this moment in time when considering the risk and reward. To be mandated for a shot in the future may be Ennis’ best route.
“I think I might have to be a mandatory challenger for one of the world champions to pick me,” Ennis said following his win against Lipinets.
“But until then I’m gonna keep working my way up to the world title and trying to fight the best fighters that’s out, or that’s available at the moment.”
Yordenis Ugas is expected to face off with Spence in the summer in a welterweight unification, otherwise that could have been a winnable opportunity as things currently stand for Ennis to become a welterweight champion. However, like the other champions, Ugas will also look at Ennis as a high risk, low reward challenger. Thus far, none of the champions have mentioned Ennis as a potential opponent.
All of this means that Ennis has to work his way up to a position in which he is worth the risk for the current champions, by facing off with fellow contenders at 147lbs.
Keith Thurman would be a superb fight, and a genuine measuring stick for Ennis’ current standing amongst the 147lbs top players, but that is entirely dependant on Thurman. Thurman’s not fought since his defeat to Manny Pacquiao in July 2019. “One Time” would certainly need a tune-up fight to get rid of the cob-webs before entering the ring with Ennis. An in-prime and sharp Thurman who was defeating the likes of Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter prior to his long lay-off and injury issues, is a serious test. The relentless Shawn Porter could be another real test for Ennis. A fight against Porter would present a potential gut check for Ennis, forcing Boots to show he possesses that true Philly grit to be a worthy champion.
Whether any of the aforementioned champions or top contenders would risk their standing against a young, talented fighter like Ennis is doubtful, but the onus is on Boots. He just has to do his part and keep winning until he can no longer be ignored.
Ennis’ natural dance partner to contribute to his legacy-building could be fellow rising welterweight prospect, Vergil Ortiz Jr. Joe Frazier became an all-time great after his historic trilogy with Muhammad Ali, a series of fights which showed unrivaled, endless amounts of sheer heart and grit. Jersey Joe Walcott had a great rivalry with Ezzard Charles. There is no substitute for attaining greatness than a worthy dance partner, who forces a fighter to have to display every ounce of greatness within them to emerge victorious.
A showdown for Ennis with Ortiz would be electrifying, but the likelihood is that such a fight will be subjected to the same old ‘marination’ process, waiting until the financial rewards and anticipation for a potential blockbuster bout can be maximised, especially when there is the chance that it could be a pay-per-view showdown in the future between two of the top welterweights in the world.
Ennis is a potential future p4p No.1 talent. A potential generational talent. Great fighters of the past have left a real legacy in their hometown, laying out the ground-work for their greatness in the place of their roots. After regularly fighting in Detroit on his way up during the early stages of his career, Thomas Hearns produced his brutal 2nd round knockout against long-reigning champion Pipino Cuevas at the Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit, Michigan, an arena named after the great heavyweight. This is where the legacy of “The Hitman” was born, in the place which bred and made him. Frazier fought regularly in Philadelphia on his come-up, was the perfect epitome of a true Philly fighter, and now has a statue in Philadelphia.
Given Ennis’ potential, perhaps the best current option for Boots is to start showcasing his talent in Philly on a regular basis and build his name as the next star to arise from “The City of Brotherly Love”. He certainly looks like he has the goods to take his place in the pantheon of great Philly fighters.
“I feel like I will be world champion by the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022. Patience is the key though,” Ennis said in the post-fight press conference.
Patience will certainly be needed, but once the time comes, Ennis is looking like he will be a world champion. Philadelphia is a city that has always taken pride in its close association with boxing, and understandably so. It has produced all-time great champions such as Bernard Hopkins, Frazier, Walcott and Tommy Loughran, all of whom can take their place at the peak of the mountain amongst the great champions of the past. This era has been lacking a great Philly champion, and with Ennis looking like he is inevitably going all the way to the top, it is time for the City of Brotherly Love to get behind this special 23-year-old.
Sina Latif of SimBoxx